cover image The Pastor

The Pastor

Hanne Ørstavik, trans. from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken. Archipelago, $20 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-953861-08-5

In Ørstavik’s deeply thoughtful and captivating latest (after Love), a woman spends a year in Kjøllefjord, Norway, as an assistant pastor. Liv arrives from a German city where she’d completed her seminary studies and begun a thesis on a 19th-century Sami rebellion against colonizing missionaries. Her sermons are meant to “ensure the church remained a place of welcoming,” but she has a hard time keeping people in their seats. She thinks constantly of her close friend Kristiane from the German university, who died by suicide, for which Liv feels responsible. At Kjøllefjord, she invites grieving widow Nanna and her two daughters to move into a vacant apartment at the parish, and patiently endures the loud music played by Nanna’s sullen 19-year-old daughter, Maja. After a young woman hangs herself outside town, Liv is struck with concern for Maja and with acute imaginings of Kristiane’s death. Meanwhile, Liv has sexual fantasies about a geologist she meets at a noise show. The various threads shuffle seamlessly in Liv’s head and build to a heartbreaking crescendo, filled in with brilliant descriptions of the flat landscape (a church above the fjord sits “brilliantly white... on a dish of darkness”). Ørstavik distinguishes herself as a leading light in international literature. (Oct.)