nonfiction

In Cod We Trust: Living the Norwegian Dream- Eric Dregni

There aren’t a whole lot of books out there about Norway, nor are there books set in modern-day Norway (other than Nordic crime fiction, and I’m not a huge fan of mysteries and crime fiction in general). I’ve looked. But my search, done years ago, did turn up In Cod We Trust: Living the Norwegian Dream by Eric Dregni (University of Minnesota Press, 2008), and onto my want-to-read list it went. The author and I both come from Norwegian stock (shoutout to Ole and Alfa, my great-great-grandparents, who came here from north of Bergen somewhere around the 1890’s, and to the relatives in Norway now that pop up on 23 and Me), and it’s always fun to read something by an author who has as much interest in his family’s background as I do.

Eric Dregni won a Fullbright Fellowship to study in Norway for a year on the same day he learned his wife was expecting their first child. Their sense of adventure packed in between their warmest clothes, the two of them headed off to his ancestral homeland so he could learn, study, and eventually write a book about Norway. It’s a definite change, to be sure. The people aren’t as open or outgoing as they’re used to, the language is a challenge (fortunately for them, most Norwegians speak perfect English), the cost of living is astronomical, the food is much different than they’re used to (gas station sausages, lutefisk, and rakfisk, oh my!) and the weather is…well, it’s Norwegian weather, so dress accordingly, like with spikes on your shoes so you don’t slide off the sidewalk and into traffic. And then there’s the colicky baby…

But there’s also the beauty of the mountains and the fjords, the joy of meeting long-lost relatives and discovering the places his ancestors once lived, the complete acceptance of children in Norwegian culture (even at their worst!), and the friends they manage to make along the way. Slap your skis on your feet and join the Dregni family for a year abroad in a country you probably don’t know much about!

In Cod We Trust is fun and informative. I had to giggle a few times at his stories of how the language tripped him up; the first time I ever saw Norwegian, it looked bizarre and unlike anything I’d ever seen before and now even the words I’m unfamiliar with have a certain familiarity to them (except for the more dialect-y words, and outside of Oslo, it’s all basically dialect!). His descriptions of the Norwegian landscape are stunning, and his recountings of the various surprising meals he ate there are…less than entirely appetizing, to be honest. Norway isn’t exactly known for its cuisine (if it’s white and made of cod, potatoes, or flour, they’ll eat it), but Mr. Dregni should definitely be applauded for his willingness to put himself out there and slurp down rakfisk. (Fortunately, no mention of smalahove- look it up if you’re curious.)

His wife is a pretty good sport, I have to say. I’d love to spend a year abroad, though I’m not sure I’d be willing to do it while pregnant (I’m an utter wreck while pregnant with the vomiting and constant nausea all the way to the end. My son put me in the hospital twice. Not great for international travel, even to places with great medical systems!). She seemed to take most of it in stride, or, if she struggled, Mr. Dregni kindly left that out. I admire her for being willing to follow him on this journey.

Turns out I’ve also read Eric Dregni’s Vikings in the Attic: In Search of Nordic America, which I didn’t enjoy as much as this, though it was still okay. In Cod We Trust fits the bill for the PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge prompt of a book with a pun in the title, so hurray for another one biting the dust there!

Have you ever read a book set in Norway? What about one set where your ancestors came from, if you know where? I’d love to hear about it!

I can’t find a website or Twitter for Eric Dregni, but if you’re aware of one, let me know and I’ll post it here! 🙂

fiction · psychological thriller

The Woman in Cabin 10- Ruth Ware

When I saw that March’s selection for my library’s book discussion group would be The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, I was a little nervous. Not my usual kind of book- I don’t normally read thrillers as I experience enough anxiety in my everyday life (thank you SO much, brain)- but I was willing to give it a shot. And I’m glad I did.

Lo Blacklock has lucked into the work gig of a lifetime, a Nordic cruise on a small but stately ship so she can schmooze with the other high class passengers for her employer, a travel magazine. But before she leaves, her apartment is broken into and the burglar traps Lo in her bedroom, setting her emotions on the fritz and exhausting her, because who can sleep when you wake up to a stranger in your apartment? It doesn’t help that Lo already suffers from massive anxiety, which at times can be all-consuming, nor does the way she leaves things with her boyfriend Judah aid in any kind of inner peace.

Despite her fatigue and with the help of copious amounts of alcohol, Lo makes it through the first dinner (displeased, of course, to find her former co-worker and ex-boyfriend Ben Howard on the trip), but it’s that evening, just when she’s managed to fall asleep, that she hears the scream from the next cabin. A scream…and then a splash, as though a body has been thrown overboard. And when Lo alerts security, the man in charge makes it clear that he doesn’t believe her: not about the splash, not about the blood Lo saw smeared on the window next door, and not about the woman in Cabin 10, from whom Lo borrowed mascara earlier that evening. Cabin 10, you see, is unoccupied.

What follows is a harrowing nightmare, with Lo desperate to find someone to believe her, and to figure out exactly what she heard and saw that night. Or did she really hear and see anything at all? Who can she trust on board this ship? And will Lo be the next person thrown overboard?

This kept me guessing. I don’t read a lot from this genre, so trying to pinpoint exactly who could have been thrown overboard, and by whom, was kind of fun. The reviews on Lo as a character seem mixed; I see a lot of people calling her whiny and finding her annoying, but…

The thing is, I understood her. I understood where she was coming from, and I thought Ms. Ware did an outstanding job accurately portraying Lo’s anxiety. I’ve dealt with anxiety my entire life, exactly the kind that Lo has- not stemming from any particular incident, just something that my brain has cooked up all on its own. Lo’s constant chest tightening, her mind racing, feeling like the walls are closing in, feeling stressed (often for no good reason at all), all of these are symptoms I feel on a daily basis. And when you add lack of sleep…

Bit of a detour here. Boy, do I understand what lack of sleep does to someone with anxiety. My daughter was born in April of 2014, and for the next 18 months, I survived on 3-4 broken-up hours of sleep per day. I’d fall into bed around 11, she’d be up at 12:30, 1:30, 3:30, 5:00, and we’d be up for the day at 6 am. And each time I was awake, I’d be awake nursing her for around twenty minutes, and then it would take me another ten or twenty minutes to be relaxed enough to fall asleep. It was a NIGHTMARE of the worst degree. I drove through stoplights. I forgot what I was going to go do the moment I stood up. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I had a hard time finding words when I spoke. I cried constantly. At one point, I had to ask my son where we were going as I was driving down the road. (I was driving him to school. I truly had no idea when I asked him.) My anxiety was ramped up at all times to eleven on a scale of ten. My daughter’s about to turn five in April and I still don’t feel like my brain has fully recovered (I’m still only able to get about 5-6 hours of sleep per night. It’s not ideal). There’s a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique; it’s utter hell.

All of that was to say that between Lo’s anxiety, her growing PTSD from the burglary, and her lack of sleep combine in a very plausible manner to keep both Lo and the reader off-kilter, never quite knowing what’s real, what’s not, and whom to trust. Perhaps for people who have more experience with thrillers, or for people whose realities don’t match more closely with Lo’s, this wasn’t the book they wanted it to be, but for me, a lot of it hit home and I thought it was done quite well.

I caught a grin near the end when Lo spoke with a Norwegian man who showed her a photograph.

“Min kone,’ he said, enunciating slowly. And then, pointing to the children, something that sounded like ‘vorry bon-bon.’

Every once in a while, I actually get to use the Norwegian I’ve learned and it always thrills me when I do. ‘My wife,’ he said, and then våre barnebarn, our grandchildren. Take THAT, people who said I’d never use Norwegian! (It actually pops up more often than you’d think.)

Check out Ruth Ware’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.