Friday, 4 June 2010

Foreign Language Friday: The Orange Girl

Dear Blog,
before I get on with Foreign Language Friday, I should say to everybody who've come here from the Book Blogger Hop over at Crazy For Books.  Yay for book blog hopping!
Now onto Foreign Fiction Friday.  Today I'll be reviewing The Orange Girl by Jostein Gaarder, which I mentioned briefly  on an Armchair BEA post.  I've decided that I really ought to talk about it in more depth, though this itself will have to be quick because it's 10:30 and I need to get a late-night bowl of cereal before going to bed (I'll post this review tomorrow)

Name: The Orange Girl (first published as Appelsinpikenl)
Written By: Jostein Gaarder
Originally Written In: Norwegian. 
Translated By: James Anderson

Summary (from Goodreads): At fifteen, Georg comes upon a letter written to him by his dying father, to be read when he comes of age. Their two voices make a fascinating dialogue as Georg comes to know the father he can barely remember, then is challenged by him to answer some profound questions. The central mystery of The Orange Girl is the story of an elusive young woman for whom Georg’s father searches in Oslo and Seville—and whom Georg finally realizes is his mother. This is a thought-provoking fairy-tale romance imbued with a sense of awe and wonder.

Review: I am a BIG fan of Gaarder's.  I first started devouring his novels when my grandmother gave me a copy of Sophie's World when I was nine or ten (I was the sort of strange child who had Dickens read to her as a bedtime story). I read it and loved it, even though it took me a week and a half to read and admittedly by the time it had got to the 18th century I was getting a little confused and didn't really *get* it, I loved it anyway.  So when I saw a copy of The Orange Girl at Waterstones I bought it and devoured it in a couple of hours, and it's my favourite so far of all the  Gaarder books I've read.  But why?  Why, in my opinion, does a 160-paged love story beat a 490 paged novel about the history of western philosophy? For one thing, I think aforementioned 490 paged novel is a little hard to swallow in one go, but, well, to my mind it's more than that.

I love The Orange Girl mostly because of its simplicity mixed with Gaarder's ability to open your eyes to the world.  You finish his books feeling slightly wiser, your eyes opened ever so slightly more to the wanders of the universe, whatever they might be.  In this case, fathers, sons, oranges, love, art, trams, Oslo, Seville, etc.  I was particularly excited about the Oslo and Seville part because I've been to both places (When I saw the trailer for the film, I yelled,  "I've been there!").  
Although Sophie's World should be a book everybody has to read at some point in their life, The Orange Girl ought to be on that list as well.  Yes, it's probably too sweet and happy for some, but at the same time it's quite deep as well, with many more meanings behind the simplistic plot, and it still manages to have plenty of surprises.

There are three main characters: Georg, his father, and the elusive and mysterious orange girl.  I won't give away who the orange girl actually is  because that would spoil the element of mystery.  But, well, without giving her away she's very much the mysterious girl-you'll-never-meet-again type.  So it's awesome that Georg's father goes after her instead of staring at her until she gets slightly creeped out and walks away. He has the guts to follow her, to find out where she's from, and though it borders slightly on obsession, when they actually fall in love it makes me sigh in a happy sort of way.
Georg himself appears to be the "main" character, and he's nice enough, I suppose.  He doesn't seem as real as his dad, who we travel alongside in the story. We're on the tram with him the first time he encounters the Orange girl, and the courtyard in Seville with him when they reunite.  but the real story is all about Jan Olav (his dad).  We watch Georg; we live with his dad. 

Despite the moments of philosophical wonder, it is somewhat syrupy sweet, simplistic and joyful.  As a fan of apocalypse novels and other such grim stuff, I find it nice to read something happy now and again.  Other readers might not feel the same way.  But, well, let this joyfulness not be a problem!  It's a quick read, but you'll finish it feeling a little wiser than you were at the start.

I read a review which said that apparently with many references to places in Europe, and translated into British English, it may seem "awkward for the American reader".  All I can say is, sorry, neighbours,  but we must put up with books in American English with references to places in the US.  Not that this seems to be a problem this side of the pond because we're used to it. Anyway, let that not be a flaw in the story. 

Summary: Everybody calls it a "fairytale" and, well, it is.  It's a nice enough read, not with the same mind-blowing "wow!  ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in Space!" (you have to read it to get that) element to it.  Still worth a read for all Gaarder fans old and new, young or old.  Rating: 3.75, with 1 and a quarter  knocked off for the simplicity and happiness, which some people might not like. 


  1. Hi, found you via the hop. I like the personal tone you use on your blog. It's really cute. >_<

  2. Just hopping by to say, hi.
    Kelly Bookend Diaries

  3. Hopping by to say have a great weekend!

    Hope you can stop by sometime soon!
    Confessions of a Bookaholic

    You have a very cute blog!

  4. Let's do the Hop! My Hop is here.

    I hope you are having a fun filled Friday. :)

    From the Shadows

  5. hi! found you through the hop, and i'm your newest follower. looking forward to reading more great posts :)

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Sorry it's still pretty early in the morning for me. I'm already a follower, thanks for stopping by my blog. I hadn't heard of The Orange Girl before but it sounds pretty good, I'll add it to my list. Great review! =D

  8. I am visiting via the hop! I love meeting fellow book bloggers and just wanted to say hello!

    And the plot thickens...


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