Thursday, August 28, 2014


Grondahl, Jens Christian. Virginia. trans Anne Born. Great Britain: Cannongate, 2003

This small work of fiction by the Danish author tells the story of a lingering guilt by a middle-aged man, about the time when he was 18, and about the girl he was infatuated with.

The narrative moves between past and present within sentences as the narrator tries to reconstruct the story, by his own admission unreliable, not only from his point of view but also from the point of view of the girl, as she was, when she came to spend a summer near the sea, during the war. This is where she rescued an English airman fallen out of the sky, and eventually fell in love, in a span of two days, in the darkness of the night, before the Germans found him, no thanks to the boy.

The Virginia of the title is not the name of the girl, not that she remained virgin. She got married and moved to Paris. But that’s not the story here. In the story, she goes nameless, so does the narrator, or everyone else. The name refers to the Virginia tobacco that came from the solitary cigarette from the silver cigarette case that the English airman had given to the girl, and which the girl, after many years, gave away to the narrator.

The story is strange and is filled with a sense of worldly melancholia that only, perhaps, Scandinavian authors can manage to evoke. It is something to do with atmosphere in those countries, I guess.

It is a brave story, told with brevity. Even in the spacious page design, it doesn’t exceed more than 120 pages. You can finish reading the book in one sitting, and once you have finished it, what a feeling!

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