Nordic Translations



On the UK World Book Day back in March I wrote a review of the English translation of Danish Helle Helle’s This Should Be Written in the Present Tense and promised you guys that I would post some more suggestions of Nordic literature in English translation. Since it’s the World Book Night in the UK today (and World Book Day in the rest of the world), I thought it was the perfect day for me to write about Nordic translated literature.

There is so much more to Nordic fiction than the crime novels which are often mentioned or placed at the front in bookshops. I have thought good and hard about the authors that mean the most to me, those that have made a lasting impression and those of which have been translated. Sadly, not all of my favourites are, like Danish Peter Asmussen’s novella Det Der Er.

Here are some of my personal favourites:

The Murder of Halland (DK) – Pia Juul

“Bess and Halland live in a small town, where everyone knows everyone else. When Halland is found murdered in the main square the police encounter only riddles. For Bess bereavement marks the start of a journey that leads her to a reassessment of first friends then family.”

Why I love it: I am not a great reader of crime literature and that is exactly why I love this novel, because it combines a crime mystery and suspense with gorgeous literary language. It is SO different yet still belongs beautifully within the crime fiction tradition. And the english translation has managed to capture the beauty of the simplicity in the Danish language exceptionally well.

Lime’s Photograph (DK) – Leif Davidsen

“Peter Lime is trained to hunt down his prey and catch them on film. But now he is the one being hunted. Whose prey has he become? And what is it that he has that these people will kill to get?”

Why I love it: My dad has been a great admirer of Davidsen for many years and I grew up with the presence of his books on the shelves. Lime’s Photograph was the first book by Davidsen I read and I was so surprised that I actually liked the thriller-like style of a “spy mystery” that I still think of it often. Also it doesn’t hurt that it takes place in Spain, denmark and Russia. Cross-border literature? Yes, please!

The Blue Room (NO) – Hanne Ørstavik

“Johanne is a young woman in her twenties who lives with her mother. When she falls in love with Ivar, she finally feels ready to leave home. The couple plan a trip to America. But the morning of her departure, Johanne wakes up to find the door locked.”

Why I love it: I met Hanne Ørstavik last June when I won a ticket to the Peirene Press Supper Club at Book and Kitchen in Notting Hill. Ørstavik is really friendly and kind in person and afterwards when I read her novel, I realised how much she must understand about people’s ambivalent difficulties in seperating from their parents, something which I can relate to especially after I moved to England.

A Great Deserted Landscape (NO) – Kjell Askildsen

“A master of the short story, Kjell Askildsen’s unadorned style is not so much concerned with the manipulation of plotlines as with the manipulation of the reader’s feelings and allegiances, with the presentation of characters as people, real people, people so like us that it’s creepy, uncanny.”

Why I Love it: I once saw Askildsen at the Louisina Literature Festival on a hot summer’s day in August in conversation with Helle Helle, where they talked about the similarities of their minimalist writing style. The subtlety of the Nordic language is one of the most beautiful things I know. And Askildsen’s short stories are melancholy, haunting tales of ordinay people and their ordinary lives.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society (FI) – Pasi Ilmari Jäaskeläinen

“Only very special people are chosen by children’s author Laura White to join ‘The Society’, an elite group of writers in the small town of Rabbit Back. Now a tenth member has been selected: Ella, literature teacher and possessor of beautifully curving lips.”

Why I love it: I have never read any Allende or any magical realism before and would never have picked up the book if someone had suggested it to me. Luckily I found it in the bookshop on my own and was so intrigued by the description on the back that I took it home with me. It’s everything I “technically” don’t like in literature but I still loved it! Because it’s enchanting, includes a literary mystery and I could identify with the narrator who is a writer and lover of literature.

Nordic books I’m looking forward to read:
The Looking-Glass Sisters (NO) – Gøhril Gabrielsen
Minna Needs Rehearsal Space (DK) – Dorthe Nors
Butterflies in November (IS) – Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

I would love to hear if you have read any of the books on my list or other books by Nordic authors. What did you think of them? Have a happy reading day!



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