Last night at the pot luck before our variety show I had a conversation with one of the deacons in our congregation who happens to live relatively close to me about a wide variety of subjects, and the topic of Norwegian novels came up. While I am by no means an expert on the literature of Scandinavia I have reviewed a fair amount of plays and novels from Norway, besides books relating to the history of the country and its people.
This might seem to be a particularly random subject to hit upon in a conversation, even for someone with as broad as interests as I am known to have, but it is not as random a subject as may appear to be the case. It was not just any Norwegian novels that came up, but two specific Norwegian novels, namely Beyond Sing The Woods and The Wind From The Mountains, by Trygve Gulbranssen, a series of stories about a Norwegian family from the 18th and 19th century, a time of great tension within Norway, when their relationship with Denmark was undergoing dramatic changes. After the Napoleonic Wars Norway would come under the rule of Sweden as compensation to them for the loss of Finland and Pomerania, a move that the Norwegians were not particularly happy about, something that would eventually lead to Norwegian independence in the early 20th century. I’m not sure how much of that political context is important to the novel, not being familiar with it, but it is a period I am at least generally familiar with.
The obvious question is, why would these novels come up? As it happened, Anne Frank was a fan of this particular novel, one of the last historical novels of Norway of this kind that was written and became popular. It was popular enough to be translated into various European languages–I found a reasonably priced copy of it in Polish (more on that anon), and its mention in Anne Frank’s diary as a novel she liked–and she probably had good taste in historical fiction–has likely ensured it will be at least somewhat remembered because of being in a famous and enduring classic of literature.
It must be admitted, though, that it is not an easy book to find these days. It is not in the library system of the Portland area county libraries. It is not on archive.org in English, though it is in its native Norwegian. And in looking online for copies of the book for sale, the only reasonably priced copy, of very few that are up for sale in used bookstore websites I frequent, was in the aformentioned Polish edition, which is lamentably not something I can read. How did the novel become obscure over recent years, given that my friend was able to find a copy of it without too much difficulty and at least a few members of his family have been able to read it. What change in publishing or reading taste made a novel that was once immensely popular into one that was obscure enough to be a niche read, and now nearly impossible to find? It only makes one more curious to see.