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Certain details word for word even. And I knew that many of these stories deserved to be made public. Ought to be made public. I also had something of an advantage. I knew a lot from before. In my more presumptuous moments I actually felt as though I knew everything.

I had once drawn pictures with him. I had sat up in a tree with him and asked him why the sky was blue. I had been a child in his arms. And a child sees a great deal.

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I did not know him from the television, I knew him face to face; I knew him with my fingers and my cheek and my nose. Not only that but, particularly during the years when my brain was at its most malleable, he had been the person to whom I talked the most. I loved him more than anyone in the world. If the young Jonas was right, if the whole point of life was to save lives, then I had a job to do: to save him, metaphorically speaking, from drowning in lies.

What held me back was not my inevitable sympathy for him--I considered this a strength, not a weakness--but the thought of having to write a book, of actually putting words on paper. Because I realized that no other medium would do.

If I was to get my message across. If I was to succeed in driving a wedge of doubt into the fossilized myths surrounding him.

The Jonas Wergeland trilogy | Heroes Not Zombies

If I was ever to be able to say something about his genius, the origins of his creativity, the motives behind that peerless work of art Thinking Big--arguably Norway's greatest cultural contribution to the world in the twentieth century. I would of course have preferred to use my own form, my own medium, but that was still in its infancy, it was nowhere near being fully developed. And few people understood it. Few people were willing to understand it. I had to make a compromise, take up again a tool I had abandoned in favor of something better.

I was also forced to resort to a genre, the biography, which was akin to an antiquated, all but obsolete--though still popular--fictional form. It scared me.

The Discoverer

To have so much to say, to know so much--and to have to employ such an imperfect, passe mode of expression. To risk being dismissed for being too conventional, for sticking to the set rules for how to render characters vivid and believable; notions based on simple, recognizable elements, a set of "valid" devices born of centuries of literature. I felt as though I was setting to work with a hammer and chisel. I knew, of course, that in undertaking this task, I was stepping out into a whole industry--or perhaps I should say: onto a battlefield.


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And the merchandise to be fought over was Jonas Wergeland, his life and reputation. Not least the latter. At the point when I started writing, eleven books about him--not to mention countless news reports and articles--had already been published. Of the eight which appeared after his conviction and imprisonment, six would have to be described as extremely negative, almost derisive, with their hindsightful, moralistic tone. The two exceptions were Kamala Varma's book and the curious biography, penned by another it is true, but at Rakel W.

Jonas Wergeland sat in Grorud Church, playing an organ which he had, so to speak, seen unveiled; he was playing Bach, the fugue which accompanied the prelude in E-flat major, marveling at an invention which enabled him, with just ten fingers and two feet, to produce music so splendid, so powerful, that it penetrated right down into the foundations of the building.


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  5. He felt the tears falling, realized that he was crying, as if the music had also penetrated to his foundations. He did not know whether he was weeping out of grief or at the thought of an experience shared with his father or because of the beauty of the music, a beauty which reminded him of having his head inside a crystal chandelier sparkling with light and shot with rainbows. The fugue came to an end.

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    And from the church beneath him the song swelled up, the singing truly hit the roof, with a force unlike anything Jonas had ever heard before. Because he was not alone. The church was full. He had got there in good time, but the church was already packed when he arrived. That was why Grorud had seemed so deserted. Everyone was here.

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    Well over a thousand people. It had come as a surprise to him. Who was his father? Were all of these people really here to honor Haakon Hansen, to pay him their respects? Jonas played. Down below, in front of the altar rail, lay his father. Not as if dead, but dead. Wergeland tells his own story in The Discoverer.


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    That was the problem. Read together or separately, these novels celebrate the expansiveness of a human life and challenge our notion of what it means to know someone—to know ourselves. Our lives, we discover, exist primarily in the memories of others.

    Reading the World: Jan Kjaerstad & Mark Binelli (7 of 7)

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