Thursday, July 02, 2015

My Saga, Parts 1 and 2, by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Karl Ove Knausgaard is relatively new to me as a writer, but when he had articles in the newly revamped Sunday New York Times Magazine on March 1 and March 15, it caught my attention.  His writing did not at first, and curiosity was delayed as the two magazines sat in the "to be read" pile for almost three months.   Then, in a spate of book buying on Amazon necessitated by my current need to be at home much of the time, I purchased Knausgaard's latest book that had been translated into English in hopes of catching on to his literate audience's adoration.  It occurred to me that the magazine articles should be read now, and the book whenever it comes up in the ever growing queue.

The Times hired him to travel across the United States to visit areas inhabited at times by those of Norwegian ancestry, from the Vikings and onward.  It turns out that Knausgaard is the kind of writer whose reflections are mostly personal, and they are interestingly forthright.  At first he spends as much time writing about the mistakes he makes, the bad food he eats, his poops, and all of the things he manages to misplace or lose as he goes about his travels, which begin slowly for various reasons. Comparing what he was seeing to Nabokov's "Lolita" travels and Kerouac's "On the Road" is a thoughtful and unique approach, as both books are classics and both books begin their quasi-fictional travels of America in 1947.

What Knausgaard writes is not meant to be repeated here in any detail, or explained.  He writes, "The identical workers are replaceable and the products are identical...Not even the Soviet Union at the height of its power had succeeded in creating such a unified, collective identity as the one Americans lived their lives within."  For Knausgaard that is observation, not criticism.  He is regularly fascinated by things that he sees, some of the people that he meets, and the occasional breaks in the dismal landscape of the plains states where he almost inadvertently travels.  The Swedes and Norwegians ended up in Minnesota and neighboring states for reasons unknown here.

He constantly comments on the "sameness", same motels, same restaurants, same stores, same... he writes that "nowhere in the world has shared culture been a more imperative requirement than in America."  When he looked at supposedly historic sites he noted that it "didn't matter if it was authentic or not --- hadn't this entire country been built on the promise of avoiding this question?"

All of what has just been written may make Knausgaard sound like some kind of critical foreign jerk, but if you actually read what he writes he is not.  His writing and the translation work well.  I look forward to reading "My Struggle, Book Four" which now sits in a pile next to my main reading chair. His observations there will focus on himself and it is expected that he will be creatively written and entertainingly candid.

Personal postscript:  it could be wondered what he would have thought about traveling through the south and southwest of the U.S.  My experience in Minnesota and nearby states was one of the worst and most bland food that has ever been tasted, bland hopelessly content people with no opinions of substance, newspapers without news, and the almost complete lack of differentiation except for presumably among the very wealthy. There are other parts of the country that are quite crazed and unpredictable, in a creative and positive way mostly, but with some downside as well.  As said, this is a personal postscript.


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