The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann (translated by Barbara J. Haveland)
Other Press • $15.95 • ISBN 9781590516676
published April 8, 2014
Norwegian author Linn Ullmann's The Cold Song was a hit with readers and critics when it was first published in Norway in 2011. Lucky for us, an English edition (translated by Barbara J. Haveland) has just arrived stateside. Set in an elegant house on the coast of Norway, the novel takes a peek into the lives of married couple Siri and Jon, and their family. Siri is a super-busy and successful chef with her own restaurant to run. Jon is a novelist struggling with his current book.
The Cold Song doesn't so much as unfold as it revolves, around the sudden disappearance of Milla, the young and beautiful summer nanny hired to take care of Siri and Jon's two children. The real "meat" of the novel rests in its keen and unflinching exposure of the inner lives of its characters, revealed in brief spurts of narrative that shift back and forth in time. The result is riveting. Here's an excerpt:
Jon Dreyer had fooled everyone.
He was in the attic room at Mailund, that dilapidated white turn-of-the-century house, where the Dreyer-Brodal family spent their summers. He was looking at Milla.
The room was small and bright and dusty with a view of the meadow and the woods and of Milla picking flowers with his children. His wife, she of the asymmetric back (a little kink in her waist, that's all), owned a restaurant in the center of town, in the old bakery. Siri was her name.
Siri was at work.
He was at work too.
His work was right here. He had his desk, his computer, this is where he was left in peace. He had a book to finish.
But he was looking at Milla.
Will you be adding The Cold Song to your TBR list? What are you reading this week?
The story unfolds in three separate sections, each centered on the larger story of the Hungarian Gold Train during World War II. Readers follow three different men through three different time periods: Jack, a young Jewish-American captain in the war; Amitai, an Israeli-born art dealer in the current day who deals with repatriated items; and Dr. Zobel, a pioneering psychiatrist at the turn of the 20th century in Budapest.
An intricate gemstone peacock pendant holds the key to the novel's decades-spanning mystery, but the male narrators and Waldman's unique female characters (Jack's love Ilona, his daughter Natalie and the suffragette Gizella) truly make this novel shine.
Watch the captivating trailer for Love & Treasure below:
What do you think, readers? Are you interested in this new historical novel?
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our web-exclusive Q&A with Waldman for more on Love & Treasure!
Jean Hanff Korelitz's new novel, You Should Have Known, is the type of unrelenting page-turner that keeps readers (including myself) up way into the night, simply unable to put it down. Our reviewer calls the taut story of how the comfortable and predictable life of a Manhattan therapist is completely upended "an insightful, compelling tale." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Korelitz has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
Blood Will Out
By Walter Kirn
Last week I gave a reading with my friend, novelist Jane Green, at R.J. Julia bookstore in Madison, Connecticut. R.J. Julia is one of the great bookstores—warm and friendly and full of people who love books. The store has a very sweet tradition of thanking writers who come to give readings by letting them choose a book from the stock. Here’s the funny part: thousands of books to choose from and Jane and I both picked the same one: Walter Kirn’s new memoir, Blood Will Out. I’ve been fascinated by the Clark Rockefeller case since I first read about it in 2008, as I am fixated on sociopaths in general. But Kirn, who actually met Rockefeller (or “Rockefeller”) in 1998 and maintained a connection with him for years, had a front row seat to his constant myth making. Kirn’s willingness to examine his own culpability in accepting these falsehoods makes his memoir a powerful examination of deceit and its even creepier cousin, self-deception.
How I Became Hettie Jones
By Hettie Jones
I had dinner at the American Academy of Arts and Letters the other night with my husband (he’s the member, not I!). The room was so full of important writers, artists and composers that even the most determined name-dropper would run out of steam before getting through a fraction of them, but I was most truly thrilled to be sitting with the daughters of Amiri Baraka (who’d been memorialized in a pre-dinner ceremony). I’ve had no special feelings for Baraka, but their mother, Hettie Jones, is the author of one of my very favorite memoirs, the sublimely entitled How I Became Hettie Jones. The book is Hettie’s account of leaving her Queens childhood for Beat Generation art and bohemia in 1950s Greenwich Village, marriage to poet and playwright Baraka (then known as Le Roi Jones), and what it was like to be a white woman married to a black man who ultimately came to feel that he could no longer be a black man who was married to a white woman. Their daughters, who are my age, are characters in a book I’ve loved for twenty years; talking to them and hearing about their lives only made me want to read it again.
By Alison Bechdel
Last fall I was lucky enough to see the Public Theater’s production of Fun Home, a musical adapted from Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir of the same name. I’m not a big fan of graphic anything, and had only vaguely heard of Bechdel, but I was so wowed by the power of Bechdel’s work that I went rushing out to read all of her books. Bechdel is a deeply cerebral writer, processing and reprocessing the motifs of her life with reference to literature, philosophy and psychological theory. Her story may not sound outwardly eventful (father, mother and three children grow up in an old Pennsylvania home; the daughter’s gradual self-identification as a lesbian may or may not create a crisis of identity in her closeted father), but Bechdel manages to funnel an entire world of ideas into and out or her autobiographical material. I loved Fun Home and Bechdel’s more recent Are You My Mother?, but I had the best time of all with the omnibus edition of her hilarious and wonderful syndicated strip Dykes to Watch Out For. Am I converted to “graphic anything”? Nope. But I’ll read whatever Bechdel writes from this point on. And if Fun Home transfers to Broadway, I’m definitely going to see it again.
(Author photo by Mark Czajkowski)
Random House will release Leaving Time, formerly titled “Elephant Graveyard,” on October 14. The story mines territory familiar to Picoult—family, memory and identity—as it follows 13-year-old Jenna Metcalf, whose mother Alice (a scientist specializing in elephant behavior) went missing in the wake of a tragic accident more than a decade ago. Refusing to believe she would be abandoned as a toddler, Jenna scans her mother's old journals for clues and enlists the help of a famous psychic and the now-jaded detective who originally investigated Alice's case.
Read an excerpt from the first chapter below:
My first memory is white at the edges, like a photo with too bright a flash. My mother is holding spun sugar, on a cone, cotton candy. She raises her finger to her lips—This is our secret—and then tears off a tiny piece. When she touches it to my lips, the sugar dissolves. My tongue curls around her finger and sucks hard. Iswidi, she tells me. Sweet. This is not my bottle; it's not a taste I know, but it's a good one. Then she leans down and kisses my forehead. Uswidi, she says. Sweetheart.
I can’t be more than nine months old.
This is pretty amazing, really, because most kids trace their first memories to somewhere between the ages of two and five. That doesn't mean that babies are little amnesiacs—they have memories long before they have language but, weirdly, can't access them once they start talking. Maybe the reason I remember the cotton candy episode is because my mother was speaking Xhosa, which isn't our language but one she picked up when she was working on her doctorate in South Africa. Or maybe the reason I have this random memory is as a trade-off my brain made—because I can't remember what I desperately wish I could: details of the night my mother disappeared.
Are any of you BookPage readers particularly interested in Leaving Time? If so, find more information and an even longer excerpt at Picoult's website.
Author photo by Adam Bouska.
There are few writers as prolific as T.C. Boyle who consistently produce such high-quality and varied work—he is the author of 24 books of fiction and has been the recipient of several literary awards, including the PEN/Faulkner—so it's both unsurprising and exciting to receive news of upcoming novels.
After three decades with Viking, Boyle will publish his next two novels with Ecco, an imprint of Harper. The first, The Harder They Come, will be published in March 2015. As with many of Boyle's books, it will be set in California and will feature multiple interwoven storylines, featuring an aging ex-Marine, his unstable son and the son’s much older lover.
Boyle commented on his move to Ecco:
“This is an occasion for my books to reach a new and ever-widening audience, a circumstance that every author, however successful, yearns for. We live for and through our work and hope to bring illumination and entertainment at the deepest and most joyous level to our readers. So look out: here we come.”
No word on the second novel, but we'll keep you posted.
Author photo by Pablo Campos
What do you get when you mix the claustrophobia of Room with the psychological suspense of Before I Go to Sleep and a dash of The Road? Perhaps something that approximates Isla Morley's suspenseful second novel, Above. On her way home from the annual Horse Thieves Picnic, 16-year-old Blythe is kidnapped by Dobbs Hordin, the mild-mannered librarian in their small town of Eudora, Kansas. Dobbs tells Blythe he's doing this for her own good: The world is about to end, and his underground bunker is the only safe place. Is he lying to her? Or is he truly a prophet?
With the shallowest of breaths, I ask, "How long have you been planning this?"
This is when he's supposed to say, "Planned what? I haven't planned anything." This is when he's supposed to say, "Don't be crazy—I'm not going to keep you."
This is what he says: "The part regarding you, about two years, give or take. All the rest, eighteen years."
"How long . . .?"
"Well, I just told you."
I shake my head. "How long are you going to keep me here?"
He shrugs, looks away.
It must be asked. "Forever?"
The monster sucks me all the way down to the bottom of the silo. It is a long way down, just as Dobbs said, but I still manage to hear every last word. "We are the Remnant, Blythe. After the End, you and I will rise up together. You and me—we will one day seed the new world."
What are you reading this week?
We're highlighting a new batch of the most humorous, unsettling and vibrant short story collections this April, and one of our favorite stars from NBC's "The Office" may surprise you with the strength of his literary muscle.
B.J. Novak is most often recognized for his role as Ryan, the Dundler Mifflin temp, but his first collection, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, is anything but a vanity project. Novak’s Harvard degree in English and Spanish literature combined with his sharp, absurdist style of humor are more than enough to convince us that he’s the real deal.
With 64 pieces that dip into everything from pop culture and celebrity to Mark Twain’s word choices in Huckleberry Finn, Novak delivers a fresh and emotionally astute literary debut.
The hilarious trailer stars Novak himself as he desperately tries to get his chic yet snobby Parisian crush (a fellow "Office" alum) to notice him.
What do you think, readers? Are you planning to read Novak's first collection? Is he giving Gary Shteyngart some competition for most entertaining book trailer?
We love books about books, bookstores, book lovers—anything to do with books! In Gabrielle Zevin's new novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, the titular character is the prickly proprietor of a seen-better-days bookstore—Island Books—whose life is turned upside-down . . . in a good way. The enchanting book has a little of everything: romance, books, friendships, second chances. Read our interview with Zevin about it.
We were curious about the books Zevin has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
The Sisters Brothers
By Patrick DeWitt
When I was in college, I read that Vladimir Nabokov loved Westerns, and because I loved Nabokov, I thought I should make a point to read Westerns, too. For years, I’ve struggled through Westerns, but I don’t think I’ve ever truly enjoyed one until The Sisters Brothers. I loved reading about Eli Sisters’ struggles with oral hygiene, weight and romance. I wept for his horse, Tub. After a long dry spell, this is the Western I have always wanted to read.
My Accidental Jihad
By Krista Bremer
I ended up reading My Accidental Jihad because I met the author, Krista Bremer, at a book event. I’m not sure I would have read the book if I hadn’t met her. That one provocative word in the title might have led me to make assumptions about what kind of story this was going to be. In a way, this is the point of such a title. Though the word has a specific connotation to an American reader, jihad, as Bremer explains, means struggle. The context of this memoir is Bremer’s marriage to an older, Libyan, Muslim man, but at the heart of the story are the issues with which many women struggle: feminism, spirituality, love and children. The book is gently humorous, too: At one point, Bremer’s young daughter gives a Western makeover to a Muslim Barbie doll. [Look for our review of My Accidental Jihad in our May issue.]
Not so long ago, I wrote a Young Adult series, and to an extent, the writing of it burnt me out on ever wanting to read another one. That said, I was irresistibly drawn to the premise of The Winner’s Curse. A young noblewoman buys a slave, and then the two slowly fall in love. But how can she love a person whom she owns, and vice versa? This is a fascinating book, with interesting things to say about race, class, gender, history and power. In an odd way, it reminded of Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. I can’t think of a more perfect, provocative read for a mother-daughter book club.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry—or any of Zevin's recommended books—to your TBR list?
Jane Smiley has never been a novelist who lacked ambition, but her new project might be her biggest yet. She's embarked on a trilogy that covers the last century of American life—and the first volume, Some Luck, will be published on October 7.
The action begins in 1920s Iowa, where the Langdon family—Rosanna, Walter and their five children—live on a farm, and each chapter covers roughly a year. As the children grow up and move away (or not), Smiley takes a panoramic look at the first half of the century, encompassing the Depression, World War II and the early 1950s. Early buzz is that this one is old-fashioned storytelling at its best.
Smiley has already completed the next two novels in the trilogy (or "cycle," as her publisher has dubbed it), and they're tentatively scheduled for publication in the spring and fall of next year. Like Ken Follett's Century Trilogy, which concludes this fall, the Langdon books take a look at some of this century's most epic events—although with a smaller, more intimate cast of one everyday family.
Check out the opening lines:
Walter Langdon hadn’t walked out to check the fence along the creek for a couple of months—now that the cows were up by the barn for easier milking in the winter, he’d been putting off fence-mending—so he hadn’t seen the pair of owls nesting in the big elm. . . . Right then, he saw one of the owls fly out of a big cavity maybe ten to twelve feet up, either a big female or a very big male—at any rate, the biggest horned owl Walter had ever seen—and he paused and stood there a minute, still in the afternoon breeze, listening, but there was nothing. He saw why in a moment. The owl floated out for maybe twenty yards, dropped toward the snowy pasture. Then came a high screaming, and the owl rose again, this time with a full-grown rabbit in its talons, writhing, then hanging limp, probably deadened by fear. Walter shook himself.
Will you read it? What books are you looking forward to this fall? Click here for more news on 2014 releases.
Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro will appear on a Canadian $5 coin. She joins Jane Austen in the UK and Astrid Lindgren in Sweden* as one of the only female writers to be featured on official currency—although in Munro's case, the coin is a collector's edition that costs $69.95 (CAN) and is therefore unlikely to be redeemed for its face value.
Designed by Laurie McGaw, the coin does not feature a portrait of Munro, but rather an "ethereal female figure" meant to symbolize the characters she has created. Munro's hand DOES make an appearance, holding a pen over a book that displays an excerpt from "The View from Castle Rock."
Memo to the US Mint: It's about time we had another woman join Susan B. Anthony and Pocahontas on our currency. What about our own female Nobel Prize for Literature winners, Toni Morrison and Pearl S. Buck? Or, off the top of my head, how about Emily Dickinson, Flannery O'Connor, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Zora Neal Huston, Willa Cather, Louisa May Alcott, Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton . . .
Do you have a female author you'd like to see on American currency?
*The Lindgren 20 SEK note is expected to enter circulation in 2015.
Coin photo courtesy of the Royal Canadian Mint.