Discussion: So Much For That Winter: Novellas by Dorthe Nors

So Much For That Winter

Paperback, 160 pages
Published June 21st 2016 by Graywolf Press
Source: Publisher

So Much For that Winter by Dorthe Nors is originally in Danish. The edition I read has been translated from Danish to English by Misha Hoekstra.

The slim volume contains two novellas and the major reason I wanted to read it is because one, it’s a translated book written by a woman and two, the style is really unconventional. I love unconventional and quirky fiction that pushes against the accepted and traditional ways of storytelling.

The first novella, “Minna Needs Rehearsal Space,” is written in a series of headlines. An excerpt:

Dad’s hand and Minna’s.
The blue delta of Dad’s hand.
The sea rises in Minna.
The sea finds fissures in Minna.
Minna’s leaky.
Minna opens her eyes and blinks.
The sea trickles slowly.
The sea reaches land.
The beads of gravel rattle.
Minna blows her nose.

So yeah, I know some of you will be backing away in horror at the sparse and deceptively simple style but honestly, Minna’s story is very compelling. She is a musician and looking for rehearsal space. She nags her boyfriend to hook her up with one as his cousin has some unused space but he breaks up with her via text and she proceeds to fall apart. She has a rather domineering sister and a rival who her ex is now dating and whom she cannot seem to escape moving as they move in similar circles. She decides to go on a journey by herself and on this journey, told in the headlines, she finds out some surprising things about herself and meets someone very unexpected.

It took me a while to get used to the style but I liked this novella quite a bit. I felt the style served the story well.

The second novella in this volume is a wholly different tale. Titled “Days” the novella tackles the daily living of a woman as she moves around her very busy days. This is written in list style and honestly, as much as I love writing my reviews in list style, I prefer having one sentence per number instead of chopping a sentence halfway. Example:

  1. That which was yesterday in bud, today is in bloom: the carnations on my table,

  2. the territorial blackbird on the roof, the faint grumbling from my mouth and fridge.

  3. To reconcile yourself, I thought,

  4. and shrugged it off

Okay, so this wasn’t very successful with me because I found out that I need some sort of continuity and the list style just makes my reading discordant what with the frequent jolts. In fact, I found reading this part a bit exhausting.

Additionally,  the second novella gets very problematic and I feel like I have to mention it because when I came across a section, I just had to stop and frown. On page 115 of this novel is a long paragraph about an Indian who does stuff to “find the Indian in himself.” Before I talk about why it’s problematic, I also must mention that the word “squaw” is used in this paragraph which according to my sources is a derogatory way of naming an First Nations woman. (I don’t know if this term was used in the original or is the result of a translation but either way, the term is problematic). I shall reproduce the paragraph for you and you can tell me if I am overreacting.

5. He’s just like an Indian, that’s what he is, an Indian who enters his teepee after the lost battle to find the Indian in himself, He sharpens his spear, confronts his demons, sings about the night, sticks cords through his chest muscle, and hoists himself through pain to the light. He does it to find the Indian in himself again, and when he’s discovered him, he steps out of the teepee. And his woman is a squaw who has seen the Indian in him the whole time….

Guh, I can’t anymore.

Look, I feel like I should be diplomatic about this but diplomacy only goes so far. I am not of First Nations descent but even I felt offended by the casual manner in which the narrator states that this so called fictional Indian is “finding the Indian in himself.” All my brakes slammed on at that point because how can this writer who I am going to assume is not from Indian descent either claim to know the things Indians do to find the Indian in themselves. I mean, excuse me? How do you define Indianness? Why would you do such a thing? Yes, yes, I understand the age old argument about creative license but if this were something like “the Muslim went into her room and put on a thousand scarves to find the Muslim in herself” I would be angry because…that doesn’t make sense? In the event that the author has done her research and is not working with the stereotypes in that paragraph, than I apologise. In my defence, there is no note mentioning the passage or work that was referenced while writing about a people who are most definitely not stereotypes.

And okay, the usage of a known derogatory term might be a bigger deal in this instance but honestly, I felt that the passage above claims an ownership over the Indian body and Indian experience in a way the author has no right to do. And the fact that in the many accolades this book has received, not one of them has mentioned the usage of the derogatory term is problematic.

I’m afraid this paragraph overshadowed the second novella for me. I do think it’s important to initiate a conversation about such things as discussed above. Awareness of what you write and how it may be perceived is also important.