Review by Thor A. Larsen
Only three of more than 20 of Mr. Jacobsen’s books have been translated into English, that is: ‘The New Water’, ‘The Burnt-out town of Miracles’ and more recently, ‘Child Wonder’. He has been honored with more than 10 literature prizes in Norway and England. “Child Wonder’ published in Norwegian in 2009 and English in 2011 was honored with the prestigious Norwegian Booksellers Prize. Having read all of Mr. Jacobsen’s books in English, and was especially moved by the story of ‘Child Wonder’, I hope to see may more of Mr. Jacobsen’s books translated to English.
In ‘Child Wonder’, Mr. Jacobsen tells the story through the eyes of nine-year old, Finn, who lives with his single-mom, Gerd, in a modest apartment in working-class neighborhood of Oslo in the early 1960’s. The author grew up in Oslo in the 1960’s and the story in one sense may be partially autobiographical. In the introduction, the author said that ‘his heroes are kids….and this novel is dedicated to those kids’. Mr. Jacobsen was also very cognizant of the struggles of lower middle class before the great social upward mobility in Norway 10-15 years later.
Finn’s world becomes much more complicated with the addition of his younger step-sister Linda joining the household and the arrival of a male border who rents one of the rooms in the modest apartment. There are a number of smaller plots, no fully detailed nor completed in the story, but the most dominant story was the love and care of Finn for his new ‘sister’, Linda.
Linda was probably about 6 years old when she joined the household, but she hardly spoke. At first, Finn was a jealous of the new family member and her demands on his mother, but those feelings changed soon as he started teaching Linda and she responded to Finn’s efforts and care. Gerd, who was very busy trying to make a modest living as a salesperson in a shoe store, had little time for the young girl and was impatient with her progress.
Thanks to their tenant, Finn and Linda spent the warm summer on an island in Oslo Fjord in a tent colony. They were either cared for by Gerd or a young couple who were friends of the mother. Here both children had wonderful experiences and Linda learned how to swim, a major accomplishment for a young girl.
In late August Linda started school in the first grade. However, she was placed in a ‘slow class’ that the mother had suggested. Finn was extremely upset and kept pushing the school leaders to give Linda a chance in regular classes because he had taught already much what she needed to effectively learn even if she was quite and a little different than the other children. Linda was bullied and that led Finn to become very physical against the main bully, causing him to be suspended.
There were a number of ‘issues’ with Gerd that were only vaguely detailed, but then, one day the social services came and took Linda from school and placed her with a ‘good foster parents’ and ‘for the best interest for the child’ according to the social worker who met with Gerd and Finn. Finn was devastated and could not understand why and blamed his mother. Finn would constantly reflect on the day and questioned himself as to why his mother did not fight for Linda. Six months or so later, they received a letter from Linda and although she was happy with her foster family, she was very hurt that Gerd did not try to keep her. Well, there were issues with Gerd that Finn did not grasp, including the situation with the male border as well as Finn’s temper in protecting Linda from bullies that probably contributed to Linda being placed with a foster family.
Roy Jacobsen’s clever methods of wordsmith and storytelling ensure that the reader will be almost powerless to put this book down before it is finished!