What I Read for the 2018 #ScandiReadingChallenge

The 2018 Scandinavian Reading Challenge was a great incentive to read varied genres and authors from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Here I’ve compiled my thoughts from throughout the year about what I read for the challenge. What I didn’t get to in 2018, I’ll keep in mind for the next year (hence the prompt “A book from a favorite or unread category from last year’s reading challenge” in the 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge). If you’ve read any books for the 2018 prompts, I’d love to hear in the comments.

1. A book set somewhere in Scandinavia you would like to visit (or revisit)

🇳🇴 Vinterstengt (Closed for Winter)

by Jørn Lier Horst (tr. Anne Bruce)

I love the idea of going to a Norwegian coastal summer cabin in the off-season, and this book is actually set near where we visit when we go to Norway every summer so it had special appeal. I’m a fan of Jørn Lier Horst having already read two of the books in the William Wisting crime series. His books are certainly more police procedurals than crime thrillers. Detective Wisting is a methodical and likeable investigator. His daughter Line, a journalist, once again gets involved which adds a nice touch to the plot. In this book, the investigation takes Wisting on a short trip to Lithuania which added an unexpected enjoyable diversion. This book won the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize (Bokhandlerprisen) in 2011 and it didn’t disappoint. Many of his books have been translated to English.

Other books I considered for this prompt:

2. A book about Scandinavians
(or descendants of Scandinavians) in the USA

🇸🇪 The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

by Katarina Bivald (tr. Alice Menzies)

This was a fun and sweet read! It’s been on my radar for a long time (must have been the bookish title and cover), but I didn’t know until somewhat recently that it’s actually a Swedish book in translation. It’s about a young Swedish woman who goes to visit her elderly penpal in the USA. However, her penpal dies right before she arrives in Broken Wheel, Iowa. It’s a story about a dying small town, unlikely friendships, new beginnings, and the power of books and a bookstore to make a difference in people’s lives. The audiobook narrated by Fiona Hardingham and Lorelei King is also very good. I both listened to and read the book and highly recommend both versions.

Other books I considered for this prompt:

3. A Scandinavian book made into a movie


🇳🇴 One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway—And Its Aftermath

by Åsne Seierstad (tr. Sarah Death)

This author and book have been on my TBR list for a long time. When I saw that a film had been made based on the book (Netflix original July 22 directed by Paul Greenglass), I prioritized it. This is not a quick and easy read. Not only is it 500+ pages, but the subject matter is tough. I alternated between the Norwegian edition and the English translation. Some parts, such as the political history of Norway, right-wing extremist Anders Breivik’s philosophy, bomb and weapon technicalities, and judicial process discussions were easier for me to read in English while the family narratives were fine to read in Norwegian. The book basically follows three people and their families before, during, and after July 22, 2011. Readers learn about Breivik’s childhood and what drove him to this horrible act. Of the many youth victims, readers especially get to know native Norwegian Simon Sæbø and recent Norwegian citizen Bano Rashid, a Kurdish refugee, and how their paths led to this political youth camp at Utøya. This was an eye-opening book because it revealed so much that I didn’t know about the before, during, and after of the July 22, 2011, bombing of the government quarters and the massacre at the youth summer camp that followed. I also feel it’s an important book for me to have read because this day was a defining moment for Norwegians, much like September 11 is for Americans.

4. A crime novel by a Scandinavian female author

🇸🇪 Still Waters

by Viveca Sten (tr. Marlaine Delargy)

This is a cozy Scandi crime book. It involves Thomas, a very likeable police detective, and Nora, a close childhood friend who’s a lawyer. The setting is a close-knit community on the island of Sandhamn in the Stockholm archipelago during summertime. There’s a murder, actually three, but they are not violent. It’s not a fast paced story, but the mystery was interesting and I was eager to find out how it would all come together in the end. The writing style was very simple with obvious descriptions and foreshadowing, which turned me off at times, but overall it was a good cozy crime story with main characters I liked in a setting I enjoyed.

Other books I considered:

5. A non-crime novel by a Scandinavian
male author

🇸🇪 Britt-Marie Was Here

by Fredrik Backman (tr. Henning Koch)

This was my fourth Fredrik Backman book, and I can’t decide whether this or A Man Called Ove is my favorite of his. I listened to it which was a fabulous experience. It was a story of second chances and unlikely friendships, both of which I enjoy. It was endearing and funny and hopeful.

Other books I considered:

6. A book published in the last year

🇳🇴 Love

by Hanne Ørstavik (tr. Martin Aitken)

I first became aware of this author when I was researching Norwegian female authors for Women in Translation Month in 2017 (see Norwegian Women in Translation for WITmonth). Then the author came back on my radar when I was participating in The Reading Women’s Instagram challenge the following summer; I needed a book with a one-word title. It wasn’t really on my immediate TBR list until I got a physical copy in my hands. It’s a lovely little book — slim, no bigger than my palm, with an elegant cover. I couldn’t resist reading it right away. It’s about an 8-year-old boy and his mother who had recently moved to a remote village in northern Norway. They live together but lead totally separate lives. The story takes place one very cold winter night in the space of only a few hours. The boy is eagerly anticipating his birthday the next day, but his mother is wrapped up in her own world and desires. It alternates between the boy’s and the mother’s separate outings during the evening. What I thought might happen didn’t, and what I didn’t anticipate happened. It was a sad but beautiful story. At times it actually felt somewhat surreal.

7. An immigrant story
(to/from Scandinavia any time period)

🇩🇰 The Sound of Language

by Amulya Malladi

This author had been on my radar for a while. She’s from India and married to a Danish man. They lived in Denmark for several years before moving to southern California. This book intrigued me because it was about an Afghan refugee who immigrated to Denmark after her husband was captured by the Taliban. It was also about beekeeping and an unlikely relationship between an older, stubborn, recently widowed man and this young Afghan woman learning Danish. I admired both the man and the woman for persevering with the apprenticeship despite pressure from family and community to do otherwise. It was a very enjoyable book and an interesting look at the immigrant debate in Denmark.

8. A book about Scandinavia during WWII

🇳🇴 The Saboteur

by Andrew Gross

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in a little-known history event involving people willing to risk everything for the love of their country. This is a historical fiction book about the sabotage of a Nazi-occupied factory in Norway during World War II. A by-product of the factory was heavy water which the Germans needed to continue their atomic bomb work. A group of Norwegians were trained in England to disrupt those plans. This book was especially fun to read since we had visited the site of the factory this past summer. I could visualize the factory and the landscape around it, which plays a significant role in the missions. I was thrown off a little by the fictional characters who were added to the story (like the American!) but the author’s note at the end put those doubts to rest. My 14-year-old son read and enjoyed it, too.

Other books I considered:

9. A book by a Scandinavian Nobel Prize in Literature winner

🇳🇴 Kristin Lavransdatter, 1: The Wreath

by Sigrid Undset (tr. Tiina Nunnally)

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! It was nothing like what I expected. Kristin is quite the rebel and the book seems quite risqué for its time (first published in 1920). Broken betrothals, premarital rendezvous, poison, suicide, and coverups – so unexpected. It was interesting to learn about life in medieval Norway, and the descriptions of the setting are especially beautiful. I am eager to continue the trilogy to see how Kristin fares in her marriage to Erlend, the handsome man who wooed her away from her betrothed. This is a classic I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I tried to read it years ago, but it was the original translation by Charles Archer and J. S. Scott and I couldn’t finish. The Nunnally translation was much, much better.

10. A book of short stories

🇳🇴 Knots: Stories

by Gunnhild Øyehaug (tr. Kari Dickson)

This collection of short stories is the author’s English language debut — 13 years after its initial Norwegian publication! I chose to read it in English because the Norwegian publication was in nynorsk, or New Norwegian, a written standard for Norwegian which I don’t read as easily. The book is an eclectic collection of stories all of which explore the mind and thoughts of people in a variety of situations. Many are surreal; others are realistic. There is little action. They mostly deal with the characters’ consciousness. I was oddly transfixed by the stories. The book is small and short, and the stories are short so I just kept turning the pages to see what creative and unique story would come next.

Other books I considered:

11. A book about Norse mythology

Odd and the Frost Giants

by Neil Gaiman

I had great plans to read Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology for this challenge prompt, but due to time constraints I opted for this related middle grade book by him instead. Both the book and the author have been on my TBR list for a while so I’m glad I can finally check them off, but I do feel I cheated a little. Odd and the Frost Giants was a quick, enjoyable read which briefly introduced the Norse gods Thor, Odin, and Loki and their enemies the frost giants.

12. A book about the Scandinavian way of life

🇸🇪 God’s Mercy

by Kerstin Ekman (tr. Linda Schenck)

I didn’t intend to use this book for this prompt, but I felt it ended up being a good choice for it. The book is about a young Swedish midwife who in 1916 moves from a university town to a remote rural area of Sweden close to the Norwegian border in anticipation of being with her secret fiancé. Things do not turn out the way she anticipated. I thought it was a very interesting look at life in this community of Swedes, Samis, and Norwegians (very descriptive and complete). However, it was a tough read. There were three narratives that jumped around in time and place. It was hard to keep track of all the people and their families without taking notes. The book left me with some unanswered questions, but that’s understandable considering it’s the first in a trilogy. (My understanding is that the other books in the trilogy have not been translated yet.)

Other books I considered:

13. A book with the word “ice” or “snow”
in the title

🇳🇴 The Ice Swimmer

by Kjell Ola Dahl (tr. Don Bartlett)

Kjell Ola Dahl is a new-to-me Norwegian crime writer, though he’s been writing since 1993. I jumped into this Oslo Detectives Series with book #6 and I don’t think it mattered that I hadn’t read the previous ones. I liked the setting of Oslo and the crime was interesting. However, I was not a fan of the female detective Lena Stigersand. I like strong, smart female characters, and Lena made some dumb decisions with both a new relationship and her work responsibilities. I almost did not finish the book, but I was over half way done and wanted to know the resolution. Also, I needed it for this Scandinavian Reading Challenge. (I do believe this is Lena’s first appearance so maybe previous books in the series are better.)

Other books I considered:

14. A Scandinavian or Scandinavian-themed book whose cover piqued your interest

🇩🇰 The Copenhagen Affair

by Amulya Malladi

The cover of this book immediately caught my attention – a woman with a bicycle in Copenhagen! This is the story of Sanya, an American woman of Indian ethnicity, who moves to Copenhagen with her husband. She’s had a nervous breakdown back home and suffers from depression, and her husband decides that a move to Copenhagen will help her recover. Sanya gets to know the wealthy, elite of Copenhagen and becomes attracted to a man who turns out to own the company her husband is acquiring. It was a quick and easy read. I didn’t particularly care for the supporting characters, but I did enjoy the setting. Malladi certainly shows she knows Copenhagen well. (Spoiler alert: the bicycle plays little to no role in the story.)

Highlights of the Year:

🙌 Reading new-to-me Norwegian authors Hanne Ørstavik, Gunnhild Øyehaug, and Kjell Ola Dahl
🙌 Finally reading Sigrid Undset and Åsne Seierstad who have been on my TBR list and bookshelf for years

Goals for 2019:

🥅 Read more Danish literature
🥅 Read more new-to-me Norwegian authors
🥅 Read more books in Norwegian

Won’t you consider joining me in the 2019 #ScandiReadingChallenge? No need to commit to the whole challenge, just as much as you can. All levels of commitment welcomed!