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Roy Jacobsen
Roy Jacobsen is in the middle of a summer island in the Arctic Circle so he had to answer our questions by text message. He is Norwegian and our first question was about being a Scandinavian writer:

Some of our favourite writers are Scandinavian – Per Petterson (who we have also interviewed for this site), Halldor Laxness, Tove Jansson, to name but a few. There is a certain intensity about their stories and language that they (and yourself) have in common and that makes their (and your) work very powerful. Would you ascribe this in part to the geography and climate of these northern countries or does it have more of a cultural basis?
I am probably the last to have strong opinions on what makes Scandinavian authors Scandinavian - being one myself. Language normally comes from language (culture), but historically nature's influence on culture is probably stronger here in the north than elsewhere in Europe - it is less urban and we are also exposed to a rougher climate. I know no other country where the weather forecast is more interesting than sex. Our national pride, our symbols, dreams, songs, working traditions - and also our sentiments – contain, to a great extent, references to nature or more precisely the idea of man v nature. I guess we tend to see nature as an interesting, immensely beautiful but also very demanding, complicated and not always trustworthy lover. Personally I find not only inspiration - a dubious word by the way - in nature, but also peace and challenges, as I spend (work) more than 50 % of my time in the forests in the southern part of Norway or on an island up north, (where I am currently writing this answer to you from).
You say in your forward that CHILD WONDER is about an Oslo of “rather rough experimentation. Before oil. Before anybody had any money at all.” How does the Oslo of 1961 compare with the city in 2011?
Oslo in the beginning of the sixties was like Dolly Parton before she started to sing, before success, before money, fan clubs, expensive cheap looking clothes and plastic surgery. Now we have all that and are reading - every day - in the newspapers that we are the luckiest nation on earth.
CHILD WONDER seems to be largely about misunderstanding and mis-communication. Does it, therefore, concern you that your novels may lose something of their meaning or essence in translation?
I don't know about misconceptions and misunderstandings - the main 'character' in this novel is actually a point of view, that of a ten - eleven year old boy. And of course there are a lot of things he doesn't understand, but has to interpret, in his own boyish way. Through this interpretation he creates a world that suits him better, that is more pleasant and beautiful than it actually is, like every kid does (and grown-ups too). That means the reader has to read between his lines, and preferably learn to respect and appreciate his artform - it's his struggle for identity and life. And not - in my opinion a regular form of misunderstanding. As to the translation I have full confidence in Don Bartlett.
We were also very impressed with BURNT OUT TOWN OF MIRACLES (published in the UK in 2007). It is a very different sort of book from CHILD WONDER and we’d be interested to know what it was about these two stories that made you want to write them?
As you say, Burnt Out Town of Miracles, is a totally different book and I partly agree - the subjects are of course only vaguely related, the narrative likewise, but the main characters share an important destiny - a lonely and down to earth struggle for decency in a harsh and partly impossible world. I have always had a soft spot for outsiders, for moral reasons, but also as literary vehicles; by describing what is different and even exotic, you also get the benefit of contrast - to the ordinary. And I can’t think of a more suitable paradox for exploring the ‘unlikeness’ (or uniqueness) of every individual.
We don’t have any book groups registered in Norway. Do you have a tradition of reading groups there?
I don't know how you define 'bookgroup', but we certainly have reader groups. They normally have ten to fifteen readers, but there are three quite famous reader groups for women only - with about 300 members - that started up as a women lib organisation a century ago, and they are still going strong.
Please can you tell us a bit about your literary influences?
My influences are first and foremost my own life, my family and friends. But I like to read everything from the Icelandic sagas to José Saramago, Cormac McCarty, Günter Graß (early works), Tolstoy, Conrad, Dag Solstad and Knut Hamsun, the old fascist who still is the great master and inventor of modern Norwegian language, curiously enough.
Roy Jacobsen

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