Borders

By Tankard, Lanie | World Literature Today, January/February 2017 | Go to article overview

Borders


Tankard, Lanie, World Literature Today


Roy Jacobsen. Borders. Trans. Don Bartlett & Don Shaw. Minneapolis, Minnesota. Graywolf. 2016. 281 pages.

What are borders? "Not something to be taken lightly," declares Norwegian author Roy Jacobsen in his latest English translation.

Over thirty-four years, this renowned author has written four short-story collections, over a dozen novels, a biography, and a childrens book, plus coauthored a movie script. His awards include the Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature, Norwegian Booksellers' Prize, and shortlisting for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Creatively blending history and imagination in his novel Borders, Jacobsen marches readers deep into the Ardennes, dense forests where a real river named Our slashes nations between two villages: Dasburg in Germany and Rodershausen in Luxembourg. One main character is a boy named Robert, product of a month shared by his mother, a Belgian nurse, and his father, an American GI pianist who vanished before Robert's birth. Thus, Robert reveres his "blind" godfather, Markus, who actually sees a lot. As a German radio operator, though, he couldn't save his own son with the Sixth Army in Stalingrad.

Deftly, Jacobsen combines antiquity (Prince William of Orange, Dutch Sea Beggars) with recency (Adolf Hitler, Battle of the Bulge), exploring complex military details and intricate family connections with equal fervor. Borders becomes brilliant when metaphors and symbols intersect, a writing flair shared by Norwegian colleague Per Petterson. …

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