Can the Navel-Gazing Norwegian Novelist Tell Us Anything About America?

By Soppakanuuna. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Peter deemed my proposed plan — driving 12 hours back east to Maine to glimpse my dreamed-of American landscape — completely unrealistic, and rightly so, as I realized with a sudden sense of shame. At the same time, I had the feeling that he really wanted me to see Detroit. And why not? It was just a few hours north, so we could get there this afternoon.

As we drove through the snow-covered landscape, surrounded by cars with smoke fluttering out of their exhaust pipes, under the gray-white sky, past rows of run-down buildings, interspersed with clumps of colorless trees standing in colorless fields, the feeling I got was that something here was over, that something had been emptied out and that nothing new had begun. But perhaps that was too harsh a judgment to pass on a whole country after spending three hours in it?

-From Part One of Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s travel narrative across the United States of America for the New York Times Magazine. Knausgaard’s My Struggle, the bestselling and award-winning series of six autobiographical novels, are considered to be a breakthrough in style and format, winning a wide readership despite their some 3,500 pages in length. This portion of his American journey touches on the blight of Detroit, Nabokov’s Lolita, Kerouac, Vikings, and Minnesota’s hoax ancient archaeological Scandinavian artifact, the Kensington Runestone.

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