March 10, 2006

Culture and Change

Norwegian author Mette Newth is Chair of the Norwegian Society for Writers of Literature for Children and Juveniles and Principal (or President) of the Oslo National College of Art. As a Norwegian adult, writing about the lives of children outside of her culture, Newth is very aware of the limitations and potential problems with writing historical fiction. Whatever issues Newth faces in her writing, credibility is clearly not one of them. The characters in her work are seen clearly, the situation, based on fact, depicted realistically, and the style of her prose is poetic and beautiful.

In The Transformation, Navarana, a young Inuit woman, saves the life of Brendan, one of the monks sent by the Holy Church in the fifteenth century on an expedition to rescue the remnants of the Christian community in Greenland. The culture clash is immediate, and almost comical. Navarana believes that the earth is a mother, that the seasons of cold have extended because of the trickster Raven, and that the village shaman, The Old One, has knowledge that will help she and her young sisters survive. Brendan, meanwhile, recites the words of his brother priests, now long dead in the punishing winter cold, and hauls around a wooden crucifix, murmuring the rosary, while the Inuit quietly eye the wooden cross as fuel. When Brendan and Navarana are sent out on a quest, their disparate points of view come together in an inevitable fashion, and Newth expands an intriguing dialogue to include the best from both cultures, both faiths, and both ways of life which concludes on a hopeful note, leaving the reader longing for the survival of both.

A quiet book with deep concepts, this book might not be for everyone, but a deeply thoughtful person who occasionally wonders about past civilizations will really enjoy it.

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