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Child Wonder: A Novel Paperback – September 27, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


[Roy Jacobsen] shares the blunt, gentle grace and narrative ease of his countryman Per Petterson. . . . A gloriously intelligent novel that is so rewarding, funny, sad and human that the only advice to be given is to read it. (Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times)

More obviously artful than To Kill a Mockingbird, Child Wonder is as powerful and more contemporarily relevant. (Booklist)

[Child Wonder] is a wonderful, evocative yet in the end rather enigmatic story of a Norwegian childhood where things seem to be going one way but are really going another. If a story can be said to be both languid and propulsive at the same time it is this one. It is really a quiet marvel. I enjoyed it immensely. (Sheryl Cotleur, Book Passage (Corte Madera, CA))

[Jacobsen] perfectly captures the perspective of a child who doesn't fully understand what's happening around him but knows when something's wrong. . . . The warm, subtle humor and sympathetic characters are broadly appealing. (Library Journal)

A book that makes you laugh and cry--what more can you wish for? That it does not end after 264 pages, but lasts into next week . . . Child Wonder is nothing less than a perfect masterpiece. (Dagsavisen)

I fell in love with Finn's voice. . . . Superb translation by Don Bartlett and Dan Shaw perfectly renders Jacobsen's restrained style, making us gasp with recognition when unspoken secrets of the past become unearthed. Young Finn examines his life like an anthropologist, re-imagines the incomprehensible world of adults, and reconstructs his childhood from memory, like a castle in ruins. I'm spellbound. (Aggie Zivalijevic, Kepler's Books (Menlo Park, CA))

[An] intricately worked novel, as rich in detail and implication as it is classical in construction and stylistic restraint . . . . Jacobsen tells us in his foreword that Child Wonder is about an Oslo of 'rather rough experimentation. Before oil. Before anybody had any money at all.' This book is, even more, about the perennial sad irregularities of the human heart. (Paul Binding, The Independent)

Child Wonder is an exquisite exploration of childhood, a topic Jacobsen addresses with refreshing unsentimentality: it becomes at once a nightmare and intensely beautiful. He evokes the confusions and anxieties of a child left in the dimly lit emotional backwater of a dysfunctional household, reluctantly entangled in all the little knots that bind an unhappy family together. (Times Literary Supplement)

Eight-year old Finn and his mother lived in a lower income neighborhood in Oslo in the 1960s.Then one year everything changed: they took in a lodger, a half-sister Finn had never met came to live with them, and Finn's mother had to face some demons from her past. Narrated by Finn, the story of that year is at times funny, sad, and poignant. Beautifully written and very well translated, this is a moving tale of a young boy who learns a lot in a year. Recommended. (Alice Meloy, Blue Willow Bookshop (Houston, TX))

Jacobsen has created a remarkable narrator [Finn] whose wry, thoughtful voice has been brilliantly rendered . . . This novel about one boy's childhood and coming of age through a specific event is beautiful in its utter normality. This is the real world. There is nothing extraordinary, no heroics. Finn is an Everybody, not quite Huck but near enough to be unforgettable. He tells his story with humour, humanity and not a little regret. . . . Jacobsen's comic instinct ripples through the narrative. (Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times)

About the Author

Roy Jacobsen is the author of several works of fiction, most recently The Burnt-Out Town of Miracles, which was short-listed for the Dublin IMPAC Award. Don Bartlett is the translator of Jo Nesbø, K. O. Dahl, and Pernille Rygg. Don Shaw is a teacher of Danish to foreigners and the author of a Danish-Thai dictionary.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; Original edition (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155597595X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555975951
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #865,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Biblibio VINE VOICE on December 17, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Child Wonder" could be considered an ordinary book. Aspects to it have appeared in literature for years and years, it does not employ any particularly groundbreaking writing style, and it is, at its core, a coming-of-age story. What makes "Child Wonder" special though - perhaps even extraordinary - is its ability to write realistically from the eyes of a child, and making excellent use of subtle hints to carry the story along.

"Child Wonder" is narrated by Finn, a small boy growing up in working-class Oslo. Jacobsen did wonders with his character, managing to avoid the typical cliches of a clever child character (though Finn occasionally comes off as a bit too sharp, a bit too smart - and at one point, chess is used a marker for intelligence... the greatest cliche of them all), instead finding a balance between Finn's careful observations and the reality of the world in which he lives. Finn does not connect the dots, and thus the reader cannot either. We are left trying to pick up on the subtleties, trying to muddle through Finn's various encounters and observations and learn from those.

But thankfully, "Child Wonder" is not merely limited to the voice of one child. Jacobsen does an excellent job with the side characters - though they never take center stage and occupy too much of the story, their characters are whole and wholly felt. The reader cannot help but empathize with Finn's mother, cannot avoid feeling compassion towards Linda, and will eventually even feel camaraderie (of a sort) with Finn's street friends. Jacobsen does not skimp on characterization, and thus "Child Wonder" manages to grow into a solid, worthy book. Jacobsen writes (and is translated) in a clear style, using little unnecessary embellishment to describe Finn's world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Bernard Farrell VINE VOICE on November 21, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This from my wife:

I'm not sure whom to credit for the beautiful writing, the author or the translators. The result is lovely prose, not overworked and a joy to read. Child Wonder is a tale of a young boy, Finn, growing up in an imperfect family and imperfect world. It is set in his home town of Oslo, Norway, but could well have been any working-class city. Finn's simplistic, limited view of the business going on around him recalled my childhood in a way few books of this kind do. It does this in spite of the fact that my upbringing was nothing like his. Finn's voice is familiar: thoughtful, inquisitive and trusting. As a reader, I quickly grew to like Finn. As a Mom, I quickly came to sympathize with his mother.

What I loved the most about the way Finn's first person voice is written is its believability. Finn makes simplistic assumptions and has imperfect logic that you would expect at his age. As the book progresses and he enters early adolescence, his insights are beginning to mature.

Major themes revolve around the complications of familial love, what it means to be a family, impermanence and the strength of his single mother. Finn watches his mother make decisions he doesn't fully understand and tries to reason them through in his young mind. His mother struggles with whom she can trust, whom she should love, and how to support her small family. She works hard to provide all that Finn needs emotionally and materially, and seems to have no one to lean on but herself.

Meanwhile, Finn is also navigating the waters of friendship a neighborhood full of kids. Finn lives among a realistically complex mix of children of varying personalities, intellect and material wealth.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
Navigating that shaky bridge between childhood and adulthood is never easy, particularly in 1961 - a time when "men became boys and housewives women," a year when Yuri Gargarin is poised to conquer space and when the world is on the cusp of change.

Into this moment of time, Norwegian author Roy Jacobsen shines a laser light on young Finn and his mother Gerd, who live in the projects of Oslo. Fate has not been kind to them: Gerd's husband, a crane operator, divorced her and then died in an accident, leaving the family in a financially precarious position. To make ends meet, she works in a shoe store and runs an ad for a lodger for extra money.

To complicate the situation, Finn's father's second wife - a now-widowed drug addict - views the ad and unloads on the family Finn's half-sister, Linda - a young girl who appears to have mysterious problems that are only gradually revealed. Figuratively, this "poor mite got off the Grorud bus one dark November day with an atomic bomb in a small light blue suitcase and turned our lives upside down."

Linda becomes the mirror in which Gerd, Finn, and others (including the lodger Kristian) eventually define themselves. Gerd, who identifies strongly with Linda, is transported back to an abusive childhood and views herself in the little girl. Finn battles jealousy, bewilderment, and eventually, stirrings of love as he defends Linda from the Norwegian educational system and the school bullies. He reminisces: "Linda was not of this world, one day I would come to understand this - she was a Martian come down to earth to speak in tongues to heathens, to speak French to Norwegians and Russian to Americans. She was destiny, beauty and a catastrophe. A bit of everything. Mother's mirror and Mother's childhood. All over again.
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