Dear bookseller, dear reader –
Visiting my mother down in Cammermeyer’s Bookshop (later renamed Tanum) on Karl Johan, Oslo’s high street, is among my fondest childhood memories. Going on a treasure hunt in the world of books. Taking a brand-new book out of a shelf and sniffing it, breathing in the scent of paper and printer’s ink, carefully turning the pages to see if it was a book I might want to read. Talking with my mother and all of her wonderful colleagues, the lovely and funny ladies, like Jynge, Krokann and Miss Lorentzen – and the enthusiastic young men, like Widmark and Pål Christian. They all told me about books I should read, just as Kari Forfang Grimnes would do later at the Norli Bookshop, their competitor on the street Universitetsgaten. As Finn Jan Henrichsen would do at Bokladen in the Homansbyen district of Oslo. And as Rønnaug and Rolf do now, in my neighbourhood bookshop, Ark, here in the Nordstrand district. Books I mustn’t miss. Books that were important in their own lives, and that would come to be important in mine. I owe them so much!
Now that my mother is gone, these memories have become closer to me than ever. When I talk with my friends, I realise that this is a normal experience as one grows older. One sees the past in a different light. What was once a matter of course is transformed into new perceptions, or into stories.
When I wrote Veien til Mozart (The Road to Mozart), I rediscovered the sense of liberation I felt when, for the first time, I wrote about my own life in what was more or less novel form. The idea had been brewing in my mind since as far back as the 1970s, when I began to write about Hans Jæger. But how could I have written about it when I was still in the midst of it all, without having any distance from it? Time gives us distance. But time also gives us proximity. New insights. To paraphrase a song by my dear friend Ole Paus: "This is beginning to be a life, this here; it’s beginning to look like a novel."
The idea suddenly popped into my head. I thought about my own history. But I also thought about the world’s history. Everything that has happened throughout the years up to today, which has played a part in shaping me. I remember each decade as having a colour. The sixties are yellow. The seventies are blue-grey. The eighties are brown. The nineties are nearly white. And the two-thousands are blue-grey again, just like the seventies. While the years from 2010 onwards are… "What if I write a novel about each of these decades?" I thought. Novels that are both personal recollections and stories about the major events that took place in the international community and in Norway, seen from a subjective point of view. I ran the idea by several friends and colleagues. "You’ve got to do it," they said, nearly unanimously. "That’s how we remember our lives. The big and the small, merging into one memory."
I thought about Rod McKuen’s song The World I Used to Know. I had Olle Adolphson’s fantastic Swedish recording of it: Världen som var min. In my very first poetry collection, Alene ut,, there is a poem called Verden som var min, the Norwegian version of the same title. Of course, I thought. Here is the title of the cycle of novels. Something that was, yet that at the same time lives so powerfully in my memory. Each book would be named for the decade it described: The Sixties, The Seventies, The Eighties, The Nineties, The Two-Thousands, The Past Decade.
I could see it all so clearly when I began to write the first book, The Sixties. That was the decade when I slowly tore myself loose from my own childhood. My own little struggle for existence, while the big events played out: the death of Camus, the execution of Chessman, the U-2 scandal, the Cuban crisis, the Beatles, the war in Algeria, Marilyn Monroe, the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, the race riots in the USA, the "Grenade Man" in Oslo, the hippie era, the Vietnam War, all the films, the music, the books. The barriers that were torn down, and that indirectly led to my journey to Paris, searching for love and all the things that I was not expected to be doing.
This is The Sixties. The yellow book. The yellow house on Melumveien, where I grew up, until we moved to the brown house out in Bærum and then the white house at Frogner Square. Next I intend to write about The Seventies, about the great period of liberation, in the shadow of the Cold War, the destructive and the constructive authorities, the pivotal encounter with Ole Paus, with folk singers, jazz musicians, writers and painters. The road from classical music in the University Aula concert hall to the dark cellars of Club 7, and the encounters with the people who would have a significant influence on my life. The new feminism. The first referendum on EU membership in Norway. The political wars, with the Marxist-Leninist Norwegian Communist Party at the eye of the storm. The trips, concerts, books, life by the sea, on the island of Sandøy outside of Tvedestrand. The "Future in Our Hands" movement. Collaboration with musicians and singers, from Lill Lindfors and Cornelis Vreesvijk to Olle Adolphson and Radka Toneff on Leve Patagonia. The Police. The New Wave. The protest actions against hydropower projects in Mardøla and Alta. The Kalvøya music festival. Music that was changing. Then The Eighties. The decade of Ronald Reagan. But also of Norwegian politician Kåre Willoch. The Treholt case, the massive peace marches in Europe, the USA and the Soviet Union. My own journeys, from Japan to New York and San Francisco. The unpleasant encounter with Mike Tyson outside the boxing ring in Las Vegas. The Chernobyl disaster, the Yuppie era, the increasing awareness of climate change, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Nineties, when King Olav died while President Bush started the Gulf War, when the Soviet Union disintegrated, and when my own life was utterly transformed. The criticism of male culture. All the frightening rapes in the area behind the Palace. The bitter EU battle that flared up again. The encounter with Bangladesh, with India, with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, while fear of the future and of the turning of the millennium intensified all over the world. The years in Paris. The book Reisen til Gallia (The Trip to Gallia) during the football World Cup, with my fantastic wife, Catharina, as a sparring partner. And then the two last books, where my mother and father will once again be strong presences, although in an entirely different way than in this first book. It is not yet clear to me what effect the events of the past few years will have on me at a personal level. The decisive trip to China, for example. But I hope that the choice of historical dramas and events will render the political backdrop visible as it is becoming increasingly apparent to me, now that the Cold War is flaring up again and refugees are drowning on their way to Europe. I think about Leonard Rickhard’s paintings while I write. His ability to place people within a landscape. I think about Camus. About Vonnegut. About Bellow. The loneliness we all carry within us. The community we try to become a part of. The stories of a life. The stories of a time.
Oslo, 7 May 2015
With best wishes,
Ketil Bjørnstad H