The third part of Jan Kjaerstad’s “Wergeland Trilogy” (The Seducer, The Conqueror and The Discoverer) was recently released in the UK (our edition comes out in September), and Paul Binding wrote a really nice overview of the book for The Independent:
The Discoverer completes the trilogy to which Norwegian writer Jan Kjaerstad’s The Seducer and The Conqueror belong: an enormously ambitious undertaking about an enormously ambitious man – and, beyond him, about ambition itself and humanity’s ambiguous need for it. The matter of all three novels – which contain overlaps, revisitings, and some mind-bending contradictions, with each account plausible – is laid out baldly in the first novel’s first chapter, “The Big Bang”. Jonas Wergeland, who “has risen to heights of fame which very few, if any, Norwegians have ever come close to attaining”, returns from the World’s Fair in Seville (1992), to his house in Grorud, the Oslo borough in which he grew up. And there, on his living-room floor, he finds his wife, Margrete Boeck, venereologist and mother of his daughter, shot dead.
Wergeland is charged with the murder, found guilty, partly through testimony from his own clergyman brother, Daniel, and receives a custodial sentence. None of the novels proceeds linearly, nor is there one consistent narrator. The Conqueror, after the first book’s tributes to his boundless imagination and sexual inventiveness, presents a far more troubled and troubling Jonas. It makes us pretty sure he must have dispatched the woman he so loved. But in The Discoverer we come – via Jonas himself and his devoted daughter, Kristin – to a different conclusion that exonerates this pre-eminent Norwegian, whose main failing may have been precisely that pre-eminence.
But have we reached the truth of the affair? Is this third book the final version? By no means, the author told me recently. Like Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, his trilogy asserts relativity. In one sense only is The Discoverer final: Kjaerstad will write no sequel. [. . .]
The voyage that The Discoverer will impel, thanks to Barbara J Haveland’s lively, fluid and at times sparkling translation, is a return one, to the beginning of the whole trilogy – a work so ample in its riches that further discoveries are inevitable.
On Friday, finished copies of Merce Rodoreda’s Death in Spring arrived at our office (along with the equally gorgeous and well-written The Mighty Angel by Jerzy Pilch), and since the PEN World Voices events for Jan Kjaerstad and for Merce Rodoreda are right around the corner, we thought we’d make a special offer to anyone interested in reading these books prior to the PEN events.
So, for the rest of the month, you can get both The Conqueror and Death in Spring for the one low price of $22. Just click here for details.
(The Rodoreda event is also part of Catalan Days, a special celebration of Catalan performing and media arts, literature, and gastronomy taking place in NY from April 15th to May 20th.)
In my opinion, Jan Kjaerstad’s The Conqueror is one of the best books we brought out in our first season. Compelling and engaging, with a brilliant over-arching structure, it’s a novel that’s very literary and very readable, and one that we were really hoping would take off. (Especially since this is part of a trilogy, and we’re bringing out the final part in the fall.)
Well, although there haven’t been a ton of reviews (yet), we’ve been getting a lot of comments from readers and booksellers about this book.
Karl Pohrt from Shaman Drum called me a while back to tell me how impressed he was with this novel. And since then, I’ve heard that one bookseller wrote a staff pick about how The Conqueror forced him to rewrite his “desert island” list. And just today we received a postcard from another New York store about how The Conqueror was a “amazing and wonderful reading experience.”
Back a couple months ago, we gave away a few galleys of this book. And earlier this week I heard from one winner about how effing good this book is . . .
It is the second part of a trilogy—the first part is The Seducer, which came out from Overlook a couple years ago—but the books really do stand alone. If you’d like to know more about the first volume, Michael Orthofer has a really comprehensive review at Complete Review.
I’m mentioning all this now, because we’re in the process of preparing Jan’s U.S. tour. He will be in New York for PEN World Voices, and in Rochester (with Mark Binelli, author of Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die!), and possibly a few other places as well. I’ll post all the details as soon as they’re finalized.
I just found out last week that the Harvard Book Store selected The Conqueror by Jan Kjaerstad as part of its Select Seventy program. As implied by the name, this program consists of seventy books selected by booksellers and buyers—all of which are sold at a 20% discount for the month.
Seeing any of our books on a “staff recommends” table gets me really excited, but this particular program gave me an idea . . . Since Three Percent is very much in favor of the continued survival of independent bookstores, each month we’re going to pick one and link to its online ordering system for all of the titles we feature/review on the site. And as the instigator of the idea, this month we’re going to focus on the Harvard Book Store.
And continuing with Open Letter titles for a second, we’ve gotten a lot of great coverage for our books recently, including a very positive reviews of Vilnius Poker by Ricardas Gavelis in both the Harvard Crimson and Literary License.
From the Harvard Crimson:
This ambitious endeavor is admirably achieved. Gavelis’ writing is a paragon of surrealist creativity and an intensely interesting read, filled with effortlessly intelligent prose and a wryly macabre voice.
And from Literary License:
Vilnius Poker is dense with ideas, literary allusions, historic events, mythological references, symbolism, and linguistic and philosophical theories. It invites and rewards careful study. Elizabeth Novickas’s nimble translation delivers the stylistic diversity that must have been intended by Gavelis. Just as beautiful and brutal elements coexist in the narrative, the prose is alternately poetic and crude.
Also, one of the best reviews of Fonseca’s The Taker and Other Stories recently came out in the London Review of Books. Daniel Soar’s review is incredibly thoughtful and complete, dealing with the violence in Fonseca’s stories in a very intelligent fashion. Here’s a short quote:
In Brazil, which since the 1970s has seen more urban violence than any other country in the world, no writer has dealt with the subject more plainly than Rubem Fonseca. In 1976 his bestselling short story collection Feliz Ano Novo (“Happy New Year”) was censored by a court acting for the military government. Five of the stories were banned, and the ban on the title story wasn’t revoked until 1989. [. . .]
The judges in the censorship case argued that the story might lead the average Brazilian astray. That would be a wholly ludicrous statement if applied to a piece of fiction written, say, in France, but “Feliz Ano novo” is precisely about what it claims is the average Brazilian; and it’s this claim that’s subversive, not the violence.
And just so it’s clear, all three of these books are currently in stock at the Harvard Book Store, and can be ordered online . . .
Yesterday afternoon we found out that The Conqueror by Jan Kjaerstad, the second book in the “Wergeland Trilogy,” received a glowing, starred review in Kirkus:
Back in the day, Jonas Wergeland was an inquisitive student, brilliant, capable of speculating that “Dante’s observations on the celestial spheres, based on Ptolemy’s theories, were at least as right or wrong as the theories about the universe with which he was confronted in his astrophysical studies.” Alas, it’s the here and now, and Jonas is a television personality, the most popular in all of Norway. The here and now doesn’t always agree with him; when we meet Wergeland, early in the pages of this sprawling postmodern whodunit, our hero, breast-obsessed (“it’s a long story altogether, that of men and breasts”) and bewildered, is being copiously sick, feeling “as if he were spewing over Oslo, over the whole of Norway, in fact.” Wergeland has reason to feel ill over the course of much of this novel, and it’s not just from all the aquavit; his wife, Margrete, has been shot dead in the first volume of the trilogy, The Seducer, and all fingers point at him. [. . .] Think of it as Kafka-meets-Billy Connolly, and you’re almost there.
In celebration of this, our first starred review, we’re giving away the five extra copies of the galley that we have here in the office. The book will officially release in February, with the third volume (more on that a little later) coming out in August. (And just to clarify a bit, these three books can be read in any order, independent of one another, but if you’re chronologically inclined, The Seducer is available in paperback from Overlook.)
This is a great wintry book that is ambitious in scope and incredibly compelling. Each chapter reads like a perfectly crafted short story, and taken as a whole, the novel is a stunning accomplishment. It’s no wonder Kjaerstad won the Nordic Prize for the third volume . . .
If you’d like to be entered in the drawing for one of these copies, simply e-mail me your mailing address at chad.post at rochester dot edu with “The Conqueror” in the subject line. Since the holidays are here and we’ll be slowing down next week, we’ll keep this contest open until the morning of the 29th.
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There are plenty of reasons you can fail to find the rhythm of a book. Sometimes it’s a matter of discarding initial assumptions or impressions, sometimes of resetting oneself. Zigmunds Skujiņš’s Flesh-Coloured Dominoes was a defining experience in the necessity. . .
In a culture that privileges prose, reviewing poetry is fairly pointless. And I’ve long since stopped caring about what the world reads and dropped the crusade to get Americans to read more poems. Part of the fault, as I’ve suggested. . .
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