Few weeks ago Mr. Jostein Gaarder, famous Norwegian writer was a guest of Belgrade. He was promoting his latest novel “The Castle in the Pyrenees” published last year in Norway and whose first translation in any foreign language appeared precisely in Serbian by my favourite publishing house Geopoetika. Somehow I think that’s quite fair, that we translated this novel first and to have him here among us. Namely Mr. Gaarder is one of the most popular authors here in Serbia, certainly one of the most popular foreign authors.
My experience with Gaarder’s books is of course related with “Sophie’s World”, novel which completely changed (or should I say “created”) the way I see philosophy. That book has taught me more about philosophy than entire course in my high school. Therefore that certainly was one of the most important books I’ve read during my education. After that I’ve read “The Solitaire Mystery” and I must say I wasn’t thrilled that much (although many of my friends were). And I believe that’s all I’ve read from him but nevertheless I’m sort of looking at him as if there’s no need to write anything else after “Sophie’s World”.
Anyway when I saw that his coming in Belgrade, of course I just couldn’t miss that.
That was the day when Joseph (“for friends Joe”) Biden, US vice president was in Belgrade as well and that meant trouble. Namely we didn’t want that anything unpredictable happens to Mr. Joseph Biden so entire town was blocked. The route I would drive for 10 minutes I had to walk for more than hour. I had to circulate around the city center and if you happened to live there and weren’t at home police wouldn’t let you in forbidden zone. The fact that you live there was irrelevant. No when I think folks who stayed in their homes have been whole day in quarantine, they couldn’t get outside and the blinds had to be closed (I’d prefer be outside the “zone”).
I reached Pavilion Cvijeta where I’ve found zillion people who managed to come in spite collapse in the city.
It was really lovely evening. Mr. Gaarder was in the very cheerful mood; he never expected how many Serbs are learning Norwegian (he talked the same day at the Department for Scandinavian Languages at the Faculty of Philology) and indeed it’s one of the most popular foreign language at the University. (Surprisingly) I DON’T speak Norwegian 😉
He talked about his new novel of course (hopefully he didn’t say too much spoilers although I believe I’ve heard some things that I’d prefer not to know prior reading) but also about his other novels, process of writing, some things from his personal life, his views about current geopolitical situation in the world, Norwegian society … etc. It was very interesting indeed. Sadly I was at the balcony and out of his attention’ reach. Namely I was constantly raising my hand to ask a question but he never raised his head so he didn’t noticed me. When signing my book I told him that indeed he is such a rationalist (he said that when answering question about religion) but I never expected that he never raise his head towards the sky, otherwise he would see me there frenetically waving to as a question. Speaking about rationalism I liked how he described process of creating one of the characters in his latest book. Namely there is a clash of two ways of understanding the world: one of the characters is rationalist and explains everything thru the science which is close to his [Mr. Gaarder’s] way of thinking so there were no problems with that character. But in order to create persuasive, real character who represent the other way of understanding the world and existence in spiritual way he had to give her strong arguments. And since that wasn’t the way he represents he had to read books to try to understand better that ‘other side’. So the final result is that now, in comparison with the moment before he started to write this book, he is much more close to those spiritual, big secrets. But still he is more rationalists type. In one interview he said that recently he spoke with one famous neurologist who told him “We know nothing! It’s completely a mystery! And not only that we don’t understand the world, but we never will!”. And those were the words of one neurologist! (here is that interview. It’s in Serbian)
As I said he spoke about his fears and problems and he reminded me on something I used to say years ago: “If I could be born again I would SO love to be Norwegian!” I mean his preoccupation and fears are world poverty, global warming etc. Wouldn’t you love to be a Norwegian as well? At least for a day? Or two? Or few months? Maybe years?
Personally my favourite moment of the evening was one anecdote he said when answering about the question whether the children more intelligent than elders because kids are often very important characters in his books (or something like that, I don’t remember well). He said of course there are kids who are more intelligent than other kids. There’s no generalization and then he said what he heard from one American reader few years ago. He wasn’t sure was it during Clinton’s or Bush’ administration (but you’ll see it doesn’t matter. It could easily be Obama’s as well):
After listening President’s speech on the TV her daughter asked her:
– Mom why President always say in the end “God bless America”? and mother was confused so the girl explained:
– Why doesn’t he say “God bless the world?”
This is one very intelligent kid indeed!
Guy next to me on the balcony was recording the evening so for those who are interested here it is. (Gaarder spoke in English)