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Old 13th Nov 2007, 21:55   #1
Stewart
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Default Tarjei Vesaas

There’s a common misconception that Eskimos have an inflated number of words for snow. Probably because there’s various Eskimo tribes, all speaking their own languages. I have no idea how many words there are in Norwegian - or Nynorsk, to be more precise - but I reckon there’s a good number of them, otherwise Tarjei Vesaas’ The Ice Palace (1963) would be a repetitive novel.




And how, then, without being repetitive, would it translate to English, if we only have one word for snow? That word being, well, snow. Thankfully, the English language has a large enough vocabulary to describe frozen water in all manner of ways - ice, icicle, frost, slush, etc. - all equally evocative, and its a mercy indeed for without them The Ice Palace would not be the evocative beauty it is.

Siss and Unn are two very different young girls. The former is popular in their rural school; the latter, recently arrived in the area, is very much alone. But something attracts them to one another, and one winter evening Siss heads over to Unn’s and their getting to know other - secrets shared, and promised to never tell, aside - is an awkward affair. So awkward, in fact, that Unn skips school the following day to visit the ice palace, a structure built from the errant streams and spray of a waterfall, and is never heard from again.

And as the search for Unn begins amongst the villagers the snow begins to fall. In fact, the snow falls all winter, each successive layer covering up the earth and any tracks Unn may have left. But it’s not quite so simple as that, for the snow is both physical and metaphorical, a representation of the way in which Siss becomes snowed in, emotionally isolated in her need to preserve the memory of her friend:
They’re not thinking about Unn any more.”
“Who isn’t?”
“Nobody is!” said Siss, even though she had not meant to. It had gone dark, and then she had said it.
Her mother answered calmly: “How do you know, my girl?”
Siss said nothing.
“And then nobody knew Unn. It’s unreasonable, but it makes it seem different. People have a lot to think about, you see.” Mother looked at Siss and added: “You’re the person who can think about Unn all the time.”
As if Siss had been given a great gift.
This “gift” leads Siss to embody Unn, to become the loner at school. To keep the air of mystery alive - for that reason she’ll never tell another soul Unn’s secret. But as the winter leads into spring, Siss learns to accept that Unn is never coming back and in such situations one can be relieved of a promise’s obligation. And so, with the new season warming the land, Siss is able to take one step closer to adulthood and all the inner turmoil she has been suffering melts away, the metaphorical ice palace going the same way as the physical one:
It was just as alarmingly tall and strange from whichever angle you looked at it. Polished and sparkling, free of snow, and with a ring of cold around it in the middle ofthe mild March air in which it stood. The river, black and deep, moved out from under the ice, gathering speed on its way downward and taking with it everything that could be torn way.
Aside from the rather amazing story of The Ice Palace, with its layers of symbols and possible interpretations, what really captures the imagination is the prose: chilly, sad, and haunting; yet not without colour. It’s poetry, and what makes it even more special is that it’s a translation. Just how beautiful must the original be?

The Ice Palace really deserves more widespread attention. It’s a subtle gem, extremely unassuming, and, while it will no doubt mean different things to different people, they will all agree that it means something to them. Frankly, it’s nothing short of a work of art and I’ll be looking forward to reading more of Vesaas in the near future. As an introduction to his work, what a way to break the ice!
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Old 6th Feb 2008, 7:08   #2
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Default Re: Tarjei Vesaas

Nice little mention for dovegreyreader and myself on Complete Review as they add their own review of The Ice Palace, also rating the book highly.
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Old 6th Feb 2008, 18:49   #3
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Default Re: Tarjei Vesaas

Quote:
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It’s poetry, and what makes it even more special is that it’s a translation. Just how beautiful must the original be?
Very!
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Old 6th Feb 2008, 19:00   #4
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Default Re: Tarjei Vesaas

Wonderful to find a thread on Tarjei Vesaas here, Isslottet (The Ice Palace) is standard school syllabus in Norway, at least for us 30-somethings. I truly hope he still is, although nynorsk does have a hard time in schools these days (it is compulsory to learn both bokmål and nynorsk in Norwegian schools, but as bokmål by far has the most native speakers, or I should say writers, proponents of nynorsk are forever struggling to maintain this status).

Vesaas is an excellent example that nynorsk in fact can be the most poetic of the two Norwegian languages!

Incidentally, Tarjei was married to another great poet: Halldis Moren Vesaas .
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Old 6th Feb 2008, 20:02   #5
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Default Re: Tarjei Vesaas

I've finally ordered this. In the end it was your book of 2007, wasn't it Stewart?
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Old 6th Feb 2008, 20:06   #6
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Default Re: Tarjei Vesaas

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In the end it was your book of 2007, wasn't it Stewart?
I think it was a two-way between The Ice Palace and The Welsh Girl. Thinking back, The Ice Palace is still vividly memorable. So, yes.
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Old 6th Feb 2008, 21:52   #7
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Default Re: Tarjei Vesaas

Stewart don't you just love it when The Complete Review give an A to a book you've rated! I was a bit overcome when I saw I'd got a mention on there. It was the first book review site I found when we plugged in the internet all those years ago and have read it ever since. This book just left me stunned. John read it NOW!
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Old 6th Feb 2008, 21:59   #8
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Default Re: Tarjei Vesaas

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Originally Posted by dovegreyreader View Post
Stewart don't you just love it when The Complete Review give an A to a book you've rated!
I know. It's a strange thing, since it's just another book review archive. But, with over 2,000 reviews of world fiction it's a beacon in the field. I like it's rating system, too.

Quote:
It was the first book review site I found when we plugged in the internet all those years ago and have read it ever since.
I check it all the time, too, and find myself trawling through the archives since my own interests in fiction lend themselves to a bit of globetrotting.

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This book just left me stunned.
I should jump the other three Vesaas books up my reading list, especially The Birds.

Quote:
John read it NOW!
Seconded.
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Old 6th Feb 2008, 22:00   #9
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Default Re: Tarjei Vesaas

Well, I can't RIGHT now, I only ordered it today! But I am looking forward to it...
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Old 7th Feb 2008, 12:53   #10
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Default Re: Tarjei Vesaas

Another temptation. Especially fordi jeg elske Norge og Norske bokker. Det ar veldig bra! Must resist. Must resist. Must read TBR pile first.

If I do read it, it will have to be the translation anyway. My Norwegian is limited to saying that I don't like fishballs - jeg likke ikke fiskeboller - and requesting beer - jeg vil en 0l.
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