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on April 13, 2015
The idea of this book is it's alright to not be first like Buzz Aldrin on the moon. Knowing about Buzz Aldrin and his scientific ability to devise the orbital rendezvous procedures that were used here on earth and around the moon led me to buy the book. The book is about a common man from Norway who is happy being second best. A lot of the action takes place on the Faroe islands between Norway and Iceland. When the author talked about traveling to different places on the islands, I could go to Google maps and see the exact place. My daughter liked my book so much that she won't give it back.
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on November 10, 2016
This book is hands down one of the best books I've read. Period.
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on November 13, 2012
Johan Harstad is a great storyteller. And an excellent writer as well. This combination is rare. The writing flows beautifully and is always interesting. The translator should also be praised. I can't imagine the book being any better in Norwegian. I was sorry when I got to the end of the book. Hopefully, there will be more from Johan Harstad.
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on March 25, 2017
This is not the type of book that you'll pick up one morning and finish by that afternoon. It does suck you in, but slowly and carefully, as you come to know Mattias and those in his reluctantly formed inner circle. I had bookmarks sticking out of at least 8 pages to mark lines that I thought were absolutely beautiful and wanted to remember always. Take your time with this book and try to imagine yourself as a person like Mattias, content to be just a cog in this great machine of life. It's not always about being the famous dashing hero or being a thrill ride of a book. Sometimes things take more time.
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VINE VOICEon January 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This Norwegian novel can be amusing here and there, but in the end it's almost entirely depressing. Mattias, the narrator, is a very sweet man, highly introverted with absolutely no ambition and a fondness for Buzz Aldrin. As he notes, he was the kid in school who you never noticed. His head is full of pop culture and little else.

I found while reading this book that I was quite like the narrator's girlfriend. I was charmed at first by Mattias. He's so disarmingly low key and fundamentally honest that you want to understand what makes him tick. But after about a third of the way through this thick yet breezy book, I grew irritated with his complete lack of ambition and wanted to dump him. In response to his girlfriend, who he truly loves, dumping him, Mattias travels from Norway to the remote, cold, rainy Faroe Islands and painfully rebuilds his life from the ground up. In response to understanding that Mattias would never really grow up, I dumped him just like his girlfriend and picked up another book in the hope of finding something more interesting to read than a story about a depressed man obsessed with pop culture and Buzz Aldrin.

The translation here is excellent. But while you can translate language, you can't always translate foreign culture into something compelling. This novel, in the end, has a lot in common with every Norwegian movie I've ever seen. It's low key, full of dry humor, and its characters seem to move through a constant existential fog. I think I'd have to be either Norwegian or depressed to find this book compelling. Given what I've seen in Norwegian movies (and read in this novel), I'm thankful that neither is true.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Mattias, the narrator and protagonist of this melancomic, bittersweet story, is a Norwegian on the cusp of thirty in 1999. He is a brokenhearted gardener and music lover whose prospects are looking dim. Mattias has always wanted to be as anonymous as possible for as long as possible. A cog in a wheel. His hero is Buzz Aldrin, the astronaut who was the more experienced pilot but whose fame paled in the shadow of Neil Armstrong. His backup hero is Steve Martin--especially the sad sack roles that Martin embraced so well back in the day.

Much of the story takes place on the Faroe Islands, which is a group of eighteen islands between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, a land of harsh winds and heavy rainfall. In fact, the winds are so strong, so prevalent, that nary a tree will survive there. It is rocky and volcanic looking, not exactly a prime piece of real estate for a guy whose first love is gardening. But this is where Mattias goes with his best friend Jorn, an up and coming rock musician who needs a sound man on this Faroe Island tour, and Mattias has agreed to help. The story, with its mysteries of music, psychology, art, and friendship, take place on this windswept, austere terrain. What starts out as a music tour morphs into quite another adventure.

What makes this novel stand out is Mattias's voice, unique and intimate, that is paired with naturalistic prose. If you have ever read The Solitude of Prime Numbers, this is a very similar voice-- in rhythm, intimacy and narrative temperament (not story). Mattias possesses a sweet-tempered cerebral, philosophical, emotionally direct voice that enamors the reader and keeps the pages turning, even when the pace or plotting threatens to come to a crushing lull. At approximately 550 pages, I wish it was pared down to tighten up the boggy places. However, Mattias's indolence makes that impossible.

The weight of Mattias's singular voice is significant, momentous to the story at hand, as Mattias is in virtually every scene, and as much of the action takes place in his head as it does on the Islands. There is also an ensemble cast of eccentric but beguiling characters, including a nonconformist, inscrutable psychiatrist, which keep the story in the realm of the enigmatic. Pop-permeated (with mostly American icons) and soulful, this is a coming-of-age of the late-bloomers.

Kudos to Deborah Dawkin for her seamless translation into English.
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on September 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I struggled through Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?: A Novel and found some times when I was interested and others when I wished it was over. Being that it was a translation from Norwegian, I can't discern whether or not the difficulty for me was with the writing or the translation. Mattias was not a person I'd want to spend my time with, but I understood some of the thoughts he shared with us. As a whole, the book was well written, but in need of a reduction. It's better than an average novel, but I cannot really say I'd recommend it to my friends. Johan Harstad has written a book that I believe might work well as a film, provided Mattias was played by a well-cast actor, preferably someone without a strong filmography so as to become the stoic Mattias.
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VINE VOICEon September 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This quirky but leisurely book takes you on a journey from Norway to the Faroe Islands. Johan Harstad's effortless writing style is easy to read with many interesting insights into the life of Buzz Aldrin, a man apparently content with being second best, which becomes the primary theme of the book. The story uses facts from Aldrin's life as a type of metaphor describing the protagonist's plight and journey. Initially I had reservations as the book was slow getting started but once I adjusted to the relaxing pace of the author's writing it was very rewarding.

One added enjoyment was that the reader gets to explore a rather isolated place known as the Faroe Islands. I looked them up on Google Earth and found many of the places mentioned in the book. It really helped to view the actual locations although the authors descriptions roughly suggested what I discovered visually via Google Earth.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
At the exact time of the first moon landing in 1969, a baby boy named Mattias was being born in a hospital in Stavanger, Norway. But it is not Neil Armstrong that Mattias identifies with, but Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, the pilot of the lunar command module, the team member whose preparation and efficiency made everything else possible but who was content to stay out of the limelight. "Some people," Mattias says, "want to watch movies, not perform in them. Some people want to be cogs." About to turn 30 when the story opens in 1999, Mattias is quite content in his job as a gardener, with his live-in girlfriend Helle, in distant orbit around his school friend Jørn who runs a rock band. Then his life falls apart -- not dramatically, just slipping slowly down the drain -- until he reaches personal bottom lying bruised and rain-sodden on a lonely road in the Faroe Islands, not remembering how he got there. All this takes 133 pages of a very slow-moving book, though Mattias' voice is witty and engaging throughout.

Mattias' journey back to the surface is equally slow, but the book really opens out in its middle section. Literally so, because the bleak landscape of the Faroe Islands, wonderfully recreated, has a purity of rock, wind, and wave that pushes mundane concerns far aside. By chance, Mattias is picked up by a passing driver named Havstein, who runs a psychiatric halfway house in the tiny village of Gjógv (54 inhabitants) at the extreme north of the central island. He is accepted by the other residents, Palli, Anna, and Ennen, and slowly begins a new life, making wooden sheep for the tourists and later hiring himself out again as a gardener in this inhospitable terrain. Time seems to dissolve, but anybody with experience (first-hand or through a loved one) of the slow ascent from depression and its many false victories and setbacks will recognize the authenticity here. But time is of the essence, and though the 200 pages of this middle section had me reading almost in a trance, I think they are a necessary part of the cure.

With the last section, however, things began to speed up. Some of this is very effective: Mattias makes forays into the real world, he discovers things about his past, he finds out more about the real Buzz Aldrin and the personal struggles that he went through after his return. But I sometimes found the pace too quick to be believable, and the final section when Mattias and his friends finally leave the Faroes belonged more to fantasy. All the same, this is an author of considerable powers writing about experiences that have the ring of personal truth, in a voice that is as fresh and funny as it is expansive.
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VINE VOICEon May 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
One of the best novels I've read in a long time. If you're a fan of writers like Milan Kundera and yes, Jonathan Safran Foer, you'll likely enjoy Johan Harstad's Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion? When I first picked this book up, I had no idea what it was about.... and sometimes that's my favorite way to start a book. I'm glad I didn't know the plot because, while the plot was good, it was Harstad's writing style that I was most attracted to.

In my mind, one of the signs of a good book is when I find myself frequently folding back the pages I want to go back to, while saying, "Yes, yes! I feel that way, too! But you're saying it so much better than I've ever been able to put into words." And that's exactly how I felt about this book. I've already read several of the passages over and over again and actually became emotional over some of them. Harstad writes that well (OK and Deborah Dawkin translates really well, too!).

If you read the plot summary and this doesn't sound like the book for you, consider it still. You'll likely be able to relate to Mattias in at least some way (even if you find yourself simultaneously yelling at him to pull himself together and make something of himself!). Even those of us who love being in the limelight, understand the need to want to blend in sometimes and to avoid having our actions make such an impact on the rest of the world. While many of us dream of being like Neil Armstrong, sometimes life is just easier as Buzz Aldrin. Or is it?
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