One thing I have been doing this spring break is catching up on some reading, particularly of newspapers. Mostly I whizz through, seeing if anything catches my eye enough to read. Mostly that is music news, science and health articles, and education related articles. The Sunday New York Times magazine almost always has interesting articles. This month they published a two-part story - Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard writing about his experiences traveling across America, called "My Saga."
Knausgaard is known, especially in Norway, for his six volume semi-autobiographical novel titled My Struggle. Each volume is very long. It's now being translated into English and at least parts of it are availably in the States. His writing is described as dense, focusing on minute details of life, lacking plot. Some people can't stand his writing because it meanders with no plot or end in sight. He seems to write a lot about how he feels about dealing with the ordinary annoyances of life. A reader who wrote in to the New York Times after the first installment of "My Saga" said, "It felt like reading someone else's grocery list that I couldn't put down." That is how I felt, too, as I was reading the first installment.
The idea of Knausgaard's trip was that he would fly to Newfoundland to view the site where Vikings landed, pre-Columbus, and lived for awhile. After seeing that site, he would travel down through the U.S., ending up in Minnesota, where he would check out a possibly inauthentic runestone said to have been left in Minnesota by some of those early Viking settlers. The first of "My Saga" is Knausgaard obsessing because he lost his drivers license the previous year and never replaced it, meaning he can't drive his rental car. Much of the first part is like this, things that bother him, or strike him, but a different view than most of us would have when visiting a foreign country. However, I couldn't stop reading it, just like the person who compared it to reading someone's grocery list.
Then I had to read part 2, of course. He travels with his assigned photographer, who he would rather not talk to, through Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and into Minnesota. He is not interested in talking with any Americans, though he does finally break down and have a few conversations in restaurants. He mentions to his photographer that he actually has relatives in the States - his grandfather's brother immigrated. At the photographer's urging, he tracks them down and finds one in Minnesota.
Though I have been entranced by the story and Knausgaard's writing, at this point I became immersed. Most of my family immigrated from Norway about the same time as his great-uncle. The cousin that Knausgaard meets is about his age, and is very successful in a number of areas. Knausgaard sees an American home for the first time, and his cousin tells him that he knocked down the old farmhouse, which was full of "Norwegian stuff. Runners and tablecloths, that kind of thing." He had packed them all away. I have the twins of that Norwegian stuff, given to me by my mother, as she was getting ready to downsize.
Besides the chords of familiar family history, the observations that Knausgaard started making at the end of this saga about how people become American resonated with me. He saw his cousin as different than himself, because his cousin was American, but at the same time he felt a sense of familiarity with this cousin he had never met. After all the little details and the side trips on this saga, he discovered meaning. Or maybe, I discovered the meaning of the saga.