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Scandinavians: In Search of the Soul of the North

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Scandinavians: In Search of the Soul of the North

Robert Ferguson

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ISBN 13: 978-1-4683-1482-3
Trim Size: 6" x 9"
Overlook Press

Product Description

A journey of discovery though two millennia of Scandinavia’s history, culture and society, "told with deep knowledge and an intoxicating passion" (BBC).

Scandinavia is the epitome of cool: we fill our homes with Nordic furniture; we envy their humane social welfare system and their healthy outdoor lifestyle; we glut ourselves on their crime fiction; even their strangely attractive melancholia seems to express a stoic, commonsensical acceptance of life’s vicissitudes. But how valid is this outsider’s view of Scandinavia, and how accurate our picture of life in Scandinavia today?

Scandinavians follows a chronological progression across the Northern centuries: the Vendel era of Swedish prehistory; the age of the Vikings; the Christian conversions of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland; the unified Scandinavian state of the late Middle Ages; the sea-change of the Reformation; the kingdom of Denmark-Norway; King Gustav Adolphus and the age of Sweden’s greatness; the cultural golden age of Ibsen, Strindberg and Munch; the impact of the Second World War; Scandinavia’s postwar social democratic nirvana; and the terror attacks of Anders Behring Breivik.

Scandinavians is also a personal investigation, with award-winning author Robert Ferguson as the ideal companion as he explores wide-ranging topics such as the power and mystique of Scandinavian women, from the Valkyries to the Vikings; from Nora and Hedda to Garbo and Bergman. This digressive technique is familiar from the writings of W. G. Sebald, and in Ferguson’s hands it is deployed with particular felicity, accessibility, and deftness, richly illuminating our understanding of modern Scandinavia, its society, politics, culture, and temperament.

“An eye-opening history of a region and culture ‘vibrant with people, noise, chance, life.’ In this valuable study―not merely a recounting of the stereotypes regarding Vikings and their rampaging ways―award-winning writer and translator Ferguson searches for the deepest soul of Scandinavia. Much of this lucid book unfolds like a series of short stories, tales told to Ferguson by friends, literary connections, and even strangers. . . . What Ferguson is really searching for is the essence of their psyche and how the idea of the melancholy, brooding man replaced the specter of the bloodthirsty conqueror. . . . Ferguson astutely examines the idea that history isn’t always what you think it was; it depends on the recorder, and the past can change its shape. A delightful history in which the author truly captures ‘the soul of the North’.” Kirkus (starred review)

“A free-wheeling love letter to the essence of Scandinavia . . . Whether he’s waxing poetic about the works and impact of playwright Henrik Ibsen, examining how differently each Scandinavian country acted and reacted during WWII, or contemplating the mystique and strength of Scandinavia’s women, Ferguson combines the factual and the intimate.” —Publishers Weekly

Scandinavians is essential reading.” —Sir Richard Eyre, former director of the National Theatre, London

“Ferguson’s prose has the crisp, deliberate crunch of footsteps on gravel; you can’t tell if he’s taking you to a Lutheran funeral or to Hamlet at the theatre.” —Max Adams, author of The King in the North

“Denmark, Norway, and Sweden must by several measures be the richest, happiest, and most successful societies the world has ever known; yet their inhabitants are famous for melancholy . . . Scandinavia is famous for hedonism and sexual freedom; yet the plots of Scandi noir stories often turn not on crimes but on old sins: adultery, incest, abuse. What causes these extreme clashes of light and darkness? Robert Ferguson tries to get to the bottom of it through a combination of personal memoir, literary and cultural analysis, and episodic history. . . . Ferguson has brought them all back to life, and very engagingly so.” —Times Literary Supplement

Robert Ferguson worked at a number of jobs including postman, hospital porter, deckhand on a trawler, factory worker, cook, and driver before enrolling as a student at UC London in 1976 and taking a course in Scandinavian Studies. In 1983 he emigrated to Norway and has made his home there since. He began his literary career as a radio dramatist, translating and adapting for radio works by Knut Hamsun and Henrik Ibsen for the BBC. He has also written eleven original radio plays and twice won the BBC Methuen Giles Cooper Award for Best Radio Drama. His first literary biography was Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun, which was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Best Biography Award and won the University of London J.G.Robertson Award. In 1996 Enigma was dramatized as a 6-part television series by NRK (Norwegian State Television) As well as literary biographies and a history of the Vikings, Ferguson has written two novels, published only in Norwegian.

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