An introduction to some of Norway’s top writers

Karl Ove KnausgårdPhoto: Berit Roald / NTB
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Norwegian writers have contributed works, ideas, and innovations that have changed the path of literature forever.

Each of these authors deserves their own article – book or book series, in fact – but we’re here to give you a short introduction to some of Norway’s most famous writers. Plus, a unique quote by each.

Knut Hamsun (1859-1952)

Knut Hamsun is regarded by some as a father of modern literature.

Over his 70-year career, he published a variety of novels, short stories, and poems, with themes ranging from fighting the system to collectivism vs individualism.

His greatest novels include Hunger, Mysteries, Pan, and Victoria.

“‘I love three things,’ I then say. ‘I love a dream of love I once had, I love you, and I love this patch of earth.’

‘And which do you love best?’

‘The dream.’

― Knut Hamsun, Pan

Sigrid Unset (1882-1949)

From an early age, Sigrid Unset was always interested in literature; however, her prominent father’s untimely death prevented her from getting higher education.

Her first success came with writing about life in contemporary Norway. The Kristin Lavransdatter historical trilogy, which depicts the story of a passionate and independent woman remains her greatest success.

She received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1928.

“All my days I have longed equally to travel the right road and to take my own errant path.”

― Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter

Jo Nesbø (1960-)

Scandinavians are known for writing captivating crime novels. In fact, Nordic Noir is the exact term to describe crime fiction set in Scandinavia. 

Jo Nesbø is no stranger to this genre. The author wrote the Harry Hole crime fiction series which sold a whopping 23 million+ copies worldwide.

“He could not help but admire him.

The way you admire a cockroach you flush down the toilet and it comes creeping back again and again and in the end it inherits the world.”

― Jo Nesbo, Cockroaches

Karl Ove Knausgård (1968-)

Some consider this author to be the greatest Norwegian writer since Henrik Ibsen. Karl Ove Knausgård‘s six-volume autobiography Min kamp (My Struggle) has sold over half a million copies in Norway and has been translated into 35 languages.

His wordy and detailed writing style has been compared to French novelist Marcel Proust‘s seven-volume À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time).

“Life’s a pitch, as the old woman said. She couldn’t pronounce her ‘b’s.”

― Karl Ove Knausgård, Min kamp 1

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910)

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson was a Norwegian playwright whose plays spanned a variety of topics, including historical tragedies (Arne), realism and social problems (En fallit, translated to The Bankrupt), religious tolerance (Kongen, translated to The King), and political tolerance (Paul Lange og Tora Parsberg).

He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1903.

“Do not complain beneath the stars about the lack of bright spots in your life.”

― Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

Henrik Ibsen is considered by some to be a father of modern theater.

Born in Skien, Norway in 1828, Isben wrote a number of master plays, including Brand, Peer Gynt, An Enemy of the People, Emperor and Galilean, A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler, Ghosts, The Wild Duck, When We Dead Awaken, Rosmersholm, and The Master Builder.

“I must make up my mind which is right – society or I.”

― Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House

Tarjei Vessas (1897-1970)

Tarjei Vessas‘ career was marked by distinctive narratives, evolving Norwegian prose, and World War II.

Huset i mørkret (House in Darkness) symbolically depicts Nazi forces in Germany; Fuglane (The Birds) is considered by some to be Vessas’ greatest work and demonstrates the importance of tolerance towards an outsider.

“Almost nothing need be said when you have eyes.”

― Tarjei Vesaas, The Boat in the Evening

Cora Sandel (1880-1974)

Originally born in Norway, Cora Sandel later moved to Paris and occasionally traveled back to her home country.

Sandel published a mix of novels, short stories, and tales. Her novel Alberte og Jakob (Alberta and Jacob) follows the dynamic between siblings Alberta and Jacob.

After the initial success, Sandel published two more books in the trilogy.

“For her too, she had words on her lips, which died unborn, lay in her mind and turned to poison.”

― Cora Sandel, Alberta and Freedom

Jonas Lie (1833-1908)

Jonas Lie‘s main themes revolved around the nature, lifestyle, and social culture of Norway.

Following his dropout from law school and encouragement from his wife, Lie wrote numerous successful worka.

His Familien paa Gilje (The Family at Gilje), which explores the position women hold in society, is considered a Norwegian literary classic.

“He had a feeling of infinite lightness, of a wondrous capability for floating in higher atmospheres and recovering equilibrium.

And, before he knew how it was, he found himself up on the earth again.”

― Jonas Lie, Weird Tales from Northern Seas

Alexander Kielland (1849-1906)

Along with Henrik Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, and Jonas Lie, Alexander Kielland is considered part of the “big four” of 19th-century Norwegian literature.

Influenced by 19th-century liberalism, social reform, and Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, Kielland wrote Garman & Worse, a story about native life in Stavanger and Arbeidsfolk (Working People), a criticism of Norway’s democracy, among many others.  

“In the middle of the day the sun shone so warmly that a few big flies began to buzz around, and the lark proclaimed, on its word of honor, that it was the height of summer.

But the lark is the most untrustworthy creature under heaven.”

― Alexander Kielland, Tales of Two Countries

Source: #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayTravel

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