27 June 2010
Beatles by Lars Saabye Christensen was a delightful stroll through the Beatlemania of my youth. Each chapter of the novel is the title of a Beatles album or song and I did not have to try hard to transport back to that year in my life. It was fascinating to view the same time period from a Norwegian perspective. To make the novel even more interesting the perspective was male.
The novel follows four young Norwegian boys from 1965 until 1972. As you might imagine, Kim (our narrator) and his friends Gunnar, Ola, and Seb are obsessed with the Beatles. I was as well during the 1960s! In fact Kim and his friends thought of themselves as the Beatles. They dreamed of starting their own band which would be named the SNAFUs. But, as with many dreams, life got in the way. The four friends changed from boys to men. They smoked, drank, played, fought, fell in and out of love, made a mess of things, and put things straight. We were introduced to their parents, other friends, rivals, girlfriends, and teachers. These boys felt like family. Close family!
I think this is one reason I loved the book so much - reading it felt like being admitted into a secret club, one usually closed to girls. Growing up, I had only one younger sister. Each summer, we went to stay with family in Tennessee. I loved staying with my three males cousins who lived out in the country. They teased me unmercifully as the city girl lost in the country. And we had some fun capers, and like the characters in the novel, more often than not got caught. Still some parts of my cousins' though processes were closed to me. I wasn't quite a member of the club!
Another idea which was prevelant in the novel was the protest against America in VietNam. I lived both sides of the same protest in the United States. I was told that the Communists were going to come take over our country if we did not defeat them in VietNam. When friends died, I wasn't sure that I cared about the Communists anymore. The distaste for what was viewed as American imperialism is palpable in the novel. Somewhat reminds me of the world response to our invasion of Iraq. We may never learn.
The author was born in Oslo in 1953, the same year I was born. He began writing Beatles when he was 25 years old. It is interesting that in 2006 readers in Norway voted this book the best Norwegian novel of the last 25 years.
I found an interesting anecdote about the book in an August 2009 review by Tone Sutterud found in the British The Independent:
Unbelievably, Beatles was almost lost to the world. Having written the entire tome by hand, Saabye Christensen thought it might interest his old schoolmates at most, and carelessly stuffed the script in a suitcase travelling from France. The suitcase got lost, but found its way back to Oslo after a two-week European round trip that took in London. "Which was only right and fitting," the author says. "Now the book has come home, so to speak."
AUTHOR: Lars Saabye Christensen
TRANSLATOR: Don Bartlett
COPYRIGHT: 2009 (English translation), original 1984
RECOMMEND: This was a book that I did not want to end. The characters were so well defined, that I felt they were people I knew. I have seen one reference to two books which have already been written and are untranslated sequels to this book, so maybe I will get my chance to catch up with this fab four! Interesting to see the comparison between times here and in Norway.
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