BEFORE I BURN by Gaute Heivoll

Book Quote:

“She just stood there and saw his face merge into the darkness as he lowered his hand and threw the burning match.  The flames burst into life.  It was like an avalanche of fire.  At once everywhere around them was lit up. It was a restless yellow light that made all the shadows tremble.  He staggered backwards a couple of paces while she remained motionless.  The flames were already licking high up the wall.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (JAN 29, 2014)

Gaute Heivoll has written both a compelling novel and a historical and fact-driven book that examines a series of fires that occurred during two months in 1978 Norway. It is told from the perspective of the author who was born during the year that the arson occurred, as well as from the perspective of the arsonist who was in his twenties when the author was born.

The character Heivoll has returned to his hometown of Finsland, Norway to research this book and try to become a writer. He interviews those who knew the arsonist and he also gleans information from newspaper clippings and his grandmother’s diaries.

The arsonist, Dag, is the son of the fire chief. He was a most wanted child, an only child and very much loved – good at everything he put effort into. During his early adulthood he goes into the military and returns home after some sort of rejection that is never made clear. He lolls around the house and follows his father on fire calls that, because Dag is setting the fires, become more frequent and horrific. At one point, there are eight fires set over a period of three days.

Between May 6, 1978 through early June, 1978, ten fires are set, mostly to abandoned buildings and out buildings in Finsland. Towards the end of the pyromaniac’s rampage, however, buildings are burned with people or pets in them. They come just a hair’s breadth from losing their lives.

The book goes into the lives of the people who live in Finsland, mostly farmers, who have known each other their whole lives. It is inconceivable to them that one of their own is starting these fires. How could this possibly be? They only know that the arsonist comes at night and they have been driven to ignore sleep and are forced to stand guard all night to protect their homes and belongings from the crazy person who is burning down the village home by home.

Gaute Heivoll remembers clearly a time in school when one of his teachers told him he’d be a writer. He had gone to Oslo to study law but when it came time to take his exams, he turned in empty papers. He is afraid to be a writer yet drawn to a writing life and compelled to write at the same time. He is drawn in completely by the subject matter of this book.

Mr. Heivoll is a child being Christened at the time that the fires start and he imagines what his life as an infant is like when those around him are so frightened and paranoid about the fires. The town is a quiet one and no one would ever suspects Dag, the perfect boy, of doing anything wrong. When his parents figure out it is Dag, the bottom falls out of their world.

The book is poetically written and highly charged. It brings to life Mr. Heivoll’s own development as an author while examining the life of an arsonist who can not stop himself from his heinous actions. This book will appeal to those who like true crime and memoirs, along with literary fiction. I recommend it to anyone who treasures good writing and poetic use of language. (Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett.)

AMAZON READER RATING: from 5 readers
PUBLISHER: Graywolf Press (January 7, 2014)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
EXTRAS: Excerpt



January 29, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Debut Novel, Facing History, Literary, Norway, Translated

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