Herbjørg Wassmo is an interesting lady. She says stuff like: ‘God bless birth control, study loans and the washing machine.’ And she laughs with a charming tickle in her voice, the kind that makes you laugh whether you want it or not. But the most interesting thing about her is her presence. She is the kind of woman you would have anxiety attacks approaching (I did). It’s not due to the fact that she is famous, but because of the ‘can’t-put-my-finger-on-it’ blend of experienced elder and rebellious child.
The dialogue between her and Anette Dina Sørensen, apart from a few cross-linguistic hiccups, was affable. And as an extra titbit the actor Karin Bang Heinemeier read passages from Wassmo’s latest book. She talked about children, being a child and emphasized quite a few times the importance of individuality. How the family quite often was the first assault an individual had to relate itself to, assault both as a physical and psychological entity.
She also stressed how important it was for a mother to be able to step out of the glorified role of Motherhood, and escape the pedestal she was placed on. Accepting your mother, sister, aunt as an individual first and foremost would only be of gain to yourself and to them. And through the passages that were read to us, I got a sense of just how much the individual meant to her. How does a person, a writer, describe another person, or for that matter herself? Is it possible even to capture Individuality when you are mediating thoughts, actions and feelings of someone you have conjured up?
This makes me think about Roland Barthes’ claim that the author is dead, that she/he is of no importance to the work, the key to it is language and the one with the key is the reader.
I imagine Wassmo can concur with this. At one point Anette Sørensen talks about a passage in the book where the pastor and one of the leading women (both married to other people) are in the church, and Sørensen reads it as they are having sex. Wassmo (with a chuckle that makes the whole house smile) says that this is entirely up to her, she has not explicitly written this but laid heavy emphasis on the passion which doesn’t necessarily leads to the physical act of sex. And then says, that when the book is out there, it is out of her hands. She has no ownership of it.
It is interesting though, because she has not completely given her writing up to others without feeling that the work reflects her, and so that it is part of her. With the exception of this one (so she said) she has always felt angst when releasing a book. What would people think, say? And so maybe this latest book is like catharsis for her.
I would recommend reading something of Wassmo, and as one man in the audience said, ‘if you know Norwegian, do yourself a favor and read it in its mother tongue so you get the scent of local dialects too.’
I remember reading about a girl, Tora, who lives in a small, shabby island community in the northern part of Norway with her mother and stepfather in the 1950’s. She is a ‘tyskerunge’ and this has great consequence for her. The hatred towards Germany is great after WWII, and any sign left of the occupation is unwelcome. Tora is bullied, her stepfather abuses her and her mother is struggling with herself and survival. Tora must find ways to survive or get by in life in spite of the adversity.
It was one of my favorite books growing up. I was intrigued by this term and what lay behind it. It was also another entry point to WWII, which I had knowledge of as a war, but not so much what kind of consequences faced a big part of the world both during and after.
Later on, Wassmo wrote about Dina, which was so popular it was made into a movie called ‘I am Dina’. And now Wassmo is out with ‘Hundre år’ (A hundred years). She joins the ranks of novel writers exploring the generational tale with the recount of the women in her family. The book is definitely on my to-buy list, maybe I’ll even go nuts tonight and buy it in the bookstore and get it autographed 🙂