Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Ice Palace, by Tarjei Vesaas

Here, the first ever Mixed Cookies book recommendation. I feel a bit like Oprah...

This short novel, Norwegian Tarjei Vesaas' The Ice Palace, comes in at just over 180 pages, but packs an emotional punch equal to anything I have ever read. Written in 1963, The Ice Palace tells the story of two young girls, Sis and Unn, girls who build a powerful, magical friendship between themselves, only to see it taken away from them quickly and tragically. In the aftermath of this tragedy, one of the girls must confront adulthood and loss at a much-too-young age. In a very obvious way this is a traditional "coming of age" story, but it is one of the very best I have ever read. To me it is even superior to Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.

What makes the book so moving and so profund is Tarjei Vesaas' spare style, which allows the turbulent emotion of the novel to be clearly seen and understood. The style feels like magical realism, actually, probably because Vesaas so perfectly renders the magic of youth itself. The author seems to have an amazing grasp of child psychology, and he transfers it to the page beautifully. The entire experience is exhilarating, sad, wistful, ominous, and joyful all at once...just as muddled as those years were for most of us, I suppose.

I do not feel I can do this work enough justice here. Let me say this for the book: I cried hard through the last 20 pages or so, at each and every revelation of the ambiguous truth of human experience that Vesaas has masterfully packed in. It is wonderful. If you were ever a child, or if you have ever been heartbroken, this book is for you. So go buy it at Amazon.

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