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A Norwegian tale

I went on a Nordic cruise a few weeks ago, and someone recommended this book: The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw). I was so glad I read it while I was there; it really enhanced my experience of the country.

Similarly, I was reading Burial Rites by Hannah Kent when I first went to Iceland - the book is set there - and I got a vivid sense of the place and its people from that brilliant story.

It was the same with this book.

Set at the beginning of the 20th century on a tiny island called Barroy off the coast of Norway, this is the tale of a family trying to make a living from fishing and farming in a landscape where the weather - often brutal, sometimes magical - is in charge.

The family comprises Hans and Maria, their daughter Ingrid, Hans’s father Martin and his sister Barbro, who has learning disabilities. They endure extreme physical hardship on their island, where everything has to be done by hand, as well as the joys of nature: gathering the eider down from the precious ducks they look after, skating on the sea when it freezes. But all the time society is changing and the family struggles to protect its small island from the encroaching threats of the spreading local community and new technology.

This book is beautifully descriptive. It tells a fascinating story of a time gone by and an almost-forgotten lifestyle. My visit to a tiny fishing village on the coast of Norway was made twice as memorable from having read this book.

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