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Family novel set in post WW2 Oslo

16th January 2020

Echoes of the City by Lars Saabye Christensen, family novel set in post WW2 Oslo – translated by Don Bartlett.

Family novel set in post WW2 Oslo

Echoes of the City is a beautifully written and beautifully translated novel. It describes life for one family in post WW2 Oslo. The war is over, but hardship remains. Maj (the mother of the family) is the treasurer of the local branch of the Red Cross, and much of the background to the story comes from the minutiae of work they do – whose plea for food and clothing they accept, and whose they reject. Ewald (the father of the family) is a designer in an advertising agency. He also drinks too much. In the course of the book (not, I think, a spoiler) he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Jesper (their son) is a somewhat troubled boy. Stine (their daughter) is born towards the end of the novel. Jesper befriends, and becomes the ears for, Jostein who hearing was damaged when he was in a traffic accident. The relationship between the two of them is one of the foundations of the book. As is the relationship between Fru Vik, a widow and upstairs neighbour, and the family itself. She babysits Jesper when he is young. She has an affair with, and then marries, a widowed antiquarian book seller. The various strands of the story all come together as it progresses – it was, for example, the bookseller’s son who carried out on the spot first aid when Jostein was in his accident.

The storyline is gentle and well observed. The reader becomes involved in the lives of those we read about. They are normal folk struggling to survive and make sense of life in post WW2 Norway. The Oslo of that time comes through strongly, and some of the landmarks will be familiar to those with a current knowledge of the city.

Lars Saabye Christensen is one of Norway’s pre-eminent novelists. And Don Bartlett is one of the very best translators of Norwegian fiction. The combination is powerful and makes for an utterly convincing read.

Definitely recommended.

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  1. User: Andrea Hedgcock

    Posted on: 16/01/2020 at 12:54 pm

    This sounds good – will add it to my TBP list!