cover image Shyness and Dignity

Shyness and Dignity

Dag Solstad, , trans. from the Norwegian by Sverre Lyngstad. . Graywolf, $12 (150pp) ISBN 978-1-55597-446-6

An Oslo academic who came of age in the way-out '60s shrinks back from the glaring modern age in Norwegian novelist and playwright Solstad's remarkably nuanced novel, his first to be translated into English. Elias Rukla, described in this stiff translation as "a rather sottish senior master in his fifties with a wife who had spread out a bit too much," is fed up after 25 years of teaching Ibsen's Wild Duck to increasingly apathetic 19-year-olds at Oslo's Fagerborg Secondary School. A breakdown following an incident with an umbrella and verbally abusing a student makes Elias recognize he has become obsolete. Accompanied by rueful thoughts of his aging but once beautiful wife, Eva Linde, the drama of Elias's life unfolds, from the memory of his friendship with Eva's first husband, the intellectual dynamo and Marxist Johan Corneliussen. Inseparable mates at university, the men engaged in vigorous discussions about philosophy and literature that stretched over days and numerous parties. But Johan inexplicably left for New York to join the capitalist quagmire he always railed against, abandoning Eva and their young child, a betrayal from which Elias never recovers. With sublime restraint and subtle modulation, Solstad conveys an entire age of sorrow and loss. (Aug.)