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2016 Book Selections

March 29 – Miller, Derek. Norwegian by Night

“... the brains of a literary novel and the body of a thriller.” Irascible Sheldon Horowitz moves from Manhattan to Oslo to live with his grand-daughter and her Norwegian husband, and finds himself in a strange land, bemused by placid, orderly Norwegians. Life becomes complicated, however, when he witnesses a murder perpetrated by a Kosovar war criminal. The author is director of The Policy Lab and a senior fellow with the UN Institute for Disarmament Research —an American currently living in Oslo. [New York Times]

April 26 – Petterson, Per. I Refuse

“Per Petterson’s hotly anticipated new novel, I Refuse, is the work of an internationally acclaimed novelist at the height of his powers. In Norway the book has been a huge best seller, and rights have already been sold to sixteen countries. In his signature spare style, Petterson weaves a tale of two men whose accidental meeting one morning recalls their boyhood thirty-five years ago. Back then, Tommy was separated from his sisters after he stood up to their abusive father. Jim was by Tommy’s side through it all. But one winter night, a chance event on a frozen lake forever changes the balance of their friendship. Now, Jim fishes alone on a bridge as Tommy drives by in a new Mercedes, and it’s clear their fortunes have reversed. Over the course of the day, the lives of each man will be irrevocably altered. I Refuse is a powerful, unforgettable novel, and its publication is an event to be celebrated.” [Greywolf Press]

June 14 – Staalesen, Gunnar. The Consorts of Death

The Consorts of Death is a perfect introduction to Varg Veum because almost all of the book takes place in flashback, the first chunk of it back to the time before Veum became a detective and hence before the first book in the series. The reader learns Veum's back story as a social worker as well as being introduced to his newest "case", that of Johnny Boy, an ex-criminal newly released from prison, who has Veum on a "death list" of people he blames for his situation. When Veum learns this information, via an old colleague, he remembers the first time he met Johnny Boy, as a young baby. Later, the two meet again, again in awful circumstances when it appears as if the boy has killed his foster father. In the wake of that incident, Veum and two colleagues look after Johnny for six months before he is again taken into care.

Veum then leaves the social services department, sets up as a private detective and loses touch with the boy, until yet another crime takes place ten years later in a remote farmhouse. Again, Veum becomes involved, and not only becomes aware of a century-old crime in the same area that was never properly solved, but also uncovers many puzzling links and coincidences between all of these cases. The final part of the book returns to the present-day and the resolution of the story of Johnny and all the convoluted motives and relationships that are resolved in a cleverly constructed climax. [Review by Maxine Clarke, England]

September 6 – Hansen, Helga. All that I hold dear: A young immigrant in New York, 1911-1916 (postponed from August)

When she arrived in New York City in 1907, Helga Hansen was just eighteen years old—armed with domestic skills, a deep faith in God, and not much else. But it wasn’t long before she found work as a waitress and chambermaid, serving well-to-do Manhattanites on the Upper West Side.

Throughout this time, Helga secured new friendships and pined for her family back in Norway. She witnessed the opening of the Grand Central terminal, was devastated by news of World War I, fell in love, and laid the foundation for her own family.

And from 1911 to 1916, she also recorded the ins and outs of her life in daily diary entries, ones that would tell a compelling story of courage, faith, and the immigrant experience of the twentieth century.

Unearthed for the first time in nearly one hundred years, Helga’s journals were discovered in an old steamer trunk by her granddaughter Ruth Kolbjornsen Nybro—who lovingly translated and recorded each and every candid entry.

The result is an authentic firsthand look at the life of a young immigrant woman determined to make ends meet as she deals with the demands of wealthy employers, periods of uncertainty and loneliness, and the complexities of love and family. [amazon.com]

October 25 – Orkneyinga Saga

Written around AD 1200 by an unnamed Icelandic author, the Orkneyinga Saga is an intriguing fusion of myth, legend and history. The only medieval chronicle to have Orkney as the central place of action, it tells of an era when the islands were still part of the Viking world, beginning with their conquest by the kings of Norway in the ninth century. The saga describes the subsequent history of the Earldom of Orkney and the adventures of great Norsemen such as Sigurd the Powerful, St Magnus the Martyr and Hrolf, the conqueror of Normandy. Savagely powerful and poetic, this is a fascinating depiction of an age of brutal battles, murder, sorcery and bitter family feuds. [penguin.co.uk]

December 13 – Vesaas, Tarjei. The Birds

“One of Vesaas's most important novels, The Birds is the story of a woman who dedicated her life to caring for her simple younger brother. When a visiting woodcutter enters their enclosed world, complications arise. The author reveals a deep and compassionate insight into human nature and a lyrical response to the Norwegian landscape. A spare, icily humane story - The character of Mattis, absurd and boastful, also sweet, pathetic, even funny, is shown with great insight." [Sunday Times]