MELISSA BLOCK, host:
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When author Heidi Durrow thinks of Scandinavia, she doesn't think of the long days of darkness. Instead, she sees a land of magic. Here she is with three books to help you see it that way too.
Ms. HEIDI DURROW (Author, "The Girl Who Fell From The Sky"): As a child, I'd sit in rapt attention when my Danish mother read Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales. Scandinavia, I learned, was where wishes came true. Today, with the popularity of Stieg Larsson's blockbuster "Millennium" trilogy, it's easy to think that all of Scandinavia has gone to the dark side. But not all Scandinavian novels have traded enchantment for suspense. Here are three books that give you a look into everyday Scandinavia, the way people live and work and love.
Take Jens Christian Grondahl, author of 17 books and one of Denmark's great contemporary novelists. "Silence in October," the first of Grondahl's novels to be translated into English, is a Proustian meditation on the broken marriage of a nameless man whose wife has inexplicably left him. The man seeks clues to his wife's whereabouts from her credit card charges and revisits his memories of their two decades together. As the man slowly reveals the unacknowledged truth of the relationship, Grondahl's elliptical narrative becomes increasingly complicated. Is the man really the guileless, dedicated husband the reader meets at the story's start? This elegant novel speaks to the wrongs that couples try to make right through silence.
Love animates Tove Jansson's enchanting illustrated novel, "The Summer Book." It tells of 6-year-old Sophia and her aging grandmother who while away languid summer days on a small island in the Gulf of Finland. Sophia loves her grandmother's easy companionship as they explore the Finnish island forest - not technically part of Scandinavia, I know, but still so close to their Swedish homeland. There, they build a miniature Venice in a bog and carve boats out of branches and driftwood. When Sophia dictates to her grandmother her definitive treatise on angleworms who become split in half, she declares, nothing is easy when you might come apart in the middle at any moment. Like the classic "The Little Prince," "The Summer Book" is indeed charming, but it is also wise.
"Quicksand," by Nella Larsen, is a small masterpiece of a debut. Larsen, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black West Indian father, draws on her own background to tell the tale of Helga Crane. The story starts when Helga abruptly resigns from her teaching job at a Southern black school. She travels to the North to work but soon becomes disenchanted by what she considers the hypocrisy of the black bourgeoisie. The peripatetic Helga then moves to Copenhagen to reunite with her Danish relatives. It is here that "Quicksand" - published 80 years ago -provides a fascinating look at how differently Europeans and Americans think of racial difference. "Quicksand" is a compelling read, a kind of bridge to understand the distance between the Scandinavian experience and the American imagination of it.
BLOCK: Heidi Durrow is the author of "The Girl Who Fell From the Sky." If you'd like to discuss this and other books with NPR listeners, you can join the NPR Facebook community. Search for NPR Books, and click like.
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