Page 1

Danish Literary Magazine SPRING




Contents Novels 03 A web of lies 04 A novel about time 05 Meeting the global challenge – from the settee 06 But behind them the forests are singing 08 Energetic, youthful prose Debut 09 Haunting Husum Poetry 10 Sorting raindrops on the basis of Inner Necessity (IN) A Classic 11 On Inger Christensen’s ‘The Butterfly Valley’ Crime 12 Power Play 14 Three crime novels Non-Fiction 15 Tolerance 16 A beautiful history of Europe Children’s Books 17 Sorrow and happiness in the nursery - Three illustrated childrens books 19 The Golaks are coming



Contact us

Søren Beltoft

This printet edition of Danish Literary

Tel. +45 3374 5073

Magazine is a slightly shortened version of

The Danish Literature Centre

the webmagazine.

— Danish Arts Agency

Editorial Assistant

H. C. Andersens Boulevard 2

Merete Høegh

1553 Copenhagen V

Danish Literary Magazine is published by

Tel. +45 3374 5071

The Danish Arts Council’s

Graphics & layout

Committee for Literature

Tine Vognsen, c/o Gul Stue

The Danish Arts Council works to promote art

Tel. +45 2870 4508

in Denmark and Danish art abroad.


The Danish Literature Centre is the

Director Marianne Kruckow

adminstrative arm of The Danish Arts Councils

Tel. +45 3374 5070

Committe for Literature.



A web of lies The strength of the novel lies not only in its original plot but equally in the delineation of the characters and the suspense that is built up in relation to the principal characters’ careers and personal troubles. By Kristine Kabel

With this as a point of departure, the reader is led into a very tense, multifaceted story. Facts regarding a scientific dispute are presented during the investigation in parallel with the private attempts of each of the principal characters to arrive at the truth of his or her early childhood. The young woman, Anna Bella Nor, is the central figure in the novel and the title, ‘Dinosaur Feathers’, refers to a dispute she has just written a thesis about from a theoretical scientific angle at the beginning of the novel: are birds direct descendants of dinosaurs or are they two different species? A stubborn Canadian researcher maintains the latter, while more and more finds of prehistorical skeletons with feathers, for example, have convinced most of the scientific world of the former. This also applies to Anna Bella Nor herself and her tutor, but when the tutor is found dead in his office with his own bloody tongue on his shirt front, and when the post-mortem examination reveals that the corpse is swarming with live, microscopic animals, the dispute is suddenly seen in a different light. But the macabre

death of the researcher still appears to be a mystery. Was it murder? With the glitter of anger constantly visible in her eyes, Anna Bella Nor roams the streets of Copenhagen and the corridors and halls of the university with her hooded sweater pulled up around her ears like a genuine feministic anti-hero, trying to understand what is going on at the same time as she is preparing to defend her thesis. At home, she is alone with a two year-old daughter and struggles to cope with her bad conscience about not being able to be with her enough. When her good friend from the institute is also suddenly found dead, murdered in his own home, loneliness closes in and the sinister atmosphere thickens.


A web of lies is spun around the lives of the principal characters in this intelligent scientific crime novel Dinosaurens fjer (‘Dinosaur Feathers’). This is author Sissel-Jo Gazan’s fourth novel, and it takes its point of departure in her own experience of a strained research environment at the Institute of Biology at the University of Copenhagen. The struggle to find the truth and the struggle for survival in a working life characterised by cut-backs and random prioritisations has its human victims, but the screw is given another twist in the world of fiction when a paleoornithology researcher is suddenly found dead with his tongue sliced off and his corpse full of thousands of parasites.

Sissel-Jo Gazan Dinosaurens fjer / Dinosaur Feathers

Detective Superintendent Søren has been officially assigned to handle the investigation of the two murders. He is Anna Bella Nor’s mild-mannered counterpart, but is also a lone wolf in his private life. His parents died at an early age and his grandparents have never told him the truth about what really happened. Nor is he particularly good on the subject of truth himself. As an adult he became a victim of fate in an unpredictably painful manner but he keeps his private life to himself. Everybody is excluded. Professionally, however, he does very well. Ever since he was a child, he has had a formidable ability to find missing things and solve riddles. “I knit backwards”, is his explanation. But it is no easy matter to untangle the threads of this baffling case, which also takes the reader through Copenhagen’s goth and fetishistic milieu, out to frigid suburban surroundings, and naturally to the university world. The point of view changes rapidly throughout the story between Anna Bella Nor, Detective Su-

Gyldendal 2008, 448 pp. Foreign Rights Gyldendal Group Agency Sofie Voller Phone: +45 33 75 55 55 Rights sold to: Norway, The Netherlands, Germany and Italy Film rights sold



perintendent Søren, and the Canadian researcher, and conceals the solution to the mystery from the reader until the very end. The strength of the novel lies not only in its original plot but equally in the delineation of the characters and the suspense that is built up in relation to the principal characters’ careers and personal troubles. We gradually gain an insight into the Canadian researcher’s problematic life, while Anna and Søren search their pasts in parallel, and discover the truth behind the lies as they build up more self-knowledge in an unsentimental process

that also makes it possible for them to bring old friends back into their lives and thereby weather the storm – although they will probably never be out of it completely. As a scientific crime novel, ‘Dinosaur Feathers’ is reminiscent of Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and particularly of Peter Høeg’s Smillas fornemmelse for sne (‘Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow’), both of which have a distinct psychological strain. But the book is perhaps first and foremost about the typology of truth. Translated by John Mason.

A novel about time The story of the three generations is in many ways a story of repetitions. A repeated story of a female desire that wants something other and in addition to motherhood.

Jens Christian Grøndahl’s Fire dage i marts (‘Four Days in March’) deals with a 48-year-old mother, who watches her son disappear into a brutal teenage world, even while she can still recall the feeling of his soft little body on her hip: “She is at the end of the road as a mother”. “She” is the architect Ingrid, who has left her son’s father in favour of her lover, Frank, married and 20 years her senior. We meet her when, on a business trip to Sweden, she is rung up by the Copenhagen police and learns that her son has been involved in a case of GBH against an immigrant boy. At the same time she discovers that one of the expensive pearl earrings that she has been given by her Frank has gone. From then on we know where things will lead, namely towards the end of the road as a mother and the end of the road as a mistress. The novel is divided up into the title’s four March days, four sections entitled “Thursday” to “Sunday”. We follow events through Ingrid’s eyes, but through her retrospective gaze and through conversations with her journalist mother, Berthe, and her writer grandmother, Ada, (conversations that take place both at the level of the book’s present and of its retrospective past) the novel spans six decades and becomes the story of three generations. Or about “three stages of age, fading, helplessness”, “three stages of conceited, over-confident narcissism”,



as it is expressed towards the end from Ingrid’s disillusioned perspective. Or is this the narrator’s perspective seeing the three women as conceited, over-confident narcissistic? It is not entirely clear, since the novel’s is narrated personally throughout in the third person and is situated on the threshold between the character’s and the narrator’s consciousness, which is characteristic of this narrative position. The story of the three generations is in many ways a story of repetitions. A repeated story of a female desire that wants something other and in addition to motherhood. From grandmother Ada, who desires language and leaves her provincial town and the husband who belongs to it to become author and poet-housewife in Copenhagen. To mother Berthe, who in her unhappiness desires her mother’s love and therefore remains too much a daughter to really be a mother. To Ingrid, who desires her erotic consort with another man more than her family life. In all three generations: divorce and children who feel betrayed. It is almost as though the woman’s desire is a form of original sin that percolates through different members of the family’s body. Can we not sense a literary greeting from Grøndahl across time, in that the first daughter in this family tree is called Berthe and thereby shares a name with modern literature’s prototype of the desire-


By Lilian Munk Rösing

driven, maternally disloyal woman in ‘Madame Bovary’…? If the novel, for all its portrayal of female desire as a form of original sin, cannot be called misogynist, the credit goes, in a sense, also to ‘Madame Bovary’ – or the narrative technique that Grøndahl shares with Flaubert. We follow the story through Ingrid’s eyes in an account that, it has to be said, is more loyal to Ingrid than Flaubert is to Emma Bovary. Ingrid is a kind of “Danish design” version of Emma. She does not get fired up by pink silk slippers and brocade but by the architecture of the Louisiana Art Museum and decisive, well-groomed masculinity “with an aura of aftershave”. It might seem as though certain patriarchal stereotypes about the sexes were tramping around in this novel – not least in the portrait of the affected and tasteless authoress, Ada, in her Karen Blixen turban, coral lips and piquant autobiographical outpourings, and her poet-husband, Per, who by contrast stands for good taste and takes Ingrid on a tour of Louisiana’s art and J.P. Jacobsen’s prose. But towards the end we have Ada’s story served up to us from her own perspective in a way that is faithful

to the young woman’s yearnings towards language and away from the provinces. ‘Four Days in March’ is first and foremost about time. It is about “timelines each with its own bouquet of converging lines”, that extend out from the narrated moment “to lose themselves in eternity”, as it is expressed in the imaginary meeting between the older and younger Ingrid in transit, each travelling in her own direction by train. The novel is about time as a mass that can be stretched or compressed, according to how it is seen. “Yet another weekend lies in wait with the hours it disposes of, far too many, far too few, depending on where you are in your life” it says in one of the simple yet pithy statements about time that readers will bear with them from the novel. Like this one, about the progress of the family: “You know so little about those that are adult before you become adult yourself”. Using its retrospective incision into three generations of female life, the novel rights the wrongs of such absence of knowledge and makes time into a space that permits movement forwards and backwards.

Jens Christian Grøndahl Fire dage i marts / Four Days in March Gyldendal 2008, 333 pp. Foreign Rights Gyldendal Group Agency Sofie Wanting Hassing Phone: +45 33 75 55 55 Rights sold to France, Estonia, Sweden and Germany Previous titles published in England, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Spain and Sweden.

Translated by John Mason

Meeting the global challenge – from the settee


The culture of greed is given a broadside in Kirsten Hammann’s original attempt at topical social satire with built-in marital complications. World-class literature from Welfare Denmark? By Lise Garsdal How do we get up off the settee and out on the streets with the collecting box? How much global commitment can one expect of oneself as a representative of the comfortable European middle class – and of others? These questions may sound like the beginning of a contribution to a politically correct debate, but Kirsten Hammann’s novel, En dråbe i havet (‘A Drop in the Ocean’), is anything but polite and antiquated sermonising. Her prose is not

restrained rhetoric, but rather the chattering of an eccentric, and her principal character is far from politically correct, even though she – Mette – at one level of consciousness – eagerly wishes to be so. Kirsten Hammann, born in 1965, wrote her way into modern Danish literary history long ago. More precisely into the chapter on post-modernism’s fictional characters confused about their identity



and wresting themselves free of the normalising embrace of realism to talk about existing – or trying to exist – with their very own, half-crazy voices. It has almost become a Hammann speciality to write like a woman at odds with reality. Her ability to build up a linguistically claustrophobic universe and talk – or chatter – the reader to the point of madness is, and remains, unique. But there are also some striking common features between the principal character in ‘A Drop in the Ocean’, Mette, and Mette in the novel Fra smørhullet (‘The Diary of a Cozy Corner’) (2004), for instance in the way they alternate between housewifely common sense and naive, not to say childish, reasoning. In the first Mette novel, the dream of conjugal bliss received its death blow as the woman sank into a kind of exile of loneliness. ‘A Drop in the Ocean’ deals with a woman whose marital and professional happiness appears to be complete. Mette is an author, the mother of a child who goes to kindergarten, and is married to a university lecturer, Martin, who comes home to their flat in Copenhagen at weekends with a renewed appetite for family life and Mette’s attractive, middle-aged body. In other words, we are talking middle-class, security and – as it will appear later – marking time. Mette knows instinctively that she should ‘do something’ and therefore decides that her next book will be about the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed in a global perspective. It will be the book “that will change the world”. But it’s not so easy to abstain from that four-square lunch, and there must also be time for an afternoon nap, and the days pass with housewifely duties and very familiar sins of omission. “It’s Wednesday, and Mette still hasn’t done anything about the hungry people in Africa.” No, but how can global responsibility be reconciled

with the modern woman’s legal and hard-won “right” to a little personal ease? Kirsten Hammann

The dilemma blocks Mette’s circular thinking and comes to act as the driving force behind the narrative. On the one hand Mette throws herself into an exacting research process where she comes as close to the problem of poverty as it is possible to without actually being poor. Hammann resorts to quasiscience fiction and constructs a parallel world in the form of a hotel room that Mette, prompted by a mysterious “relief organisation”, can visit whenever she wishes, and thereby go to the African village, the Romanian children’s home, or the South American rubbish dump for a couple of hours and then return to her comfortable, urbane life. A fantastic touch that gives rise to questions such as – can you be infected with HIV in cyberspace, and what do you do if a poverty-stricken African boy slips out of the virtual world and accompanies you home to your own flat? On the other hand, Mette gets an apparently trifling, but very real, wound on her thigh that slowly but surely forms thickened scar tissue, interfering with and disturbing her inner tranquillity. Thus both external and internal pressures increase in strength, tormenting Mette and finally pushing her into a regular out-of-the-closet crisis. Hammann provides no unambiguous answer to how the inner “hunger” for close contact with the great world outside is causally connected with the growing marital vacuum. But she undeniably puts the classic midlife crisis into perspective. Moreover, literati have called ‘A Drop in the Ocean’ world-class literature. One could perhaps quite simply call it a courageously far-ranging novel of – and for – its time. Translated by John Mason

But behind them the forests are singing Karen Fastrup weaves a weird mythology into an everyday, realistic set-up around a young woman’s search for herself. By Liselotte Wiemer Sometimes, one feels like expressing oneself purely in clichés. This is because Karens Fastrup’s latest



novel Begravelsen (‘The Funeral’) is a real gem for a cold winter’s day and a warm summer’s night.

En dråbe i havet / A Drop in the Ocean Gyldendal 2008, 324 pp. Foreign Rights Leonhardt & Høier Literary Agency Anneli Høier Phone +45 33132523 Rights sold to The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden Previous titles published in England, France, Germany, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

We are in Småland, in the heart of the Swedish woodlands. The setting is a funeral. The celebrated Danish author, Aksel Skarre, has died and all of the guests have assembled at his funeral. Even his daughter, Paula, has arrived from Copenhagen. She has just got divorced and is at the great crossroads of her life. Accompanying her are her daughter, Kristin, and her former husband, Lars. But, as we know, postponement is the breath of life in every drama. It is impossible to get the coffin into the ground due to the frost. And it is impossible for the funeral guests to leave the little house due to a snowstorm. So they all wait, and waiting time is story time for the guests, who have met again at the funeral for the first time in many years. It is during this waiting time that Paula is transported back to her childhood in the 70s, to life in a left-wing hippie family at Nørrebro in Copenhagen and later to the move to Sweden that has been a watershed. She is a little girl and, initially, can only look out of the window at the great, pitch-black forest. What do people do here at night, she asks in wonder? In the meantime, her parents, especially Skarre, develop in great style. He flourishes as an author, teaches classes about the corruption of imperialism and has several erotic affairs. Paula also has writing in her blood. But her father’s shadow is an obstacle, just as the frost is – outside and inside her. “I write so that my father can continue to be a human being”, she says. And we sense that the book we have in our hands is the result of her writing. Although the way is paved for a classic fatherdaughter showdown, and although there is a good deal of anger, rejection and envy between the branches – we are fortunately at the same time in a space that is far bigger than the psychological space. All the flashbacks to childhood and to the wreckage marriage are elevated to the hunting tower in the forest where a little boy sits talking to the

birds. More about that shortly. For it is that space in particular that constitutes the real strength and originality of the novel. Soon, Paula not only becomes familiar with the sounds of the forest, but also with the two fascinating brothers, Gösta and Ingmar, named by their mother, Kerstin, after characters in Selma Lagerlöf’s novels. The story of this little, deeply poetic, deeply neglected, deeply pain-bound and sky-high family in the forest is the great scoop in the novel. Paula goes to school with Ingmar, but the first person she meets is the strange boy who sits screaming in the tower in the forest. And from this point, the boy’s dramatic story unfolds. It began in a banal, casual way as is so often the case. In the intoxication of the dance during the midsummer celebration, the beautiful Kerstin allows herself to be lifted up and away by the powerful Magnus. Kerstin got pregnant and they had to get married. And this was the beginning of an ill-fated alliance between Kerstin’s dreamy nature and Magnus’ coarse primitiveness. She isolated herself more and more in her own world, even refusing to see her children, and one day disappeared completely. Only a photo was left behind. Until Kerstin also surfaces at Skarre’s funeral. But that is much later. From the day Kerstin leaves her family, the two small boys are left in the care of their father, Magnus, a relationship that becomes increasingly violent. And one awful day, Magnus drunkenly throws an axe at little Gösta, permanently damaging the boy’s brain. Now Gösta sits in the hunting tower talking to the birds while his younger brother Ingmar looks after him and protects him from their father and the malice of the world.


This time, Fastrup has the entire Swedish countryside and two neglected children of the forest to draw on. It can hardly fail to be beautiful! And it is.

Karen Fastrup weaves a weird mythology into an everyday, realistic set-up around a young woman’s search for herself. Finally, the coffin can be put into the ground, the real world takes over, and the pages of the book are brought up to date. But behind them the forests are singing. Translated by John Mason

Karen Fastrup Begravelsen / The Funeral Gyldendal 2008, 218 pp. Foreign Rights Gyldendal Group Agency Sofie Wanting Hassing Phone: +45 33 75 55 55 Previous title published in English



Energetic, youthful prose The novel’s narrator pulls the strings, but remains unobtrusive until the very end, allowing us to enter and leave all of these minds to follow their trains of thought and see people as they are unable to see themselves, from the outside. By Mai Misfeldt MA, freelance reviewer

It is a secure world of this kind that one of the principal characters, veterinary Inger-Mai, in Lone Hørslev’s novel Naturlige fjender (‘Natural Enemies’), has walled herself up in. She lives in a small community in South Jutland where everybody knows everybody, but where everybody also knows the dirt about everybody. She is married, has a child, a house, a car and a job. She ought to be happy and at peace with herself, which she also likes telling herself she is. When we meet her, however, she is in rather a flap. She has just had a possibly malignant birthmark removed from her cheek, and it may be the thought that life is not unending, that there may not be another chance, that contributes to her unrest. Look – there she is, sitting in Kalle’s Kings Inn, it is not even five o’clock yet and she is drinking snaps with the barman and doesn’t feel like stopping, and she would really like the waiter to look at her a little more, to touch her, as he is already touching her in her imagination. There is a violent, desperate energy in Inger-Mai, but also a loneliness laid bare, a yearning for tenderness, that makes it impossible not to like her. ‘Natural Enemies’ circles round of the inhabitants of this small Danish provincial community. We meet Peter the Policeman who beats his wife, but we also meet his wife, who makes a habit of publicly exposing his impotence; we meet the other principal character, Lars the waiter, who constructs his identity around his own irresistibility, but who has also apparently been badly let down by several women before. He can do anything, he thinks, but how can it be that he can’t hold down the job at the King’s Inn for more than 23 days? As readers, we immediately begin to produce gossip, we become part of the machinery. We move around in the cycle of tall stories and gossip that separates and unites people at one and the same time. What makes Lone Hørslev a distinctive author and ‘Natural Enemies’ a really electrifying text is her method. A method that deals with letting go and giving free rein to desire, caprice, digressions and



rule-breaking. It could be called spoken writing. CAPITALS are used to write loud, and italics are used significantly, there may be traaaaaaanquillity, full stops are followed by “and” and “but”, odd ideas pop up in liberally distributed parentheses, there are abrupt switches between people and in thinking. Lone Hørslev is a positive collector of small peculiarities, and it is not for nothing, it seems, that she is the daughter of a veterinary, in any case, we get a lot of really delightful unnecessary and curious information about animal behaviour into the bargain, such as the fact that antelopes shake themselves after having been chased by a lion! The novel’s narrator pulls the strings, but remains unobtrusive until the very end, allowing us to enter and leave all of these minds to follow their trains of thought and see people as they are unable to see themselves, from the outside. Finally, it appears that the narrator lives in the centre of town, in Anker’s house. In the novel’s present, Anker, the gambler, the lover of women and drunkard, has just died and the story of him and his house are left as a central void that the characters in the novel hover around. Both Lars and Inger-Mai would like to buy his house, while Peter the Policeman owed Anker money and owes Inger-Mai’s husband money. Lone Hørslev exposes these characters, but does not make fun of them. I imagine that, like Flaubert on Madame Bovary, she would say “Inger-Mai, that’s me”. Inger-Mai is a much-needed, courageous portrait of a woman. Inger-Mai is that embarrassing inner woman we prefer not to be let loose in society. She gets disgracefully drunk and flirts without inhibition, irrespective of the fact she has a husband and child, but she is not a cold fish. Lone Hørslev does not serve up a moral, or a picture of how ‘there we can see what a mess she got into’ that we would have found in many other books. The motto seems to be not so much farting about here. Women are filled with desire and, like men, want to have their cake and eat it. This is where the radial feminist point lies with Hørslev. ‘Natural Enemies’ is an amusing, entertaining novel, but it is also moving and tragicomic because, in constant flashes, it catches us right where it hurts. Where we are each other’s and our own worst enemies. Translated by John Mason


We say that animals have natural enemies. Man’s only natural enemy is other people, and it may be the case that the individual is often his own worst enemy. Understood in the sense that people have a tendency to lock themselves away in a small, ideal – both concrete and imaginary – world that will one day unavoidably end up by exploding.

Lone Hørslev Naturlige fjender / Natural Enemies Athene 2008, 183 pp. Foreign Rights LR Agency Susanne Gribfeldt Phone: +45 33 69 50 00

Haunting Husum – on Lars Husum’s novel ‘My Friendship with Jesus Christ’ His style is direct, extremely aggressive, and not without a certain rough humour. His tone and jargon are also very close to the spoken language of the social groups he portrays, and his approach is lively, visual and evocative. By Mikkel Bruun Zangenberg

Husum’s story takes the form of a personal account of a desperately unfortunate boy, Nikolaj, whose mother and father die all too early in a traffic accident, leaving him with his elder sister, Søs, and a tremendous burden of anger, hate, bitterness, frustration and sorrow. Their mother was a famous Danish pop idol, so purely financially, the bereaved children have been provided for to a certain extent; but it is a catastrophe for both of them emotionally, and particularly for Nikolaj – whose anger and hate are manifested in the form of violence, self-destructiveness, drug abuse and, in the final analysis, the complete destruction of the only asset left in his life. Therefore, Nikolaj sinks slowly but surely to the absolute nadir as a person. And it comes as no surprise that it is at this point Jesus decides to make his appearance. What does Nikolaj do? He resolutely whacks an ashtray on the head of the said Jesus, who, thank goodness, is made of extremely solid stuff. From here, the story can be wound both backwards and forwards in a long, burdensome, reversed Via

Dolorosa, during which Nikolaj has to do penance for his sins and, in reality, learn to perform what Kierkegaard called acts of love. Deformed by his anger, Nikolaj has become a knot of bitter self-sufficiency and therefore the first step – sanctioned by Jesus – is to break with his suicidal strategy of constantly pushing others away. One of the provocative points made by Husum is that Nikolaj will never be able to make this break unaided. In the first instance he is completely dependent on the incarnated Jesus who, like some football coach, discreetly but insistently keeps his nose to the grindstone. Why provocative? Because the idea effectively departs from one of the most powerful and most central dogmas of West European culture and of the self-perception of male identity, namely that we are beings who depend on ourselves. We must solve our own problems and, in the final analysis, we are alone and must bravely and doggedly fall back on this lonely but strong cowboy position when some task has to be executed. The most anxiety-provoking thing for such a rational, European macho man is naturally the idea of surrendering himself like a child to the help of a strong father, something that would be unthinkable for Clint Eastwood’s lone wolves and for the philosopher René Descartes. Husum’s trick here is to allow Nikolaj to reach a state of extreme desperation and despair; only in this hopeless condition can Nikolaj in any way – and still reluctantly – be brought to accept Jesus’ helping hand.


The idea is nearly as childishly simple as it is promising and fascinating. What if one of us thoroughly rational, agnostic and secularised Europeans quite literally and quite irrefutably were visited by no less a personage than the resurrected Jesus? At present, there is a protracted, fluctuating and complex struggle between western secularisation and religious fronts of all kinds that oppose freedom of speech and human rights. The intriguing thing about Danish author Lars Husum’s debut novel, Mit venskab med Jesus Kristus (‘My Friendship with Jesus Christ’), is that it resurrects Jesus in the heart of and as a thoroughly integrated part of western society.

Lars Husum Mit venskab med Jesus Kristus / My Friendship with Jesus Christ Gyldendal 2008, 320 pp. Foreign Rights Gyldendal Group Agency 1001 Copenhagen K Phone: +45 33 75 55 55 Rights sold to England, France, Italy, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden Film rights sold to Nimbus Film

Stylistically, Husum is closely related to such writers as Nick Hornby. His style is direct, extremely aggressive, and not without a certain rough humour. His tone and jargon are also very close to the spoken language of the social groups he portrays, and



his approach is lively, visual and evocative. Husum also draws on diligently-worked, fictitious excerpts from newspaper articles and reproductions of radio broadcasts so that the plot is solidly embedded in modern media reality. Not surprisingly, the film rights to the manuscript have already been sold. Within this dramatic story, Husum implements yet another thought-provoking manoeuvre, namely to reverse the archetypal movement established by Balzac, Stendhal and Flaubert as early as the nineteenth century, allowing the young, male principal character to move from the provinces towards the capital. Husum turns this movement 180 degrees so that Nikolaj ends up in the little West Jutland town of Tarm, and there administers the painful inheritance left by his mother and pop idol, Grith Okholm, who for her part, escaped West Jutland

and the oppressive presence of the Home Mission Church as fast as she could. As long as it is completely asymmetrical, the “friendship” Nikolaj develops with the muscular Jesus is a rather peculiar one. Jesus gives, and Nikolaj receives. But it is precisely in this unexplained asymmetry (we never learn who Jesus might be in reality, where he comes from, or where he disappears to) that much of the narrative power and effective pathos lies and drives Lars Husum’s novel. And this is also due to its curious power of daring to allow everything to depend on the principal character’s complete surrender to Jesus, and thereby to all of the others – without losing his masculinity, but on the contrary in such a way as to be the only one to gain in power and goodness. Translated by John Mason

Sorting raindrops on the basis of Inner Necessity (IN) There are many small gods in a modern world and it is complex and difficult to create order in it.

One could begin by asking whether gods are not usually perceived as great and whether there is therefore a touch of rebellion against thinking in grooves lurking in the title of the book, Små guder (‘Little gods’)? Furthermore, the initial letter of God is always capitalised in Semitic religions, and we do not talk of gods but of one god, the only god — allpowerful and great. Following on from that we can note the simple form and, in fact, the simple language of this collection of poetry, which I can best describe as a charming mixture of negligence and meticulousness. Each poem addresses a ”you”, not the same you, but a new you for each poem, and the feeling is that the poet had quite specific, real-life people in mind. There is a poem to a future mother-in-law, there are poems to former lovers, and there are poems to other artists and poets. This doesn’t mean that it is necessary to know the people portrayed to get to the heart of the poems – or, for that matter, that one will get to know these people. The enchanting thing about the poems is that everybody – every Tom, Dick and Harry – can feel they have been addressed when Niels Frank writes “you”.



A single individual’s personal experience opens into the universally human in ‘Little gods’. The personal material is an investment that, if I am courageous for a moment, I will dare to say makes these poems true. This is the way it is with poetry, it speaks the truth, but with a poet like Niels Frank it does so by constantly containing its own contradiction or by pointing out past lies. Therefore, the poems must also speak out against old truths, aphorisms and clichés but, it should be noted, must also concede that some of the well-known turns of phrase can also be used now and again; for example, the cliché “that we are not at all the people/we are”. At least, with the addition of a line break. One poem, an ekphrasis, rewrites in its first line the old cliché that a picture says more than a thousand words: “… WHEN THE WORDS SUDDENLY disappeared and your picture/began mutating before my eyes,” and continues like a conversation between the viewer and the work of art: “as though it wanted to say, what the devil are you waiting for, man? And, yes,/what am I actually waiting for? New nostalgias,/new shamefulnesses, new triumphs, more proximity,/more childhood


By Kamilla Löfström

kissing. More fondling.” The viewer feels addressed by the picture, or one could say that the picture invites the viewer to take part in a conversation because the viewer feels this is the case. In the same way, ‘Little gods’ itself is an invitation to take part in a conversation, so the direct address of the you form is natural and recurrent. The conversation is about nothing less than life, death, love, art – and, above all, about poetry and the material it is made of: language. The spoken word submerges itself in experiences and the details of physical decline, but also in erotic pleasure, in aging convictions, and newly discovered doubt. The poet is thinking with both extremities, if such vulgarity can be permitted in an attempt to imitate the leaps between spirituality and obscenity that the poems also take. The fact is that Niels Frank’s poems are not marked by the transitions but move imperceptibly from the very great to the very small. There is also a line in the above-mentioned poem to the effect that: “If there were no art, we would feel/ far too secure, too convinced.” ‘Little gods’ creates a space for conver-

sation, a space where several options are kept open at the same time. There are many small gods in a modern world and it is complex and difficult to create order in it. Talking about it and encompassing everything is an impossible task. This is the task that Niels Frank takes on himself in ‘Little gods’. The words at the head of this text come from another of the poems in the book that speak, as though in a dream state, about an “I” that has been given the task of “sorting raindrops on the basis of Inner/ Necessity (IN)”. The drops are raindrops, but, as the task is assigned, the I “at once began to cry, so the job became/even more impossible”. However, we are assured that this is not tragic. But as a modern person in a complex world, perhaps there is nothing for it but to attempt to sort raindrops on the basis of Inner Necessity? One can then walk in dry weather now and again, enjoying the unusually generous conversationalist entitled ‘Little gods’. Translated by John Mason

Niels Frank Små guder / Little gods Gyldendal, 2008, 60 pp. Foreign Rights Gyldendal Group Agency Sofie Wanting Hassing Phone: +45 33 75 55 55 Niels Frank received The Montana Literature Prize in 2008 and The Danish Critics price for this collection of poems Previous titles published in Sweden

Inger Christensen’s | A CLASSIC |

‘The Butterfly Valley’

Investigating the similarity between the creation of form by nature and by art. By Erik Skyum-Nielsen When a committee, set up by the Danish Ministry of Cultural Affairs in 2005, was given the job of nominating a national literature canon (published in 2006) and only had twelve ‘cannon balls’ at its disposal, a decision was made to nominate ten significant works of prose, a fine anthology of carefully selected poems – and a single poem, the long, radiant, optimistic poem entitled Sommerfugledalen (‘The Butterfly Valley’) by Inger Christensen. A poem that takes the form of a classic sonnet cycle in which the last line of each sonnet is repeated in the first line of the following, with sonnet number fifteen, justifiably entitled ”the master sonnet”, comprising the first (and therefore also the last) lines of the fourteen preceding poems. Into this extremely difficult form – poetry’s golden

answer to a ‘hole-in-one’ or the 400 metre hurdles – Inger Christensen (1935-2009, debut 1962) — put as many beautiful butterflies’ names as there was space for, but she also incorporated a subtle complex of themes: The interplay and opposition of love and death. She delighted in claiming that her sonnet cycle had simply come about as a game, as an innocent pastime on a train journey; but even if this were true, it does not prevent the work from also being one of the greatest, most all-embracing gestures from a philosophically-inclined, deep thinking poet whose principal concern was to investigate the similarity between the creation of form by nature and by art.

Inger Christensen Sommerfugledalen / The Butterfly Valley Brøndum 1991, 40 pp. Foreign Rights Gyldendal Group Agency Sofie Wanting Hassing

The poem takes its point of departure in an observational encounter with nature, but adds to it a grate-

Phone: +45 33 75 55 55



ful reunion with scenes from the poet’s childhood and adult life. The subtitle, ‘A Requiem’ reveals that love manifests itself against the gloomy background of death, and the poem also leads into memories of those who have disappeared. But because life together with them is embedded in perceived nature, the poem can gradually lead into a tribute to what has been created in all its inconstancy and multiplicity. At another yet higher level the work reflects on mankind’s singular ability to see and understand the world around him, and does so in the ecstatic awareness that perhaps the poet, here and now, can be the spokesman of the universe by virtue of the writing that it is after all, mankind’s privilege to be able to produce. There are those who visited poetry readings time after time in the expectation that Inger Christensen would read this particular work, and there are

many people who have learned it all by heart and now carry the text around with them like a piece of jewellery under their skin. The poem is one of the most beautiful and finest products of Danish literature. But its theme is general, not just Danish. The poem holds up the ascent of dust from the ground, through the air towards heaven, against the downward movement of decay and death and attempts to keep the paradox together: that the world meets us like the “vibration of wings”, like “iconoclasm”, like “wild, labyrinthine foolishness”, at the same time as we are capable, with the help of language, evocative language, of “taking all forms of life in the world into ourselves”, as happens in this radiant poem which, in a valid summary expression, “makes memories of living butterfly-light”. Translated by John Mason

Hanne-Vibeke Holst has completed her great novel trilogy, which provides a portrait of modern Denmark and an insight into people who strive for power. By Klaus Rothstein

This is the question posed by the young Danish rapper, Nastasja, in one of her last songs before she died in a tragic car accident in Jamaica in 2007. Her song to Denmark expressed a search for the openness and open-mindedness that has disappeared in a time in which intolerance and conformism have begun to take up more and more space. And the young rapper is not the only one to have discovered that times are a-changing and things are not what they once were in Denmark. The international press has seen it, too.



England, USA, Germany, Latvia, Sweden Previous titles published in Bulgaria, The Netherlands,

Power play “Hey! Denmark! What’s happening to you?”

Published in

“Hey! Denmark! What’s happening to you?” asks the international press, because it is clear that something new is going on at the present time, when the image of Denmark and its values are in the process of being re-evaluated. Maybe everything is not so straightforward and positive? What is happening to these people, who once spoke of vision and tolerance but who are now obsessed with national roots and the Danish identity?

The political trilogy And “Hey! Denmark! What’s happening to you?” can also stand as a heading above the writer Hanne-

Estonia, England, France, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden and USA.

‘The Crown Princess’ (2003) was first and foremost a portrait of a young woman, Charlotte Damgaard, who was about to give up a directorship of a large NGO in favour of a life as home-going mother and wife to her husband, who had just been given a job in Uganda. But just as the family is about to leave, the prime minister rings. Charlotte is to be Social Democrat minister for the environment. In the trilogy’s second novel, ‘Regicide’ (2005), the political balance tilts. Conservative and liberal parties take power, and Social Democrat leaders react like humiliated and wounded animals – while some crawl away to hide, others go on the attack, and what develops is political and personal cannibalism on a grand scale, with power the objective. Can the idealistic Charlotte see herself in this world, or has she reached the end of the road? In ‘The Queen Sacrifice’ (2008) things are hotting up for an election. The Social Democrats have a desperate need to regain the ministries, and Charlotte is to go into the election campaign side by side with the party’s new leader, the previous minister for foreign affairs, Elizabeth Meyer, who has a realistic chance to be the first woman prime minister in Denmark. But things are not always what they seem, and while she is striving for ultimate power, Elizabeth Meyer on the one hand has to live with murder threats from rabid Muslims, who have discovered that she has a Jewish family background, while on the other hand she tries to conceal a great secret that is a greater threat to her than the Muslims. The secret – which is not kept secret from the reader – concerns a creeping dementia that is gradually undermining her rational superiority and her analytical grasp. With this genetic weakness slowly developing, she is not able to grasp the power that she desires more than anything in the world. Now it is a question of concealing the disease until after the election, so that, when the time comes, Charlotte Damgaard can take over her position and become Denmark’s first woman prime minister.

The trilogy about Charlotte Damgaard and the characters around her is a portrait of modern Denmark that deals with the great dilemmas that put their life choices to the test – personal, strategic and moral dilemmas as well as those concerned with career and power politics. How much honesty can we afford to give and receive? How much deceit can we bear to distribute? How long can we control our manipulation in the interests of a higher duty? How high is the price we will pay for power? And what are we first – politician, woman, wife, mother? Elizabeth Meyer is not in doubt – but for Charlotte Damgaard the choice has never been so easy.


Vibeke Holst’s monumental trilogy about power politics in Denmark, which began with Kronprinsessen (‘The Crown Princess’) and Kongemordet (‘The Regicide’) and which has now been concluded with Dronningeofret (‘The Queen Sacrifice’). Taken together these three large-scale novels compose one narrative (although they can also be read singly) about the way in which power takes shape in and around the central figures at Christiansborg, the Danish parliament. What happens to those who reach out to grasp power, play the game and pay the price for their own will to power?

With ‘The Queen Sacrifice’ Hanne-Vibeke Holst, a qualified journalist, has completed her chief literary work, in which she both creates a precise description of Danish politics and incorporates parallel themes about the way both the powerful and the powerless reach out for deadly weapons to avenge themselves at the expense of others – from the charismatic wife-beater of a finance minister in ‘The Regicide’ to participants in a racist terror cells in ‘The Queen Sacrifice’.

Hanne-Vibeke Holst

De Gyldne Laurbær (The Golden Laurels)

Rights sold to

Hanne-Vibeke Holst does not come of an ethnic mix like Nastasja, who had a Sudanese father and a Danish mother. On the contrary, her origins lie in the province of northern Jutland, whose self-perception places it a long way both from the capital and from the rest of the world.

The Netherlands, Sweden,

Dronningeofret / The Queen Sacrifice Gyldendal 2008, 664 pp. Foreign Rights Gyldendal Group Agency Sofie Wanting Hassing Phone: +45 33 75 55 55

Norway, Germany Previous titles published in The Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Norway, Poland and Sweden.

Today Nastasja lies buried a few metres from Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard in the midst of the colourful Nørrebro district of Copenhagen, while Hanne-Vibeke Holst, at only a few weeks interval, has received the prestigious literature prize, De Gyldne Laurbær, which is awarded by Danish booksellers, has celebrated her 50th birthday and has topped 100,000 sales of ‘The Queen Sacrifice’ (which is, for such a small country, a lot of books!). “Hey! Denmark! What’s happening to you?”. What is happening in this small country with a fine reputation, which in recent years has suffered such loss of innocence in the eyes of the world at large? This is precisely what Hanne-Vibeke Holst spend a total of 1600 pages exploring in her trilogy, which takes a close-up look at women’s role in the play for power, at the swing to the right, intolerance, power psychology, a mental lack of compromise and moral dilemmas in Danish politics – all of them encompassed in the high tension and stimulating framework of the thriller. Translated by John Mason




Ib Lucas

Three Crime Novels

Manden på tapetet / The Man on the Tapestry Lindhardt og Ringhof 2008, 355 pp.

By Bo Tao Michaëlis

Julius Mendel PhD is an academic of the old school, a lecturer in Latin and an expert on the Danish Renaissance figure, scientist and nobleman, Tycho Brahe. After giving a lecture on Brahe at the Royal Danish Library, he is contacted by a stunning blonde by the name of Cecilie. Her father, a member of the landed gentry who is confined to a wheelchair, wants to buy a 16th century manuscript by Brahe himself, and needs Mendel’s help to check its origin and authenticity. Mendel agrees to take on the job, not least because he has just resigned from his post as an upper secondary school teacher. Together, Julius and Cecilie travel to Prague to negotiate the purchase of the manuscript, and thereby enter an exciting story that involves international gangsters and fanatical collectors. During the search for the papers, Julius picks up the scent of yet another secret, namely that the great English dramatist, William Shakespeare, was the illegitimate son of Tycho Brahe. Ib Lucas has written the intelligent reader’s version

Jussi Adler-Olsen: The Pheasant Killers The author launched a series dealing with a special branch of the Danish police force, Q Branch, in his crime novel Kvinden i buret (‘The Woman in the Cage’). In that novel, we meet for the first time the morose vice-superintendent Carl Mørck and his more cheerful police assistant, Assad, a second generation Dane. Here in Fasandræberne (‘The Pheasant Killers’) an old case concerning the murder of two siblings in 1987 lands on Mørck’s desk. This intrigue involves a group of boarding school pupils from the Danish upper class and their pursuit of power and wealth. However, the case was closed in 1996 when a suspect turned himself in and



Foreign Rights

of Dan Brown’s bestseller ‘The Da Vinci Code’. This is, in other words, a well-written, well-turned, thoroughly researched and historically-founded and colourful thriller, which sensationally interweaves facts with conspiratorial hypotheses that appear highly probable and convincing in the terms of the genre. This multifaceted intrigue tears along at a tremendous pace on the trail of the mysterious manuscript and its fanatical pursuers. At the same time, the reader is entertained with the fantastic theory of the connection between Shakespeare and Tycho Brahe, which is derived from an ancient royal tapestry (the ingenious tapestry of the title that shows an unidentified man conversing with our famous Dane). According to Lucas’ novel, the truth demonstrably comes to light when the famous “To be or not to be” monologue from Shakespeare’s world-famous play ‘Hamlet’ is analysed and decoded. Manden på tapetet ‘The Man on the Tapestry’ contains everything the reader could desire in the form of a picturesque plot, historical riddles and a romantic love story. Translated by John Mason

LR Agency

confessed to being the guilty party. But nothing is what it seems. Our two stubborn policemen begin investigating a murder that can be traced back to a murky past and a wretched bag lady, who apparently possesses damning knowledge of powerful men from the upper reaches of society who hunt and shoot pheasants. Another hunt, which is bloody and brutal, exciting and stimulating, now begins in a race against time, place and, not least, fate. Jussi Adler-Olsen has written a crime novel of real quality and brilliance in the Scandinavian style. Well-written from start to finish, it contains the kind of sensational and social realism we otherwise associate with the Swedish authors Sjöwall & Wahlöö, Henning Mankell and, not least, Arne Dahl.

Jussi Adler-Olsen

Translated by John Mason

Susanne Gribfeldt Phone: +45 33 69 50 00


Ib Lucas: The Man on the Tapestry

Fasandræberne/ The Pheasant Killers Politikens Forlag 2008, 399 pp. Foreign Rights Politikens Forlag Nya Guldberg Phone: +45 33 47 07 07 Previous titles published in The Netherlands and Sweden.

Nina Borg is a nurse who works at an accommodation centre for asylum seekers and has several times been stationed in war zones all over the world in a professional capacity. But when she finds a little boy in a luggage locker at the central station, her life takes a new turn. This rather disillusioned, chilly woman is transformed into an energetic detective, who comes across as little short of hard-boiled in a thoroughly exciting, well-written thriller dealing with human trafficking, kidnapping and violence. Nina has a well-developed caring gene and a hectic addiction to commitment and empathy for people in need. So much so that her husband calls her a manic adrenalin junkie. When she finds the poor boy in the box, her conscientious disposition becomes even more evident in a stubborn, continuous clinch with the seamy side of post-modernity’s globalisation. She wants to expose the cruel people behind this human trafficking and contempt for humanity. Fortunately, she is also a member of a network that attempts to help outsid-

ers in Denmark. The hunt for the guilty parties begins with the aid of a number of people from the network. In its structure and intrigues, Drengen i kufferten ‘The Boy in the Suitcase’ is reminiscent of Peter Høeg’s ‘Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow’. But with the major difference that Nina is not the principal character as a first person narrator, but simply one particular voice in a headlong, polyphonic novel, which cuts from scene to scene, switches from person to person, with the elements and details of the plot viewed through different eyes and narrated by alternating voices. At the same time, ‘The Boy in the Suitcase’ is clearly a political crime novel in the Scandinavian style with the criminal intrigues woven shrewdly and indignantly into a critical description of Denmark. ‘The Boy in the Suitcase’ has been nominated by the jury of the Danish Academy for Crime Fiction for the major, most distinguished Scandinavian award for the best crime novel of the year, the Glass Key Award. Translated by John Mason


Lene Kaaberbøl & Agnete Friis: The Boy in the Suitcase

Kaaberbøl & Friis Drengen i kufferten / The Boy in the Suitcase People´s Press 2008, 319 pp. Foreign Rights Artpeople Lise Nielsen Phone: + 45 33 11 33 11 Kaaberbøl’s books for children are published in Bulgaria, The Netherlands, England, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, Norway, Russia and Sweden.

Tolerance The point of departure is almost topical, as a number of cartoons in a Danish newspaper a few years ago depicting the prophet Muhammad led to a violent, even virulent, debate, not only in Denmark but also in many other countries. By Mette Winge kings, parliaments and individuals found that there were groups, states and princes whose beliefs and attitudes or whose appearance they were unable to endure or approve. The reason might be that the people in question either looked different or had the wrong opinions, or perhaps because they were richer or poorer than those ‘on the other side’. Tolerance has a long history. Tolerance – and the concept of tolerance itself – have been discussed by many authors over the years, and it is the works of these authors – familiar and less familiar – that the Bredsdorff-Kjældgaard partnership takes up and examines in this well-written, very thoughtful and important book ‘Tolerance’. Their point of departure is almost topical, as a number of cartoons in a Danish newspaper a few


Common experience tells us that it is easy, or at least presents few problems, to live cheek by jowl with people whose attitudes and values we share. It is far more difficult if this is not the case, because what are we to do about all those people who, we feel, have misguided or even abhorrent attitudes, and whose conduct is completely ‘wrong’? These are the questions that these two authors, Professor Thomas Bredsdorff and researcher Lasse Horne Kjældgaard set out to shed light on in their book Tolerance (‘Tolerance’), with the subtitle -”or how we learn to live with those we hate”. History tells us that the question is a central one and that it is very difficult to answer, while the same history can also produce an alarmingly long list of misdeeds carried out because princes and



years ago depicting the prophet Muhammad led to a violent, even virulent, debate, not only in Denmark but also in many other countries. This was a debate that even resulted in the burning of Danish embassies and Danish national symbols (flags). Being the reliable academics that they are, the pair – Bredsdorff and Kjældgaard – begin by looking into the history of tolerance, that is its origin and further development as illustrated by works of Thomas Moore, Locke and Bayle, Voltaire and Stuart Mill. They then analyse a number of central works of fiction that deal with tolerance. They take up ‘Niels Klim’, a novel by the great Danish author Ludvig Holberg, and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s ‘Nathan der Weise’. But they do not confine themselves to older works. They also consider E.M. Forster’s ‘Howard’s End’ and ‘A Passage to India’, Charlie Chaplin’s film ‘The Great Dictator’, George Orwell’s inescapable ‘1984’, and J.M. Coetzee’s novel ‘Disgrace’. They write that in ‘Disgrace’ we find ourselves at the outerrmost limit of tolerance, a view that is difficult to disagree with, and ‘Disgrace’ is also read today, a very frightening, unforgettable novel. A chapter is devoted to the great Danish hymn writ-

er, thinker and organiser N.F.S. Grundtvig, in which his ideas are interpreted and explained through the work of, for example, the prominent Danish intellectual and Grundtvig expert, Hal Koch. Finally, the two authors take up Salman Rushdie’s novel ‘The Satanic Verses’, and the twelve notorious cartoons that the newspaper Jyllands-Posten chose to publish. These cartoons engendered a violent debate, a debate that led to attacks on Danish embassies around the world. In a clear, straightforward manner, the two authors write that the cartoons “were used as a pretext to inflict more suffering on a seriously injured world”. ‘Tolerance – or how we learn to live with those we hate’ is an important contribution to an understanding of what the concept of tolerance involves and where the dividing line between this concept and its opposite – intolerance – lies. At the same time, the reader can benefit from having a number of important works of different genres discussed and explained. The reader becomes, therefore, considerably wiser from this perceptive and knowledgeable account. Translated by John Mason

Thomas Bredsdorff, Lasse Horne Kjældgaard Tolerance / Tolerance Gyldendal, 2008, 255 pp. Foreign Rights Gyldendal Group Agency Malene Iversen Phone: +45 33 75 55 55 Rights sold to Sweden.

A beautiful history of Europe There is not much tristesse and Woe Europe! in Per Nyholm’s grandiose work about the Europeans. On the other hand the book is a fine tribute to the continent and to its amazing history.

If we are to believe politicians and the press, Europe finds itself in permanent crisis. And this is despite many attempts to find common ground and a way forward into the future. But there is far too much wringing of hands about Europe. At least, if we are to believe the journalist and author Per Nyholm and his most recent book, Europæerne – Reportager fra en rejse i Europas erindring (‘Europeans – Reports from a Journey through Europe’s Memory’). Once we have turned the final page of Nyholm’s comprehensive work, it is clear to us that Europe is not in crisis at all. On the contrary. Only a couple of generations ago the continent lay



devastated by war and deeply divided, Germany had virtually ceased to exist, a number of large countries such as Spain and Portugal were governed by semi-fascist despots and to the east and south-east dictators were on the move. For this reason alone it is so extraordinary that in Europe we have today a union consisting of 27 sovereign and democratic states. Seen in this light any talk of crisis must fall silent. For Per Nyholm, for many years a correspondent for the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten with a permanent base in Italy, the history of Europe is not the story of a crisis, but a beautiful story of a miracle and a union of many nations, each with


By Peter Nielsen, Cultural editor, The Information newspaper

its own unique contribution to the great common European project.

with Carsten Ingemann’s powerful pictures, which in themselves make up a fantastic story.

Per Nyholm does not speak on Europe’s behalf as some naïve optimist. He does, in fact, have something to say. His innumerable journeyings across the continent over several decades, the enormous breadth of his knowledge and of his reading of European literature make him possibly the greatest expert on the continent in Denmark. And he pours his colossal knowledge just as generously into this book as he fills it with his huge appreciation for the way life is lived in different places and his powerful desire to share his many experiences with the reader.

Per Nyholm shows in this book that he is the travelling reporter in the tradition of the great Polish report writer, Ryszard Kapuscinski. He is not on the trail of news but instead travels around with the European classics in his suitcase. Nyholm’s work should be seen in relation to such epoch-making books about Europe as Claudio Magris’ ‘Danube’, Péter Esterházy’s ‘Down the Danube’, Richard Swartz’s ‘Room Service – Reports from Eastern Europe’ and Ulf Peter Hallberg’s ‘The Gaze of a Flaneur’. In its own way Nyholm’s book is a larger and wilder project than these. Where the writers mentioned here carefully seek out and ration their pregnant moments, Nyholm is prodigal and extensive in his approach.

Per Nyholm

Prior to that the reader has been taken on a tour de force right across this wealthy continent. From Ukraine in the east to Portugal in the west. From the North Pole at its northernmost point to Istambul in the south. Destinations carefully selected from at intricate geographical system add new squares to the vast patchwork of Europe. The tour is undertaken in relatively short chapters, each of which comprises a complete narrative. And along the way the tour is documented in photographs

Lindhardt og Ringhof, 2008, 685 pp. Foreign Rights LR Agency Susanne Gribfeldt Phone: +45 33 69 50 00

Nyholm seeks out the essence everywhere. And he finds it throughout the book in the places he visits by focusing on a writer or great European artist. He reads the culture, so to speak, through the culture it has produced. When, for example, he is in Sibiu in Rumania, he talks about the Europe of adventure stories and about Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther and Johannes Sebastian Bach. Or when he is staying in the Ukraine, the country is read through the writer Joseph Roth and his wonderful blend of journalism and literature. It is done with enormous panache, and at the same time shows in a very concrete way how rich a culture Europe has. Nyholm talks to by and large everyone we could wish to talk to about Europe. He speaks with dead writers, who run like a sub-text through the entire book, and he talks with a whole series of sparkling European thinkers. In other words we are given everything we could wish for, and more, in this European masterpiece.


This is no objective book, and it is no political or historical work, but it is a personal account of a rich continent. The journey begins in Rome. It is set in motion by a fundamental curiosity about everything he knows nothing about. This curiosity sends him criss-crossing the continent, in to the centre and out to the furthermost borders and to places only few of us have heard about. The journey concludes, not surprisingly, in Denmark, where, for all the travelling, this cosmopolitan recognises his roots, though not without casting a few gibes at his countrymen for their intolerance and narrowmindedness.

Europæerne / Europeans

Translated by John Mason

Sorrow and happiness in the nursery

Charlotte Weise Rasmus Bregnhøi (illustration) Snabels herbarium / Snabel’s herbarium Carlsen 2008, 28 pp.

Picture books no longer only address young children. This, among other things, is why we are now seeing examples of works that focus on the more serious aspects of children’s lives. Three new Danish picture books manage fine representations of well-written stories about children’s conflicts, losses and fears. By Nina Christensen

Foreign Rights LR Agency Susanne Gribfeldt Phone: +45 33 69 50 00 susanne.gribfeldt@lindhardt-

Seriousness and cheerfulness go hand in hand in Christina Weise’s tale, Snabels herbarium (‘Snabel’s

Herbarium’), with illustrations by Rasmus Bregnhøi. The book is at one and the same time both



The illustrations are a veritable treasure trove of plants of all shapes. Rasmus Bregnhøi combines a number of techniques so that there are drawings, photographic reproductions of flowers and plants, and computer-manipulated elements on the same page. The overall impression, however, is not confused. Bregnhøi creates a unified expression that is almost like a poster in some places, such as in the illustration of Lille who, to his despair, spills a glass of juice over the frames. Rose branches with thorns mark a break and the large yellow expanses of colour signal danger. At the same time, the humour of the drawings and slightly caricatural style help to take the sting out of the serious situation. Perhaps the most serious, frightening story one can tell a child is that they can be deserted. Marianne Koester’s story Simon på flugt (‘Simon Takes Flight’), illustrated by Pia Thaulov, is an instance of how a picture book can also be used to tell children about such a serious subject as ethnic cleansing. The book tells the story of how the majority of Danish Jews were saved from being sent to extermination camps during World War II because a well-organised escape route was established across the Sound to Sweden. Through the eyes of the first person narrator, 5-year-old Simon, the reader learns what happens when his mother and father suddenly tell him they must run away because they are Jews. Simon doesn’t know what a Jew is, but he follows his parents to a farm near the coast where they wait until they can get on a boat. When they are finally ready to leave, Simon has to find something he has lost and arrives too late. The boat has sailed without him and he calls to his parents in vain. Fortunately,



It appears from the preface that the story is based on an authentic event and, as adult readers, we cannot avoid being gripped by the gravity and drama of the story that culminates in the picture of the little boy left alone and deserted on the coast. But in this case, too, the illustrations are very much the story’s ambassador and tone down the grim narrative. Pia Thaulov’s illustrations focus sharply on the child’s viewpoint and his experience of events. We see how he clings to his mother, how their fellow passengers smile to him, and how he meets a big, friendly, cheerful and confidence-inspiring man when he is most desperate. Pia Thaulov also shows her mastery of the use of elusive water colour technique in this book. Combined with pencil drawings and pastels, the illustrations also give the story a strong element of warmth and lightness.


a man comes along who helps him to catch up with the cutter. Simon is reunited with his parents, after which they sail to safety in Sweden.

Marianne Koester Pia Thaulov (illustrations) Simon på flugt / Simon Takes Flight Klematis 2008, 32 pp. Foreign Rights Forlaget Klematis Phone: +45 86 17 54 55

We can be sad at the loss of a friend or in despair at being deserted, but, when a child is sad but doesn’t know why, what can he or she do? This question is taken up in Katrine Marie Guldager’s story Anton og sorgens pil (‘Anton and the Arrow of Sorrow’), illustrated by Kirsten Raagaard. The boy Anton is usually happy to go to school, but one day he suddenly becomes terribly sad. He tries to tell his mother and his teachers how he feels, but they are either unable or unwilling to understand him. Anton is searching for the meaning of life and he is not satisfied with the answers he is given. It is only when the school caretaker takes time to talk to him that Anton realises he is sad because he misses his father. His father is always away on business and this time he left without saying goodbye, but Anton perks up after talking to the caretaker about it. Kirsten Raagaard allows the illustrations to underpin to a large extent the melancholy side of the book. Anton’s black jersey reflects his inner darkness and shades of grey and black dominate his surroundings. But at the same time all of the illustrations have a slightly naivistic, humorous touch, and elements of lighter shades and clear colours accompany the adults who try to cheer him up. The reader will also find in all the illustrations small, radiant butterflies that offer the promise of a little light in the darkness.


very original and traditional. At the beginning of the story, the reader meets the boy Snabel, who is calmly and contentedly arranging his collection of plants. His tranquil occupation is interrupted when his friend Lille comes rushing in. In spite of Lille’s fidgety disposition, Snabel introduces him to the art of collecting and arranging plants. A catastrophe occurs when Lille spills a glass of juice on his collection and then runs away. Snabel is furious and, to his despair, Lille receives a letter containing the words: “Stupid Lille. You’re not my friend any more. Yours, Snabel”. Subsequently, the two boys begin to miss each other and Lille makes a reconciliation gift in the form of a big, pressed sunflower that he gives to Snabel. Their friendship hereby restored, the boys plan to collect flowers for the herbarium together. The story is thus a classic story of instruction in which the calm, well-organised Snabel meets the energetic, straightforward Lille. Two contrasting temperaments come into conflict, but the boys learn to live with each other in spite of their differences. In its own way, an edifying story, but thanks to the illustrations, it avoids being stodgy and moralising.

Katrine Marie Guldager Kirsten Raagaard (illustration) Anton og sorgens pil / Anton and the Arrow of Sorrow ABC Forlag 2008, 32 pp. Foreign Rights

The three picture books tell stories about the serious side of life and of children who come to feel lonely and deserted for various reasons. But they also depict the joy of resuming a friendship, of being reunited with one’s loved ones and of regaining the will to live. The child reader is challenged and taken seriously but is also taken by the hand.

ABC Forlag

Translated by John Mason

land and Germany

Flemming Møldrup Phone: + 45 49 26 37 73 Katrine Marie Guldager’s poetry is published in Eng-

The Golaks are coming ‘Golak’ was actually strongly inspired by Ottesen’s young son’s infatuation with death metal music. By Damian Arguimbau

Her latest novel, ‘Golak’, is the first volume of a planned dystopian trilogy entitled Det døde land (‘The Dead Land’). There has been a global breakdown in Golak, presumably in the form of an atomic catastrophe that has probably wiped out most of humanity. We cannot be certain of this because the book concentrates on the boy Jonah, who is brighter and more inquisitive than most. He lives in a very small, patriarchal community in which the ideals are hard work, prayer and fellowship, and any technological advance is regarded as heretical. ‘Golak’ was actually strongly inspired by Ottesen’s young son’s infatuation with death metal music. Like many other parents, she had reacted with loathing and anxiety to this dark universe characterised by death, cruelty and mutilation. But by approaching the music and the young people on their own terms, Ottesen realised that the violent music and the morbid lyrics act as a mask and a release for the same fear of the future she could recognise from her own childhood. This opened up a completely new world that she had to find a poetic outlet for. ‘Golak’ provides a depiction of that fear, but the novel is given ballast by Ottesen’s interest in the themes of oppression and of survival of traumatic events. Only mutants, known as Golaks, live in the dead land in the mountains around the village where Jonah has his home, and they regularly attack the village to find food. Jonah has always been told by the council of elders that the Golaks are animals, but during an attack he hears them speak and realises to his horror that the world is not quite as it has been described by the council of elders.

Josefine Ottesen uses the first volume of the trilogy to describe how anxiety grips the claustrophobic community and the influence this has on its inhabitants and enemies alike. The council of elders consistently uses fear as a weapon. Fear of a repetition of the catastrophe that occurred in the world outside that the inhabitants of the village only dare to hint at, but not define. It appears that the cause of the catastrophe was misuse of technology, however, which is why the council of elders has forbidden any kind of progress, no matter whether it is a suggestion for improving an irrigation system or the development of a new method of cultivation. His parents and the community try to suppress Jonah’s curiosity and inquisitiveness by punishing him, either through hard work or through isolation. So, during the novel, in order to find something to occupy his mind, Jonah builds a church organ from the remnants he finds in the scrap heap at the smithy. Simply obtaining the permission of the council of elders to build the organ is difficult, but he finally succeeds. However, music can be both harmonious and reassuring as well as the opposite. And the music Jonah plays on his organ raises feelings of doubt, anxiety and uncertainty; feelings that the council of elders has always attempted to suppress. Jonah must therefore be punished again and, after a very dramatic conclusion, in the second volume he is ready to set out, to leave the village and enter the threatening void that he has been warned against all his life.


Josefine Ottesen is an experienced lady with about 60 publications to her credit, but she is still going strong. In 2004 she received two awards for her childrens’ books, was awarded another in 2005 for the first volume of her Mira series, while she was nominated for the international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2006 and also won Radio Denmark’s Orla Award, an award presented after a poll conducted among Danish children to find the best book of the year.

Josefine Ottesen Golak / Golak Høst & Søn 2008, 328 pp. Foreign Rights Gyldendal Group Agency Karen Vad Bruun Phone: +45 33 75 55 55 Josefine Ottesen’s books are published in The Netherlands, France, Germany and Norway.

Structurally, the novel is therefore built up on the principles of the classic Bildungsroman. Josefine Ottesen is a good storyteller, the story is absorbing, and the characters are described just sufficiently to give them life. Descriptions of society and religion also show the author’s experience and sureness of touch. ‘Golak’ is deeply captivating and completely satisfies the demands of the Bildungsroman. There is no doubt that Ottesen succeeds in releasing the fear that characterises death metal and showing us a world where the road leads through fighting injustice, to discovering the world and daring to challenge oneself in order to make it a better place.

Translated by James Mason


19 20


Danish Literary Magazine  

A publication to promote new danish literature, Spring 09. Illustration & layout by Tine Vognsen

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you