Friday, May 25, 2012

Crimefest Day 2: Fire and Iceland

"You never hear anyone telling Norwegian jokes anymore, and I think it's because of the money," Swedish crime writer Åsa Larsson said during today's Crimefest 2012 panel on Scandinavian crime fiction.

"Now it's the other away round," Norwegian crime writer Thomas Enger replied. Norway's oil wealth has apparently muted at least one outward expression of Sweden's superiority to its neighbors.

But the panel was not all doleful observations and good-natured gloating. Gunnar Staalesen gave a plausible answer to a question I'd long had about Scandinavian crime writers: Why did Satanism and the fear thereof figure in a number of their crime novels in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, Jo Nesbø's The Devil's Star, Helene Tursten's The Glass Devil, and Åsa Larsson's Sun Storm (a.k.a. The Savage Altar) among them? Tursten appeared to take umbrage when I put the question to her a few years ago, apparently thinking I implied she had copied Nesbø. I implied no such thing, and I'll chalk Tursten's impatience up to fatigue from a gruelling tour schedule.

Larsson said a church figured in her book simply because, while secular now, she had had a religious upbringing; churches were simply a part of her background. But Staalesen suggested that a real-life wave of church burnings in the 1990s by a black-metal musician who wrote about Germanic neo-Paganism might have brought Satanism to the fore as an issue of public concern.

The intriguing thing about the resulting novels, at least the three I named, is that Satanism and satanists tend to be suspects and sources of fear rather than the actual villains of the piece. The books do not decry or praise Satanism, they merely take it up as one aspect of Swedish and Norwegian social and spiritual life.

I asked Staalesen after the panel whether an amusing, geographically specific metaphor for oral sex in the English translation of his 1995 novel The Writing on the Wall was an accurate rendering of the Norwegian original. He did not remember the line, which he'd have written seventeen years ago. But he did say the metaphor would work just as well in Norwegian as in English.

Finally, Ragnar Jonasson paid tribute to the trail blazed by his fellow Icelandic crime writer Arnaldur Indriðason. That Arnaldur did not publish his first novel until 1997 indicates how new Icelandic crime writing is. "Prior to that," Ragnar said, echoing a battle that crime writing has had to wage in a number of countries, "crime fiction was looked down upon by the public."
*
 The panel's moderator was Barry Forshaw, who really has written the book on Scandinavian crime fiction.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

22 Comments:

Anonymous Elisabeth said...

As so many Scandinavian crime fiction novelists address current issues through their fiction, I've been wondering if any are planning on writing books that include addressing the alarming and widespread rise of antisemitism in their respective countries? Norway, Sweden, and Denmark in particular.

I've got relatives in Norway that relate incidents as though they're living in Germany, ca. 1933+. It's sickening and it's getting so I don't like even mentioning my Norwegian heritage to new acquaintances.

May 25, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's an interesting question. It could serve as an acid test of how interested such authors really are in the ugly underside of their societies. I will have opportunity tomorrow to ask people who might well be able to shed some light.

May 25, 2012  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Peter, I think your own take on the theme of Satanism in these novels is right on the mark. I find Staalesen's comment that the church burnings "...put the fear of Satan in Scandinavian crime writers" very peculiar, but perhaps I misconstrue it. I doubt if any of these authors believe in
Satan.

I must wonder if Barry Forshaw intentionally took the title of his book from Robert Barnard's novel of the same title. Barnard set that book in Tromso, where he was a lecturer at the University for some years. Written in 1980, when Barnard was in his prime, it's the only entry in his considerable bibliography set in Tromso and very good stuff indeed.

May 25, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

For a chilling view of Norwegian black metal, its adherents' actions, including murder, (and their slap-on-the-wrist punishment) watch the documentary Until the Light Takes Us. Stream it for free online.

Oh, and dig Varg Vikernes' prison "cell". Cute curtains, huh? My kitchen should look so nice! 21 years maximum "punishment" for ANY crime. Yep, this is what Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is going to "suffer" if the Norwegian court system can bring itself to find him sane and then guilty.

Min Gud!. Odin must be spinning on his pyre in Valhalla. This Valkyrie is disgusted.

May 25, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

That's shocking to hear about anti-Semitism in Scandinavia. I had no idea.

It's unfortunately clear that anti-immigrant bigotry is a big problem, especially against people of color communities, as Anders Breivik's massacre showed.

The ultra-right in Scandinavia and in Europe is surely as anti-Semitic as it is bigoted against Muslim, Arab and African communities.

This is something which Stieg Larsson exposed, something which causes me to have more respect for him, than only as a writer of a best-selling trilogy.

It needs to all be exposed and opposed before it gets worse, although the worsening economic conditions give the right-wing more sway in blaming immigrants.

I read an article in the NY Times last year in which the Marine LePen, head of the ultra-right National Front in France said they were no longer focusing on the Jews, but on immigrants. Despicable on both counts.

The ultra-right is also out there in Greece, although from what I read, any coalition government would reject them. I hope this is so.

Back to reading mysteries, my distraction from all this, except when they discuss these issues.

May 26, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

kathy, the really scary element (for me) of antisemitism in Norway is that it isn't just the usual suspects--organized right-wing extremists and other assorted nuts. It's also coming from the socialist government (I think Adrian McKinty, I, and others discussed this in a thread a while back at DBB). As with many self-described liberals in the US and elsewhere, many left-leaning Norwegians hold little sympathy for Jews, which tends to be a result of their anti-Israel /pro-Palestinian stance (Israel's control of the West Bank). Jews were banned from settling in Norway from the late 17th c, until 1851.

When Norwegian Jews report Jew-bashing and Jew-baiting incidents to the authorities, they are often told something like: "What do you expect, when you are so mean to the Palestinians? And if you don't like it, maybe you ought to move to Israel." I'm oversimplifying but I'm not kidding. Moving to Israel (or the US!) is apparently on the minds of many Jewish Norwegians today; the few that have not already left the country. Partly because of Norway's fast-growing Muslim population there have been increasing reports of bullying, taunting, etc. of Muslims against Jews. According to my cousin, "dirty Jew" is a fairly common schoolyard taunt that stands in for my generation's "jerk" or "asshole".

It might be hard for us to believe, but there are many Norwegians who blame Jews (it never ends, does it?) for Anders Behring Breivik murderous rampage. Their thinking: If he is so anti-Muslim then he must have the backing of Mossad, wealthy Jews "who control the media", etc.

The socialists, including Norway's current administration, generally tend to favor Muslims over Jews (who currently outnumber Jews about 50-1 in Oslo, for ex.) in altercation resolutions. (All this is easy to find corroboration of online at various neutral sites--if you are a cautious and skeptical reader--in case people think I'm a kook, too.) Don't read Norwegian? Google Translate can help. "Jøder i Oslo" = Jews in Oslo might be a place to start.

May 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, "put the fear of Satan" was a bit of failed jocosity on my part, a play on putting the fear of God. But it was merely paraphrasing. I'll eliminate the phrase lest anyone else blame Gunnar Staalesen for my crappy joke.

I had not heard of Robert Brnard's book. I had assumed that the title was simply an alteration of Nancy Mitford's.But I can enquire this afternoon.

May 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, Adrian McKinty, as big a Stieg Larsson hater as there is on any continent, likes to say that he would love to spend a holiday in the prison where Mikael Blomqvist if jailed in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

May 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy and Elisabeth: Immigration, the treatment and reception thereof, and the effects of newly open borders are probably the dominant common theme of crime writing in all the Nordic countries. Several have brought yup the issue here, and all one has to do is pick up a novel, whether by Roslund and Hellstrom or Arnaldir Indridason or Harri Nykanen, to see this.

May 26, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Immigration, the treatment and reception thereof, and the effects of newly open borders

Peter, from what you (or others at DBB) have read in Scandinavian crime fiction dealing with this theme, is the newcomer ever depicted as anything other than the Victim Other? The native, indigenous population as anything either than the hand-wringing, bleeding heart liberal or right-wing, slathering fiend?

Admittedly, my Scandinavian crime fiction reading is not as broad as yours, Peter, for example. But of the 4-5 authors I've read, I've only felt that Arnaldur Indriðason (in the most homogenous Scandinavian country of them all!) dealt with the issue in an even-handed manner; that both "sides" had legitimate grievances against the other, that open-border immigration requires frank and objective discussion, of give-and-take from both newcomer and longtime resident population.

Unfortunately, Anders Behring Breivik's murderous rampage has effectively halted any possibility of that discussion in Norway for at least the present generation.

May 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I was going to cite Arnaldur as an answer to your question, but you beat me to it. The characteristic you cited is just one reason Arnaldur is far and away the best of the Nordic crime writers and one of the very best in the world.

It would be interesting to put your prediction about the massacre and its possible effect on the discussion before some of the authors and see what they have to say.

May 26, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I'm more worried about the ultra-right in any European country, due to the damage they do or the potential, such as Anders Breivik's actions.

However, I see the gaining of the National Front in France and the ultra-right in Greece, as the elections have shown. At a time of economic crisis, unemployment and austerity, how convenient to blame immigrants, people of color, and I'd imagine, also, Jews.

I think Arnaldur Indridason, one of my favorite writers (not only Nordic writers), handled immigration well in Arctic Chill.

Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri have included immigrant issues in their series.

And Jeff Siger focuses on immigration in his newest book about Greece: Target: Tinos. I haven't yet read it, although I await its arrival at the library.

There's nothing like crime fiction in which to learn about countries' issues and conflicts.

May 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth: Thomas Enger and Gunnar Staalesen were at my table at dinner tonight. I mentioned this discussion to them, told them about this blog, gave them each a business card, and invited them to comment.

Staalesen agreed entirely that the Breivik trial will poison discussion of immigration. He also said that, though the maximum prison sentence under Norwegian law is twenty-one years, Breivik will never again see the light of day, thanks to laws that allow detention for mental-health and security reasons.

May 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, I think Camilleri handles this issue well through his customary sardonic sympathy. Gianrico Carofiglio, though he does not address the matter as directly, wrote one novel about an African street pedlar falsely accused of murder. Jakob Arjouni, from Germany, has as his protagonist a German detective of Turkish descent, and treatment of immigrants is very much at the center of his work.

On the human level, though -- that is, with an avoidance of polemics and with sympathy for all his characters -- no one handles the issue as well as Arnaldur does.

May 26, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Carofiglio's first series book was quite good, very sensitively written and acutely aware of racism.

Indridason's Arctic Chill was quite good, among my favorites of Nordic crime fiction.

And I'll see if the library has any books by Arjouni, and am awaiting Siger's at the library.

We should get some kind of free prize from Google for unscrambling these words; it's nuts.

Being the grand-daughter and great-grand-daughter of immigrants from vastly different areas of Europe, I don't cast aspersions on any immigrant populations. Eastern European Jews and Irish people were targets of immigrant bashing over here during the late 1800s and early 1900s. My sympathies lie with immigrants.

I can't imagine anyone emigrating, leaving their homelands, unless they faced great economic and/or political difficulties.

May 26, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, here's an article that explains why those squiggly words really are getting harder to decipher.

It's no surprise, in a way, that immigration loos so large in the Nordic countries. They are only now forced to confront a demographic reality that been part of life in North America for centuries.

May 27, 2012  
Blogger May said...

Peter,
Have you read "Death in Cold Climate"? The sociological/political/cultural analysis sounds very interesting, but I haven't read most of the authors. Would that leave me lost, or give me a good taste of each author?

May 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

May, I'm just now wrapping up my trip to England, so I have not read the book yet. But I was surprised to see that the book appears to be thematically and historically organized. One of the chapters appears to deal with anti-Stieg Larsson reactions, for instance. So I'd say that you might find the book interesting whether or not you have read the authors in question.

May 30, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

And now on the subject of racism and the ultra-right, the NY Times has an article today on racism in soccer.

Apparently, Black and Latino players have encountered racism in Europe, especially Eastern Europe, where it's very bad, with Hitler salutes and phrases.

I hope the international soccer federation and organizations come down heavily on this behavior. What a way to hurt players and ruin the game!

May 31, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, that story was big news in England this week, on the run-up to the European soccer championships in Ukraine and Poland. A black former English soccer star was advising fans to stay home. The BBC broadcast scary footage (I saw it.) And fans of black and Asian descent are beign advised to exercise caution at the championships.

May 31, 2012  
Blogger Susan said...

What a fascinating post and then discussion here! I've read all of Arnuldur Indridason, and really liked how he presented some of the issues of immigration in Arctic Chill. Jo Nesbo tackles it differently, with his crimes having to do with the past and coming to terms with Nazis and WW2 in Norway. One author you don't mention is Henning Mankell, who addressed illegal people smuggling and immigration in several of his mysteries, quite well, I thought. Though Arctic Chill makes it poignant on a personal, individual level.

We were just watching the Sol Campbell English soccer program on our tv here in Canada, tonight! He has had to face several incidences of racism in his career, though by far the worst of it in the Ukraine, so understandably he is nervous for the players at the Euros starting next week.

June 01, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

People-trafficking and other cross-border crime are also issues for Agnete Friis & Lene Kaaberbøl and Anders Roslund & Börge Hellström. And I'd forgotten about Henning Mankell, one of the first authors when I read when I started reading crime fiction from outside North America.

I didn't see the entire Sol Campbell broadcast, so I missd him talking about his own experiences. The issue was big news, with reports that some black players' families will not accompany them to the Euros. Did you see the film of the Indian fans from Ukraine being beaten up? And of the Ukrainian official who denied that the fans were giving the Nazi salute? I don't what was going on in the immediate surroundings during the interview, but is sure appeared that he was looking away as he denied what seemed fairly obvious. The interview should inspire no confidence in his veracity.

June 02, 2012  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home