cover image Dina's Book

Dina's Book

Herbjorg Wassmo. Arcade Publishing, $22.95 (455pp) ISBN 978-1-55970-243-0

Set in mid-19th century Norway and infused with Scandinavian-style magical realism, this spellbinding novel calls to mind Eliot's Middlemarch and the film Babette's Feast. Willful Dina's character is shaped by her involvement in the grisly accident that kills her mother, after which she temporarily loses the power of speech and permanently distances herself from the strictures of upper-class life in remote, sub-Arctic Nordland. Wild and unmanageable, Dina is sent from home soon after the accident to be raised in a poor cotter's family. She remains mute for several years, until she returns to her father's house where she is taken in hand by a tutor who teaches her music and mathematics. At age 15, Dina is married off to Jacob, a wealthy older landowner. After Jacob's unexpected death (in another accident in which Dina plays a part), his forceful, unconventional widow takes over his estate, bending its people to her will. Though beset by ghosts and a nearly papable grief, Dina proves to be a survivor. Insightful, memorable characterizations, coupled with spare, unadorned prose, move the haunting narrative swiftly to its enigmatic finish. Wassmo was named ``The Author of the Eighties'' by Norwegian booksellers; she also won the prestigious Nordic Council Literature Prize. 25,000 first printing. (Apr.)