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An Altered Light Hardcover – April 11, 2005

4.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Irene Beckman, a 56-year-old Copenhagen lawyer, embarks on a journey of self-discovery after her husband, Martin, takes up with a younger woman in Grøndahl's latest novel, a thoughtful, probing and fiercely introspective character study. The premise may be rather stale, but Beckman's intense, ironic response to her impending divorce makes for fascinating reading as she refuses to pass judgment on Martin, instead offering a running series of pithy analytical observations about their split: "Love is not a social democrat, Martin. It doesn't allow itself to be redistributed, it doesn't go in much for solidarity. You thought it did, didn't you?" Grøndahl's sardonic character writing sharpens some pedestrian plotting--Irene takes up with an old lover and deals with the effects of the divorce on her two children--but what distinguishes the novel is the final narrative spin in which Beckman learns that she is the result of a fling her mother, Vivian, had with a concert cellist. The tone shifts considerably during the chapters in which she tracks down Samuel Balkin, who describes his affair with Vivian and his subsequent marriage to a former concentration camp prisoner. The unexpected revelation of Beckman's Jewish background drives the unusual conclusion as Grøndahl delivers a series of entertaining and impressive insights about the unknowable nature of love and the partners we choose. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

The prolific Grondahl is one of Denmark's most respected and widely read authors. As he did in Silence in October (2001). Grondahl here offers a penetrating examination of the shifting complexities of marriage. Successful divorce lawyer Irene Beckman, slim and stylish at 56, is snapped out of her settled existence when her husband, Martin, leaves her for another woman. Realizing that what she has regarded as her calm life was really just a kind of somnolence, she starts reexamining her relationships. She begins to feel that a piece of advice she heard in childhood ("If you don't say no to something, you have already said yes") has been the guiding principle of her life and a form of cowardice, resulting in a loveless marriage and a fraught relationship with her mother. When she learns a secret about her heritage, she sets off on a life-altering trip to Vienna, which brings her a renewed sense of purpose. Filled with philosophical ruminations and lyrical prose, this unusual novel moves in unexpected directions and at its own measured pace. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (April 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151010439
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151010431
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,839,918 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Linda Oskam on December 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Irene Beckman is 56, has a husband, 2 children, 2 grandchildren, a job as a lawyer and her mother is still alive. In short, she has all a woman can wish. Until her whole world collapses within 24 hours: her husband Martin announces during a family dinner that he wants a divorce because he has a girlfriend and from her mother she gets a notebook in which she reads that her father is not her biological father. Her children and friends try to cheer her up with a lot of well-meant advice, but all Irene feels is an enormous emptiness, which forces her to reconsider her life: the affair she had 10 years ago with the 15 year younger Thomas, her relationship with her mother, her marriage with Martin and the (also sexually) liberated behaviour of her friends in the seventies, in which Martin and Irene never participated.

In the end she decides to trace her father, a Jewish cello player who had to flee from Denmark to Norway in the Second World War. After a series of friends and family members, she traces him in Vienna and ultimately meets him in Ljubljana. He tells the story of his life and history repeats itself, like Irene he is a human being who has lived as a relative outsider. On the way back to Copenhagen she starts to resist for the first time in her life...

A good book, but the middle part with the recollections of Irene is ever now and then a bit boring.
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Format: Hardcover
An Altered Light is the thoughtful novel of a successful Copenhagen attorney of 56, Irine Beckman, who suddenly finds her marriage ending, confronted as well with questions about her past, a way of life that changes overnight. Irine has come to terms with her life, or so she thinks, an uneventful but pleasant marriage and the unavoidable ageing process: "She no longer believes the world will be better or worse than it is."

Martin Beckman doggedly pursues the young Irine when first they meet in Paris, years before. She is escaping the restrictions of small town life with a trip to the cosmopolitan city, never expecting to meet a man like Martin, who is unrelenting, determined that they shall be together. Eventually Irine succumbs to the weight of Martin's affection, drawn along by his surety. Still, years later, she is not surprised at his infidelity, only vaguely curious that she has not noticed. After championing wronged spouses as a divorce attorney, Irine finds herself in the unenviable position of the soon-to-be-divorced,albeit prepared to move on without recrimination.

Not especially grief-stricken, Irine reminisces over the marriage, raising children, enduring the tumultuous 60's ("the tyranny of emancipated lust") without the need to participate in the sexual revolution. Irine is brutally honest with herself, her aspirations and shortcomings, setting the emotional tone for the novel. Visiting her ailing mother, Irine learns that some of her assumptions about the past are in error and the world she knows shifts beneath her, suddenly less predictable. Mother and daughter have never been close, but these new concerns open Irine's heart, allowing compassion for the mother she has judged and found wanting.
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I could not really like the protagonist, or find her interesting. And I couldn't really sympathize with her predicament. Her thoughts, concerns, and problems were so... bourgeois. I suppose that was part of the author's point, and I had missed something. Nonetheless, I'm glad that I read the book. The book contained some interesting ruminations about the role of an individual in relation to socioeconomic class, political movements, developing countries, etc. Those thoughts seemed somewhat half-baked and gave me a sense that the whole thing didn't quite work out in the end, but at least it makes people think.
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