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Days in the History of Silence

Days in the History of Silence

3.0 3
by Merethe Lindstrom

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From the acclaimed Nordic Council Literature Prize winner, a story that reveals the devastating effects of mistaking silence for peace and feeling shame for inevitable circumstances
Eva and Simon have spent most of their adult lives together. He is a physician and she is a teacher, and they have three grown daughters and a comfortable home


From the acclaimed Nordic Council Literature Prize winner, a story that reveals the devastating effects of mistaking silence for peace and feeling shame for inevitable circumstances
Eva and Simon have spent most of their adult lives together. He is a physician and she is a teacher, and they have three grown daughters and a comfortable home. Yet what binds them together isn’t only affection and solidarity but also the painful facts of their respective histories, which they keep hidden even from their own children. But after the abrupt dismissal of their housekeeper and Simon’s increasing withdrawal into himself, the past can no longer be repressed.
Lindstrøm has crafted a masterpiece about the grave mistakes we make when we misjudge the legacy of war, common prejudices, and our own strategies of survival.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Eva’s elderly husband, Simon, has gradually stopped speaking—but as she recalls their life histories, we realize his silence may not be as inexplicable as it seems. Is Simon’s muteness a product of dementia, “a kind of wasteland where one’s personality is deleted,” or a revelation of his essentially silent inner self? Eva and Simon spent a lifetime keeping secrets from their daughters, including his childhood hiding from the Nazis, and her son from another relationship given away for adoption. But silence does not erase: ghosts remain, demanding to be confronted. This remarkable novel, winner of the 2012 Nordic Council Literature Prize, explores the theme of silence in many different forms—a children’s game, a refuge, a lie, a punishment, a solution—and shows its impact on those who long to be spoken to. For Eva, shut out of Simon’s inner world, “It is not simply the feeling that he is no longer there. It is the feeling that you are not either.” Lindstrom (The Guests) works in associations and superimpositions, like “a photograph that is overexposed and shows two subjects, melding in an accidental combination. As your memories do in your consciousness.” The prose is simple and elegant, revealing an extraordinary talent. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
This remarkable novel explores the theme of silence in many different forms—a children’s game, a refuge, a lie, a punishment, a solution—and shows its impact on those who long to be spoken to….The prose is simple and elegant, revealing an extraordinary talent.”Publishers Weekly

This deeply intimate character portrait dwells in the intersection of nostalgia, loss, and forgotten histories... Bruce’s translation allows Lindstrøm’s sparse and evocative prose to shine, giving equal weight to both highly dramatic and domestically mundane events. Fans of Anne Holt, Nicholas Mosley, and Max Frisch will savor Days in the History of Silence.”  —Booklist

“A painful, yet inspiring novel, Days in the History of Silence lingers in the reader’s mind and heart and does not let go.” —Jewish Book Council

[A]n elegant meditation on the destructive power of family secrets and hidden pasts…Days in the History of Silence is a masterclass in philosophical dilemma, with the razor-sharp edge of a taut psychological thriller. The National

“In gentle, precise, and thoughtful prose Lindstrøm relates how a dramatic past slowly breaks into an elderly woman's life and consciousness.” —The Nordic Council

"[E]ngrossing. The layers of silence that are stacked so neatly within this narrative are skillfully and precisely constructed, so that peeling one back only releases another."Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A quiet and unnerving masterpiece. Norway Times

“Lindstrøm interweaves past and present in an intricate and gradually highly suggestive tale that makes use of a sober, simple language. In masterly fashion, she shows how remaining silent isolates the narrator Eva and her husband Simon from a sense of belonging they both actually long for…By means of a finely tuned, simple language [Lindstrøm]…expands out small everyday circles so that they become part of the large historical circle in which we all findourselves.Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature Judgment

“An intimate and intense narrative about losing oneself through losing other people…. One of this year’s most memorable novels.” Sindre Hovdenakk, Verdens Gang

“In unobtrusive, elegant, and incisive prose, [Lindstrøm] has produced a drama of everyday life that insinuates itself under the reader’s skin.”Turid Larsen, Dagsavisen

“Stylish and clever. Merethe Lindstrøm is not only an outstanding, but also an intelligent stylist…This novel is one of the best she has written to date.”Margunn Vikingstad, Dag Øg Tid

"The simplicity of the language and the domesticity of the surroundings make it an immersing read...[Days in the History of Silence] will stay with you long after you put the book down..." —Bookslut

"Merethe Lindstrøm provides a strong philosophical tale as she makes a profound argument that the past never fully vanishes since the ghosts of yesteryear haunt the present."Genre Go Round Reviews

"A fascinating novel..." —Hudson Valley News

"A very powerful novel, impressively done."Complete Review

"Remarkably beautiful...prose that lingers long after being read." —Calamus

"[A] searing work of imagination." —The Free Lance-Star

"Quietly mesmerizing." —We Love This Book

"[Days in the History of Silence] provides a great deal to think about and a great deal to admire." —A Life In Books

"[Q]uietly stunning." —Library Journal 

"[T]his is a powerful, emotional, and never-to-be-forgotten novel of pure honesty." —Seeing the World Through Books 

“Elegant and thought-provoking…a highly focused and intelligent read, brimful of humanity, wisdom and psychological insight. [Days in the History of Silence is] infused with a gentle melancholia and leaves one aching to be upfront and transparent with the ones you love.” –Reading Matters

"A beautiful and strange book." —Journal of Imaginary People

Kirkus Reviews
Norwegian author Lindstrøm's somber novel, winner of the Nordic Council Literature Prize, centers on an aging couple who would appear to have been fortune's favorites. He is a retired physician, she a retired teacher. Together for decades, they live in bourgeois comfort, having raised three healthy (and now grown-up) daughters. But Simon is slipping into dementia, and for now, the primary symptom is a nearly unbreachable silence that began to worsen just after the couple felt forced to dismiss the Latvian housekeeper who was the closest thing they had to a friend. In the wake of that departure the wife, Eva, is left to grapple, in a way increasingly lonely and bereft, with her ever more remote husband and with the burdens of age. Both Eva and Simon have painful secrets, things they haven't confided even to their daughters, but the book is less about the secrets than about the long-term repercussions of secrecy itself. If one's survival strategy is reticence and self-protection, what happens when age and circumstance ratchet up solitude and silence to an unbearable level? Where does one turn? How does one turn? The novel is languidly paced, nearly static, and the prose can sometimes be awkward, but there are moments of emotional intensity, as when Eva drops her husband off at elder day care and hesitates before she goes, feeling that he might disappear forever when she turns. An often incisive but slow-paced exploration of the encroachments and isolations of age.

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Other Press, LLC
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Read an Excerpt

   I recall something Simon told me before he became old, before this irritating silence, that one of the earliest impressions he remembered clearly, was the worn timber floor in the apartment where his family lay in hiding during the Second World War, how the rooms were tiny like boxes with doors, a playhouse where it was rarely possible to play. The walls of brown wood, the roof where he could lie looking up, with a feeling that everything was sinking or being sunk, toward them, inside them, through them, and everything linked to a feeling of guilt the origin of which he did not know, but that probably had a connection with his impatience at that time. The hiding place in a middle-sized city in Central Europe, a place where they stayed week after week, month after month. A place of safekeeping he could not endure and had begun to regard as a threat, since he seldom noticed anything of the actual danger. He quarreled with his parents, his younger brother, he was ten years old and hated being cooped up inside the tiny rooms. It felt as though the world had shriveled, as though it had contracted and would never contain or comprise anything other than these three small chambers, of a size hardly bigger than closets and the few people who lived in them, in addition to the helpers or wardens who came and went. 
   While they lived in this condition that has to be called imprisonment, Simon told me, they had to remain quiet. Silence was imposed on them, him, his brother, his parents and the two other people who stayed there…
   The silence was built in, part of their orbit inside these rooms. At the beginning of course the children posed questions about the curtailed opportunity for movement and expression, while their parents patiently explained. But if one of them, Simon or his brother, was angry and for example began to scream, a handkerchief was held over his mouth, and the feeling of being smothered by this handkerchief, used less as a punishment than through sheer necessity, prevented him from repeating it.

Meet the Author

Merethe Lindstrøm has published several novels and collections of short stories, and a children’s book. She was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize and for the Norwegian Critics’ Award in 2008 for her short-story collection The Guests. The same year, she received the Doubloug Prize for her entire literary work. Days in the History of Silence is her most recent novel, nominated for the Norwegian Channel 2 Listeners’ Novel Prize, and winner of the Nordic Council Literature Prize and the Norwegian Critics’ Prize. She lives in Oslo, Norway.
Anne Bruce has degrees in Norwegian and English from Glasgow University covering both Nynorsk and Bokmål, classic and modern texts, written and spoken Norwegian, as well as Old Norse, Icelandic, Swedish, and Danish. She has traveled extensively throughout Scandinavia on lecture and study visits, and undertaken translation and interpretation for visiting groups from Norway. She has translated Wencke Mühleisen’s I Should Have Lifted You Carefully Over, Jørn Lier Horst’s Dregs, and Anne Holt’s Blessed Are Those Who Thirst.

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Days in the History of Silence 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Cian More than 1 year ago
I heard this author interviewed on NPR and I had to read it. I love finding authors from other countries to broaden my horizons. I always learn through their fiction that we are more alike than different. Whether relationships, feelings, families... we are all the same. I find that both comforting and incredible. Thanks for writing this Ms. Lindstrom. It's an intriguing book.
SharonDG More than 1 year ago
Eva and Simon have lived for years with secrets, with repressed memories and feelings, and this book hauntingly conveys the sense of oppression that has resulted from their silence. Not much happens in terms of plot, rather this book's strengths are in its depiction of Eva's cerebral and emotional world, and the price that both she and Simon ultimately pay for believing silence to be an effective coping mechanism. The narration generally follows Eva's stream of consciousness but overall forms into a cohesive thread. In the end perhaps there is hope, as Eva seems to be confronting at last so many of the events that must be revealed and processed. What a bleak life otherwise.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
tried to like it, couldn't