Open Letter Spring 09 Catalog: The Discoverer by Jan Kjaerstad
I referenced this book in my earlier post about “The Conqueror galley giveaway”: but in introducing the spring Open Letter titles, it definitely deserves it’s own entry.
The Discoverer is the final volume in the “Wergeland Trilogy,” a collection of three books—The Seducer and The Conqueror being their other two—by Jan Kjaerstad that focus on the life of Jonas Wergeland and the death of his wife Margrete.
In Kjaerstad’s universe, Wergeland is an ultra-famous Norwegian TV producer who created a series called “Thinking Big” about famous figures in Norway’s history. Everything’s going really well for him (more or less) until he returns home from a trip and finds his wife dead on the floor.
The three books in the series can be read independently of each other: each title recounts stories from Jonas’s life from a different person’s perspective, weaving together small events in hopes of explaining what happened to him. The Seducer builds up to the moment that he arrives home and finds his wife dead, and The Conqueror recounts his life story in light of the fact that he admitted in court to killing Margrete.
The Discoverer opens years later, after Jonas has been released from prison. The novel is narrated by both Jonas and his daughter, who are together on a voyage down the great Sognefjord with a group of young people working on a multimedia project to encapsulate all the history and importance of the Sognefjord. Which is interesting and relevant, since taken together, the three books in this trilogy attempt to create a new way of looking at the world, of processing information.
This novel is a bit different from the others—the chapters are much longer and tend to weave together a number of stories first encountered in the earlier books. One of Kjaerstad’s great strengths is his ability to sequence stories in a particular way to create a mosaic of Jonas’s life. If The Seducer is arranged like a fugue, and The Conqueror like a spiral, The Discoverer is most like a set of concentric circles. Not that it’s necessary to pay attention to this—each part is incredibly compelling and immediately draws the reader into Jonas’s complicated, fascinating life.
It’s hard to choose a favorite of these three books, but I agree with the translator Barbara Haveland that this novel is mindblowing, and alters everything that came before . . . And it’s not surprising that it won the Nordic Prize when it was first published in Norway.
Our entire spring catalog will be online in the very, very near future, but in the meantime, here’s an excerpt of The Discoverer, and you can find write-ups of four other spring titles by clicking here.