Sunday, August 19, 2012

Growing Up with Secrets

Roy Jacobsen, the Norwegian author of "ChildWonder" tells us that this is a story about an Oslo of "rather rough experimentation. Before oil. Before anybody had any money at all. " The award winning author grew up in this era. The story takes place on an "estate" (we may recognize it as a sprawling group of apartment buildings) in a working class area outside of Oslo. The narrator is Finn, a boy of about nine years old. He lives in a two bedroom apartment with his divorced mother. When his mother suddenly decides to advertise for a tenant to live in the second bedroom, Finn's life undergoes radical changes. The story, from Finn's perspective, is riveting. Because Finn is nine years old, he is unable to really understand what is happening around him (aka the unreliable narrator). His mother is no help at all. Similar to parents, world wide, in the 60s, she makes life altering decisions without consulting with Finn. And then she mysteriously disappears with no explanation, for weeks. The reader is often left as much in the dark as poor Finn.  A tenant arrives who has his own secrets. And most perplexing is the arrival of Finn's half-sister, Linda. But something is seriously wrong with Linda. It becomes the job of Finn's mother and then Finn himself to help Linda.  The ensuing events of the story lead the reader to question what really happened that year and the extremes people will go in the attempt to "make things right".  The conclusion comes abruptly without warning. And then the last chapter advances about ten years  and allows Finn to explain some of the choices that were made, but it does not explain the complicated history that led to those choices. It seems that many of the answers will stay Finn's mother and the people who grew up in the 50s and 60s protecting their secrets. This is a beautifully written story about Norway in the 1960s told by an author who may have lived this story more intimately than he has led us to believe.

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