February 10, 2016 | Rome, Italy | Partly Cloudy 14°C
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Bios & Memoirs


The Illogic of Kassel

Vila-Matas' latest translated novel is a voyage into self, art and literature with a gimpy happy ending.

A Cat, A Man, and Two Women

Junichiro Tanizaki's short fiction is a walk on the odd side, featuring a cat, a student dictator and a foot fetishist.

Three Moments of an Explosion

China Miéville latest collection of stories turns the known world upside down to terrifying effect.

The Detour

Dutchman Gerbrand Bakker is establishing a foothold as a major European writer.

The Tsar of Love and Techno

Anthony Marra uses interlocking stories to create a rich Russian landscape that spans a century.

Prosperous Friends

Christine Schutt again proves her mettle as a stylist in this novel of frayed and fraying relationships.

Fat City

The reissuing of Leonard Gardner's 1969 "Fat City" should be cause for literary cheer.

The Man in the High Castle

Philip K. Dick's alternative history of post-World War II, though at times clunky, remains bloodcurdling.


What do goose stepping zombies have for dinner? Why endorphins of course.

Fortune Smiles

Adam Johnson's latest story collection "celebrates" the United States of Death, Dying and the Surreal.

Shyness and Dignity
By Dag Solstad, translated from the Norwegian by Sverre Lyngstad
Random House, 2006. 154 pages

Elias Rukla is a 53-year-old high school literature teacher in Oslo, a child of the idealistic late 1960s, who, having become "orderly and unassuming," plies his trade while sublimating quiet resentment toward a life that once hinted at more. He loathes that his students have no interest in let alone understanding of Ibsen; he lives a somewhat dead-end life with a passionless wife who was once in fact the wife of his only best friend, a Marxist who surrendered to Manhattan capitalism; he feels afflicted with a "latent spiritual inflammation," which may or may not be a symptom of his slavery to middle class life and its quashing values.

Dag Solstad little novel punches well above its weight class. It's the story of one man's awakening into raging quandaries that have no chance being resolved, let alone assuaged. Teaching an Ibsen passage in school, Elias suddenly understands the larger meaning of a secondary character in Ibsen's "The Wild Duck," an epiphanic revelation that more importantly makes him aware of his own role as a secondary character who "no longer has anything to say," except to himself.

Here, then, is the spreadsheet of a "left out" man, of "ingrained social suffering" left to mutter about the illness that is "democratized culture" in a reeking, pitch-perfect bout of Nordic lost-ness. At one point, frustrated by the idiocy around him, raging Elias smashes an umbrella into a pulp as his students watch dumbfounded. That's the mood here, one of middle-aged smashing, or snapping, with Elias made aware that life makes no dumpsite large enough to contain "never-ending personal defeat."

It's magnificent portrait of male simmering — brooding as triumph — by a novelist who gathers together life's key pieces, assembles them into a thinking man's pyre, and sets the overwhelming whole ablaze.

Reviewed by Book Staff
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