CHILD WONDER by Roy Jacobsen

Book Quote:

“It was time it happened, the determination that this should never be allowed to repeat itself, the hatred and the bitterness of not being able to decide whether to thrust a knife in her or start to weep so that she could console me like a second Linda, for I was no child any more and yet I was, and I wanted to be neither, but someone else, again.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (SEP 28, 2011)

Navigating that shaky bridge between childhood and adulthood is never easy, particularly in 1961 – a time when “men became boys and housewives women,” a year when Yuri Gargarin is poised to conquer space and when the world is on the cusp of change.

Into this moment of time, Norwegian author Roy Jacobsen shines a laser light on young Finn and his mother Gerd, who live in the projects of Oslo. Fate has not been kind to them: Gerd’s husband, a crane operator, divorced her and then died in an accident, leaving the family in a financially precarious position. To make ends meet, she works in a shoe store and runs an ad for a lodger for extra money.

To complicate the situation, Finn’s father’s second wife – a now-widowed drug addict – views the ad and unloads on the family Finn’s half-sister, Linda – a young girl who appears to have mysterious problems that are only gradually revealed. Figuratively, this “poor mite got off the Grorud bus one dark November day with an atomic bomb in a small light blue suitcase and turned our lives upside down.”

Linda becomes the mirror in which Gerd, Finn, and others (including the lodger Kristian) eventually define themselves. Gerd, who identifies strongly with Linda, is transported back to an abusive childhood and views herself in the little girl. Finn — who is the first-person narrator — battles jealousy, bewilderment, and eventually, stirrings of love as he defends Linda from the Norwegian educational system and the school bullies. He reminisces: “Linda was not of this world, one day I would come to understand this – she was a Martian come down to earth to speak in tongues to heathens, to speak French to Norwegians and Russian to Americans. She was destiny, beauty and a catastrophe. A bit of everything. Mother’s mirror and Mother’s childhood. All over again.”

Not unlike his regional compatriot, Per Petterson, Roy Jacobsen is (as one publication stated about the latter), “a master at writing the spaces between people.” He succinctly and beautifully captures the incomprehension of a young boy who is trying to make sense of the adult world and his place within it. The increasing bond between the boy and his accidental sister is explored painstakingly and is exquisitely poignant. The portrayal of Linda’s evolution to her new family is genuinely heartrendering.

A pedestrian and at times downright awkward translation does not serve the stream of consciousness sections well. In the best translations (such as the talented Ann Born’s translation of Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses), the reader loses sight that the book is a translation. It takes a little while to get into the cadence and the rhythm.

But the authenticity of Roy Jacobsen’s vision wins out with its universal themes: how others become gifts in our lives, unveiling us, and the lengths we go to preserve relationships with those we love. Or, in the words of the author, “Something happens to you when someone spots you – you see yourself from the outside, your own peculiar strangeness, that which is only you and moves in only you, but which nonetheless you have not known…” This quiet book is a hopeful testimony to transformative change.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 21 readers
PUBLISHER: Graywolf Press (September 27, 2011)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Roy Jacobsen
EXTRAS: Blog with all sorts of Roy Jacobsen info
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

Partial Bibliography (translated):

September 28, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  · Posted in: Coming-of-Age, Facing History, Family Matters, Norway, Translated, World Lit, y Award Winning Author

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