In my desire to read a Norwegian book once in a while to maintain my language skills, I recently read the first book in the six-book autobiographical series, Min kamp (My Struggle) by Karl Ove Knausgård. Interestingly, it wasn’t my choice, but the pick for my book club here in Los Angeles. I don’t even know if the woman who suggested it knew that I was Norwegian. Knausgård and his work had been in the book news a lot recently in conjunction with his US tour for the release of the English translation of his third book. Knausgård’s first book was suggested in hopes that it would be a little more serious and discussion-worthy than some of our more recent reads.
The timing worked out perfectly because I was right in the middle of trying to decide what Norwegian book to read next in anticipation of my upcoming trip to Norway. Last year I read the first of the Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbø. This year I was looking for something new. A cousin in Norway had suggested Knausgård’s Min kamp last year when I put out a request for suggestions for my next Norwegian read so it was on my list, but I didn’t know if I was ready to read it yet. I had the impression it would be a long, heavy read about someon’s life I wasn’t necessarily very interested in.
The book turned out to be much more engaging than I expected. It is basically about Knausgård’s relationship with his father, a major struggle for him. The book takes you through some of his childhood years with his father and wraps up with his father’s death. There was really no plot or structure. It was more a stream of consciousness, and the subject matter would suddenly take unexpected turns. Knausgård had a knack for describing in great detail mundane things we can all relate to but have never really observed or thought about in as detailed a way as him. I was particularly struck by the detail with which he described the movements of a fly. I have been mesmerized by flies but never really put thoughts or words to it. Knausgård wrote a whole long paragraph about it. He did this for many everyday happenings.
For me as a Norwegian expatriate, I enjoyed getting a glimpse of life in Norway. Much of the book takes place during Knausgård’s adolescent years when he lived in Kristiansand, a town on the southern coast of Norway, not too far away from where we spend our summers. It was interesting to see what it was like for him to grow up during that time (my time)—what he struggled with (his father and friends) and what brought him happiness (music). I could relate to the weather he had to endure, I recognized the foods he ate (gulost, brunost, and shrimp), I could visualize the new year’s eve festivities with fireworks going off all over the place.
Will I read the next book in the series? Book 2 is about Knausgård falling in love with his second wife and all the ups and downs which that entails. Yes, I think so, but not right away. In the meantime, I will finish Jørn Lier Horst’s Hulemannen, a Norwegian crime novel, which I am thoroughly enjoying (now available in English here). Then I have to get started on our book club’s next pick. But I think I will put Knausgård’s second book on my wishlist for Christmas.
I continue to welcome suggestions for Norwegian books to read. My criteria are that they are written by a Norwegian (or perhaps Swedish or Danish) author, are in bokmål Norwegian, and ideally take place in Norway. Please leave any suggestions in a comment below! Thanks!
- Norwegian Title: Min kamp 1
- Author: Karl Ove Knausgård (born 1968)
- Norwegian Publication Date: 2009
- English Title: My Struggle, Book 1
- Translator: Don Bartlett
- US Publication Date: 2013
- Awards: The Brage Prize for Fiction in 2009 (Brageprisen)
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What about Gabi Gleichmann’s book Elixir? It is in Norwegian, Swedish, German and also English.