In 2007, neuroscientist Lisa Genova self-published her first novel, “Still Alice.” It tells the story of a Harvard psychology professor and her experience with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The book became a best-seller and is now a major motion picture. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “Still Alice.”
Guest Host: Steve Roberts
Silence in the context of human relationships can take many different forms. It may arise as a result of deeply held secrets or merely evolve over time. For the characters in a new novel by Norwegian author Merethe Lindstrom, silence has become the family norm. Eva and Simon have been married for many years and each has kept secrets from the other and their grown daughters. After a beloved housekeeper is mysteriously dismissed, Simon gradually stops speaking. The novel is a haunting meditation on one marriage and the profound consequences that result from the secrets people keep.
- Merethe Lindstrom author of "The Guests" and "The Stone Collectors" and winner of the Nordic Council Literature Prize.
Read An Excerpt
From “Days In The History Of Silence” by Merethe Lindstrom. Copyright © 2013 by the author and reprinted by permission of Other Press. All rights reserved.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts of George Washington University sitting in today for Diane Rehm. She's having a voice treatment and then going on vacation and will be back in mid-September. Eva and Simon are characters in the new novel by renowned Norwegian author Merethe Lindstrom. The long-time married couple struggles with secrets they've kept from each other and their children and Simon gradually stops speaking altogether. Eva is forced to grapple with the meaning of that silence.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSAnd she's haunted by the memory of her own secret, a baby she gave away at 17. The novel is entitled "Days In The History Of Silence" and Merethe Lindstrom joins me in the studio. Welcome Merethe.
MS. MERETHE LINDSTROMThank you very much.
ROBERTSAnd congratulations, you also spoke at the Kennedy Center recently here?
LINDSTROMYes, I did, on the Nordic Cool.
ROBERTSExcellent, excellent. We're happy to have you. This is, well, your seventh novel, your first translated into English.
LINDSTROMYes it is. And I'm very happy to be translated also because I've always been inspired by English and American authors so that means a lot to me actually, especially by American short stories actually.
ROBERTSExcellent. Well, you can join our conversation with Merethe Lindstrom. 1-800-433-8850 is our phone number. Email address firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll open the phones shortly and please join our conversation.
ROBERTSOne of the things that you talk about is the way the book was greeted in Norway. A lot of reviewers missed the point. They thought it was about dementia and, of course, the lead character Simon does seem to be gripped with a form of dementia, but you say they don't get it. What did the reviewers not understand about the book that you want our American listeners to understand?
LINDSTROMWell, I hope that the book reflects on a lot of problems and things that it takes. I wanted to tell a story about two people who have had a long life together and have all these secrets. And I think one of them really feels left out and despairs when the other is quite desperate. Eva feels quite desperate when the other, when Simon stops talking.
LINDSTROMAnd it is a book that also deals with trauma, how to bring trauma of the past into everyday conversation, you could say. That was important for me to write about. And when the book came out -- and my first interviews were about dementia and somehow I felt that it was like closing the book a little bit too early.
LINDSTROMIt is about dementia. Of course, it could be understood like that, but I hope there are a lot of other aspects to it. And I got a prize and I got to travel and then suddenly it was like the book opened and people said that they could see other things in it that I wanted them to see and that was a great experience.
ROBERTSBut one of the differences between dementia and part of what you're saying in this novel is the choice of silence. Dementia is sort of silence imposed on someone. But there is a resonant idea here of a choice, that it's a much larger and complicated idea.
LINDSTROMYeah, and that is what Eva is thinking about because for so many years, Eva and Simon haven't talked about important things in their lives, his going into hiding with his family during the war and she gave up a child for adoption. They never told their daughters about this.
LINDSTROMAnd I think that when he falls silent, Eva is thinking, could it be that he's trying to tell us something? Could it be that all these years not talking about important things has led him to some silence that maybe he's not able to talk about anything anymore? That it's like a natural consequence.
ROBERTSThe title in English "Days In The History Of Silence," but as I was thinking about this, it struck me that this is only half about silence.
ROBERTSBecause the other half of the story is about the absence of silence meaning conversation and connectivity and it's the absence of that that is so painful.
LINDSTROMMmm. it is. And I think the silence in this story on the one hand is the silence that they don't talk anymore, that Simon doesn't talk and Eva is left in this silence, this house where she's kind of alone with her story. She said somewhere in the book that when he stopped talking. it's like he's not there anymore and it feels like she's not there either.
LINDSTROMAnd on the other hand. it's all these things from the past that's also the silence. But I also wanted it, the silence in the title. to say something about, like. standing still, something having just stopped somehow. It's like they're not moving. They're in this house together and everything is standing still.
ROBERTSYou know, that wonderful line you just quoted is one of my favorites.
ROBERTSAbout how she seemed to disappear in the silence. And there's a passage, starting on page 13, which includes that line. So I think it really would give our listeners a sense of the texture of your language and what you're really saying if you read that passage and then we'll talk about it.
LINDSTROMOkay. "His silence came gradually over the course of a few months, half a year. He might say thanks for the meal or bye. He had become as formal as a hotel guest, seemingly as frosty as a random passenger, you bump into on a bus.
LINDSTROMOnly now and again do I see him standing gazing out the window, smiling at something he's reading or watching on television and I think, he's back, as though it really is a journey he has embarked upon. But if I ask what he's watching, what is amusing he just looks at me uncomprehendingly.
LINDSTROMThe physician, one of his junior colleagues says he has quite simply become old. The solution, for of course there are solutions to situations like this or why should we consult this physician otherwise, is a center for the elderly, a daycare center where Simon spends time twice a week. I drive him. I always drive him places. He sits in the passenger seat of a car and waits until I arrive.
LINDSTROMThe first time we went there we were greeted by a manager who escorted us along corridors reminiscent of tunnels with plastic walls, painted an institutional gray, decorative graphics of anodyne subjects, doors with wooden hearts. And at the foot of one of the corridors, a room with glass doors, inside this recreation area was a little group of people. No one looked up when we entered.
LINDSTROMThe old people sat at a table. Two members of staff were conversing quietly. Simon got a chair at the table with the others. He continued smiling but just as I was about to leave his gaze followed me, his eyes, hands on the table, the slumped shoulders in that room, in that place. It was not a place where you belong.
LINDSTROMWhen I come out again there are often two young care workers standing smoking at the entrance. I've seen one of them drop a cigarette butt on the ground and tramp on it as I walk past, such a disheartening motion. Several times I have remained standing in the parking lot like a mythological figure filled with doubt.
LINDSTROMThis is the border between the underworld and our own world. I walk across a little stretch of asphalt with Simon in the corridors inside. If I turn around now, he will disappear forever. I need to tell that to someone, how it feels how it is so difficult to live with someone who has suddenly become silent.
LINDSTROMIt isn't simply the feeling that he's no longer there. It is the feeling that you are not either."
ROBERTSMerethe Lindstrom reading from her new book "Days In The History Of Silence." And we should give some credit to your translator, Anne Bruce, who did such a wonderful job at spare, lean prose that she used there. You're writing in part from experience because you lived with a father who fell into silence and when you talk about the profound dismay that Eva feels, you know what you're talking about.
LINDSTROMYes, I do, definitely. This is not my family history, I must say, but my father, he fell silent some years before he died and I really did not know the reason. And I talked to physicians and they couldn't give me a clear answer. I think that might quite often be the case, that you don't get a clear answer. And you think if you get into a situation like that, that of course there are answers and of course they will tell you exactly what to do. But that wasn't the case at all.
LINDSTROMI was just quite bewildered. And my parents were divorced and I grew up with my mother and we traveled around a lot. I've lived in a lot of places and since I was two years old, I haven't lived with my father at all. And we always talked on the phone. We had all these long telephone conversations and he taught me so many things, but it was always language with us, always this connection on the phone or something like that and even letters.
LINDSTROMAnd then suddenly, it was just silent. And I remember being so provoked. I was terrible. My conscience was really bad, but I was provoked because I didn't understand. I wondered if he was trying to challenge me somehow, if he was trying to -- almost like if he was making fun of me or something. I didn't know.
LINDSTROMNo, not really that, but making fun of me somehow, that he was always sitting there with a smile. And he had a great sense of humor so there was a reason for me thinking that. And but it was a very desperate situation. It felt really bad and I think since, I've always, always treasured our conversations. This is how it also started. I needed to get it out somehow and also to rise above my conscience, the way I felt about it. And I think that was the start of this history.
ROBERTSNow there's this wonderful line. "It is not simply the feeling that he is no longer there, it is the feeling that you are not either." Is that how your father made you feel, that you were not there?
LINDSTROMYes, because you have a history together and you share that history through language. You talk together and we keep it up somehow. It becomes your, yeah, well, it feels alive when the other person talks. Right?
LINDSTROMYeah, that's how we lived together.
ROBERTSWe're going to hold that thought. We're going to come right back with Merethe Lindstrom, her book "Days In The History Of Silence." I'm Steve Roberts sitting in for Diane. Give us a call. We'll be right back.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. My guest this hour is Merethe Lindstrom, Norwegian novelist. She's written seven novels in Norwegian but this is her first book translated into English. It's called "Days in the History of Silence." Ann Bruce has done the translation. And you can join our conversation. We have some lines open. Give us a call, 1-800-433-8850 or our email is email@example.com.
ROBERTSAnd Merethe, we were talking about the power of silence -- and of course the flipside of that is the power of language -- and your own experience of how devastating it was to lose communication with your own dad and how this was part of the germination of this novel. And each of the two characters, Simon and Ava -- do you pronounce it Ava or Eva in Norwegian?
LINDSTROMAva, actually we use the A.
ROBERTSAva. And they each have their secrets. And Simon's involves the fact that he was Jewish. His family was seized during the war. He lost family members to the Holocaust. This is not uncommon. Many survivors of the Holocaust did not want to talk about that experience. And describe the germination of the character Simon and the impact that this experience has on him and why he chooses to remain silent.
LINDSTROMYeah, maybe it is a choice and maybe it isn't. I think there are two ways to see this because on the one hand Eva, I think, wants to keep the past away from them. She wants to keep it in the past. She wants a version of their life, I think, that is very -- somehow light and normal. And there's one scene in the book where they traveled through this scenery, the kids in the back of a car. And outside it's sun and it's summer and everything is nice. And he starts talking about the past and she says something like that you shouldn’t bring that darkness into their life, or into...
LINDSTROMAnd I think it's -- for me that was an important scene because that's the way they keep on traveling through life, and they don't tell their daughters. They meant to. They wanted to tell at one point but then the days went by and they didn't. So in a way you could say it's a choice. But after a while, at least, Simon wants to talk about it. And he also tries and -- but Ava is somehow against it, I think.
LINDSTROMAnd also I think it has to do with her own secret. She doesn't want to confront that. She thinks that she's okay with it and it was a dramatic thing. So how she gave away a child for adoption, maybe not so dramatic but she didn't really love that child. And there were some things that were not so good.
ROBERTSWell, you know, this phenomenon of people having gone through something like the trauma of the war and losing family members, silence is often a common reaction. I had grandparents who were born in Europe before World War II, but it was very common for people of that generation who immigrated to America to not talk about the past, particularly if, as in the case of my grandparents, they fled political persecution, and that was in the past. Where Americans now, we want to look forward. As you said, a life of sunshine and light, not of the darkness of the past.
ROBERTSA very understandable reaction, but also with a price.
ROBERTSAnd the price is to cut your children off from their own history. And there's always a tension there with wanting to shield them, but at the same time you're also depriving them, aren't you?
LINDSTROMDefinitely. You're depriving them from their heritage. And also I think it comes back somehow. It -- Ava and Simon, they manage to keep this away from their life so long. But then when he fell silent and every day talk kind of subsides and everything's silent, it's like something else comes up. And I think it's the past. I think Ava feels the past, that it's suddenly there again. And suddenly it's very powerful as well because it's been suppressed. And now she has to deal with it.
LINDSTROMAnd I think also the book is about identity, like who are we and who are the people we live close to and if we suddenly have to see them in a new way. Maybe we also have to see ourselves in a new way. And the perception of it, because we are so connected of course to those people that are close to us and family and relations. But also on the larger scale, I think that is true for a whole community.
LINDSTROMAnd I could see that in my country after the terror attacks in 2011 because Norway's always been such a peaceful place. It's always been a -- we always thought nothing bad could really happen. And it's a small country and suddenly we had to just think anew. It was -- everything had changed somehow. And it was very hard for us, I think. So -- and also that was the discussion of course about extreme expressions of hatred and all these things and how to meet it and reflect on it and what do to if you're confronted with it. And that's also on a personal level of course. What do you do when you...
ROBERTSWell, you know, I've had the experience of teaching writing to young people. and I encouraged them to explore their family histories partly because, as I say, your grandmother never says no comment. It turns out not to be entirely true but it's largely true. And time after time, I warned my students that sometimes you'll uncover things that are not particularly pleasant or praise worthy in your family. But almost without exception they wind up giving their families a wonderful gift…
ROBERTS...which is the gift of their own history, and even when it could be painful. And -- but the impulse -- as you say, the human impulse to shield children from the unpleasantness and the pain and the shame in some ways is pretty strong.
LINDSTROMYes, I think it is. And -- but the problem is of course that the children growing up in a family where things are hushed and we don't talk about these things, I think there's a kind of loneliness. You feel alone because you know there's something of that. And especially one of the kids in this family, or she's a grown woman now, Helena, Ava and Simon's youngest daughter. She feels that there's something that her parents do not talk about.
ROBERTSShe senses it?
LINDSTROMYeah, she senses it, senses how they do not talk about it. And she also says something about it to her mother like -- at least she tries to make her talk. And Ava says, well I talk all the time. And she said, no you don't. So she senses it. I think in families, sometimes secrecy is like could you say scaffolding, like you're holding up a building of secrecy somehow. And all family members say they kind of hold it up. And the weight of that building is not equally distributed between the family members -- use this metaphor.
LINDSTROMAnd I'm thinking it's always children that are holding -- who get the most of the weight I imagine. And very often they don't know what it is that they're secret about because the children are so loyal to their parents. But after I wrote this book, after it came out and especially in the Nordic countries, a lot of people started to tell me about secrets. And they said, it's so strange because we have secrets, like you can't talk about money or you can't talk about grandmother's lover or something like that. But also at these traumas, these really big things, as you said, these strong histories that, you know...
ROBERTSWell, I have -- it's my experience that many of my students, as they get into these histories and there's a hunger there to understand because, as you say, the word you used earlier was identity. This is about identity. This is about heritage. This is about who they are. And there is a hunger to understand that. And I had experienced just last spring at graduation of the estranged father of one of my students. And she had written about some very difficult and painful elements of her family. And he confronted me at graduation and said, were you the one who told my daughter to ask me all those painful questions?
ROBERTSAnd my answer was, yeah, I plead guilty because she needed to know. And then in the end he was okay with it. He said it was almost feigned anger, you know, he said. But, you know, in the end we had many conversations that were quite helpful that the assignment triggered.
LINDSTROMYes. I guess it might be sort of a catharsis. And -- well, I grew up between two families. I mentioned my parents were divorced. And my father's family, when I went to visit there, they were very -- I thought they were quite silent and things were kind of hushed. And while my mother's family, they talked all the time. And I always thought that my father's family would have a lot of secrets. But who's to say that my mother's family didn't have a lot of secrets as well. It was just that the talk would cover it up. Somehow you just talk and talk and somehow it is never unwell.
ROBERTSWell now, I think a lot of Americans, their sort of stereotypical view of the Nordic countries is that having a child out of wedlock would not -- should not be a secret, that sexual mores being what they are and a high number of children in these countries born out of wedlock and parents live together but are not married. At least that's our stereotypical view. But why does Ava withhold this information from her daughters, in particular, when she...
LINDSTROMWell, first of all, I think that in the '50s and '60s (unintelligible) it wasn't considered very proper to have a child outside of wedlock, even in Norway, Nordic countries. But I think Ava -- first of all, it's a sad story, this giving away the boy because, well, there are some things around this story that are not so good. So it's more than just giving away the child. And Simon, I think, believes that this part of Ava is so -- is something that challenges him because he wants Ava to be this mother who loves the children. And she does love her daughters very much. But it's like a piece of the puzzle that doesn't fit.
LINDSTROMHe can't -- so he wants her to bring the child back into the family and search for him and find him and bring him back into the family. But Ava doesn't want that. And that is really a reason for quarreling. They quarrel a lot about this. And maybe that makes Ava even more stubborn. But she -- because it's not that important to her, or at least that's what she says, that it's not a...
ROBERTSAt least that's what she says. I'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." That's what she says but you have these wonderful scenes where she looks at people on the bus and sees a family resemblance, or looks at children in a yard and thinks, my son would be that age. So there are significant lingering feelings that she has for that child that she gave up.
LINDSTROMDefinitely. And gradually she starts thinking about her feelings for that child. And I think that she comes to another conclusion than what she first thought about it, about her own feelings that she might not be so simple after all, also having given away that child but especially it's her bad conscience. And also I feel there are two stories here, this one of the children that went missing during the war, one of Simon's relatives. And it's like a pile of stories somehow. There's some connection. I want the reader to have that in mind reading the book, the son that Ava gave up for adoption, this other missing child. And the connection is not a direct one. It's mot one you would say, oh of course...
ROBERTSThis one was voluntary, one was not.
LINDSTROMYeah, definitely, but there's something else. It's like, yeah, something you should read forward to and just...
ROBERTSWell, that struck me that the two secrets, very different in one way but connected in another. They were both about loss and loss of family members and loss of, as you put it, this piece of family history. In both they're missing a piece. And these boy children are kind of symbolic of that connection that they're both living with.
LINDSTROMYes. And at the start of the book there is a young man coming into Ava and Simon's house. That was years ago. It's in the past but Ava's remembering it and thinking about this young man who was suddenly there, and who was he? And some say it's like a crime opening. And why I used an opening like that? But it was important to me because that theme comes up again several times during the novel.
ROBERTSNow one other character -- we've got to take a quick break here and get to your phone calls, but -- 1-800-433-8850 is our phone number, but Merethe Lindstrom, talk briefly about the character of Maria, the housekeeper who comes in and fills the silence between Ava and Simon with light and conversation and literally brings into the house a whole new dimension.
LINDSTROMYeah, she comes into the house as a housekeeper and the daughters want them to have a housekeeper. And Ava and Simon is first against it and then comes this Latvian woman and she's definitely something else. She's a very happy person it seems or maybe it's a cliché. Ava was considering that she's thinking of Maria as something that she really isn't. But she comes into their lives and then suddenly they let her go. They fire her. And the daughters are very concerned about this. But I think Maria's the one that challenges Ava and Simon's history of silence the most. She does challenge them and -- as the reader will find out.
ROBERTSYes. We don't want to give away the ending. But one of the challenges for a novelist writing very much in the Norwegian culture, and yet you're translating it into English here, and do you think about -- are there things about the novel that Americans will not understand? Or do you -- or certainly you aim for a universal theme that they can grasp onto?
LINDSTROMI think they will definitely get the novel. I have no doubt about that. But it is said that it might have some Nordic feel to it, something like that. I don't know. The language is...
ROBERTSThe prose is very spare.
LINDSTROMYes, it is. When I started out as a writer, I wanted to just write like writers do. I want to be a proper author and have these shiny sentences and clichés you might say even. But over the years, like, it's been 30 years now, and I started to wonder if this was how I really want to write, and if it could really express what I wanted to say. And so I started to work with my language in another way. I think it's like sometimes you just stumble over the sentences. I want it to be like that. I wanted to be naked somehow. And I want the reader to -- like there's a sentence and you just stop and wonder about it and have to go back. And, yeah.
ROBERTSWe'll be right back with Merethe Lindstrom, her new novel, "Days in the History of Silence." I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. You can talk to Merethe. Give us a call, 1-800-433-8850. We'll be right back, so stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. My guest this hour, Merethe Lindstrom, the Norwegian novelist whose new book just translated into English, "Days In The History Of Silence." And this was won a major prize, the Nordic Council Literature Prize. And we've been talking with Merethe about this book and I have some emails that I'll read to you and get your response.
ROBERTSLet's start with Jill from Illinois. She writes, "Merethe, while silence certainly has universal dimensions, do you think silence holds even more significance in the Nordic world? When I first went to Finland in the late '70s, it was the silence that was hardest for me and that taught me the most. It was even more exacerbated because I arrived in the darkness of November when silence rang. Even today, Fins are more comfortable with silence than many other nationalities. Is general Nordic silence a factor in your book?"
LINDSTROMWell, it wasn't when I started to write. I didn't think of it like that because -- No. No, I wouldn't say that, but when people read the book they say that it might be some typical silence of Nordic countries there. And that might be true. But it's also cliché somehow, isn't it, that it's…
LINDSTROM…so silent in Nordic countries.
ROBERTSIn the long Nordic winters.
ROBERTSAnd it's, you know, the ice and the…
LINDSTROMYes. But it might also be true somehow because like Norway is somehow a lost country, but there are few people and there's a story about these two trolls. One speaks and then the other one answers after 100 years. And maybe it has been a bit like that, you know, with people living long distance from each other, and it was hard to communicate and maybe it's been like that. And the Fins are definitely known for their silence.
LINDSTROMAnd I was in Finland with this book, and one suggested that the book is like a crime novel somehow. And I thought, oh, only a Fin could say that because it's not a typical -- well…
ROBERTSI want to mention for those of you who want to larger taste of this wonderful new novel, we're going to post an excerpt on our website, drshow.org. And you can get a further sense of this language of Merethe Lindstrom, very powerful. Kelly, in Indiana, writes to us, Merethe. "My life has been deeply impacted by my favorite book, 'Kristin Lavransdatter'." We're pronouncing that correctly, Lavransdatter?
ROBERTS"By Nobel Prize winning Norwegian author, Sigrid Undset. Who is Merethe's favorite Norwegian author? I'd love to learn more about the beautiful, soul-stirring literature of Norway."
LINDSTROMI must say that maybe my favorite Norwegian writer is a short-story writer called Kjell Askildsen. And he writes this very bare prost, this kind of naked language that…
ROBERTSA word you used about your own prose.
LINDSTROMYes. So in some way I think all short-story writers in Norway, contemporary short-story writers are influenced by him. Of course, some would oppose that, but he has a beautiful language and I really love his books. But I must say that when I started to write, I really read a lot of American short stories because short stories are close to my heart.
LINDSTROMAnd there was one writer who really started me writing my first book, and that was Jayne Anne Phillips. I read her "Black Tickets," really powerful short stories. It was like she gave voice to all these different characters and it was like almost something imploding on the pages. It's a very strong book, and it influenced me a lot. I was such a big fan of Jayne Anne Phillips and I still am. Some of her books are translated to Norwegian.
LINDSTROMBut, of course, like Raymond Carver and Joyce Carol Oates, several American writers really influenced me.
ROBERTSInteresting. Let's go to some of our callers, Merethe. And we'll start with Kiersten, in Dallas, Texas. Welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show" with Merethe Lindstrom.
KIERSTENI have a question about how people interpret her book, because she said whenever it came out a lot of people asked about dementia and about, you know, maybe didn't get it, necessarily. However, sometimes when I read a book and then read through the reviews after, I take away something that maybe the author didn't intend, but was personally very helpful for me or very insightful that I enjoyed.
KIERSTENSo I think that puts the author in a difficult situation because maybe she's bringing joy that she didn't anticipate or insight she didn't really intend to people. So do you feel that your work is being perverted by these interpretations or do you think that it's beneficial that people maybe interpret things that you didn't mean to write into it?
LINDSTROMYeah, it's a very good question. And I actually love that people find things in my book that I didn't intend. It's one of the things that make me very interested in writing. And, also, now that I travel a lot and talk to people and readers and people come up with things, and I think, oh, that is so great because maybe in the process, as I was writing it, it came up somehow and it was there, but maybe I lost track of it somehow. And so I love to hear that.
LINDSTROMAnd, also, of course, I want to write books that people wouldn't only read and think, oh, this is a good book and just put it on the shelf and be finished with it. I want to write books that might provoke a little bit. Might start a process in the reader so that afterward…
LINDSTROMLinger, somehow. That it goes on. The process that started with me creating it. The process that made me interested in writing it, that it goes on in the reader afterwards. And I heard that about "Days In The History Of Silence," that it lingers somehow, even by those who didn't get it at once. They say that but after awhile I started thinking about it, I couldn't leave it along. And it just went on and on. And that was very interesting.
ROBERTSThat's such a good observation and another way of thinking about this, and I say this to my writing students, that the process of reading a work is a two-way conversation.
ROBERTSAnd each reader brings her own sensibility, her own experience, infuses the conversation with the author, and we'll see different things.
LINDSTROMDefinitely, yes. And it's also so interesting, you could read a story when you're quite young. I guess everybody experienced that. You read it and then years later, you read it again and you find something completely different.
LINDSTROMThat's also so interesting.
ROBERTSLet's talk to Dakota, in Tulsa, Okla. Welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Dakota.
DAKOTAHi. I haven't caught the whole broadcast, unfortunately, but I was just really interested in, I guess, the adoption part of your story because I'm actually currently giving up a child for adoption. So it's hard because you hear a lot of stories about kids who are adopted, but you never really get -- I can't get my hands on that much information about mothers who give up their children for adoption. And so I'm really interested to read this book. And I was just wondering where you got your inspiration from to write this story.
LINDSTROMYes. First of all, I must say, I don't find in anyway wrong to give a child up for adoption. I think the story with Eva is a little special. So when you read the book you'll find out about that. In my family, it was a tradition of giving away children, somehow, to other members of the family. That was -- people did that in the old times. They had a lot of children on one farm and then the brother didn’t have any and they just gave away that…
ROBERTSVery common, yes.
LINDSTROMQuite common. And that happened in my family. And I could see over generations that it became more or less a tradition. And my grandmother had two sons who lived with her mother. And she actually came to get them back and then her mother said, no, they're going to stay with me. And I think there was kind of a wound in my grandmother's life. It's very sad, somehow. But to give away that child, I think maybe it has something to do with that. I've been thinking about it later, why I've been writing about it, because it's not the first time I write about it.
ROBERTSWell, thank you very much, Dakota.
ROBERTSAnd there's always two sides to that experience, right? It's the mother who gives up the child and it's the child who wonders about the mother. And that doesn't really emerge in your novel, but I've had a number of my writing students who have been adopted search for birth mothers and it's a very powerful impulse, very powerful.
LINDSTROMIt is, yeah. Because I also think that people when they think of mother they always think about love. It should be love because it's such a powerful thing. And when I started to talk with readers about my book, they started to say that Eva is so cold somehow. Because it seems to define a woman so much, how she is like a mother. And when she gives away that child, well, she must be a very cold person. But I think this is just one aspect of Eva's life. But it sure is a provoking one, when one reads on.
ROBERTSWe have an email from another listener on a similar subject. This is from Sarah, right here in Silver Spring, Md. She writes, "I'm very glad to learn of this book and hope that reading it will give me some insight into the silence of a friend's father who kept working or going to work for years after he fell silent. Also, into the feelings of a friend who gave up a child for adoption. The son of the silent father had no insights. I don't dare discuss the adoption with the mother." But it's there, isn't it?
LINDSTROMYes. Yes, it is. And it is very difficult to talk about, I think, for women. Because one always feels that to be a mother is it should always be so full of love. And mother's love is -- and when it's not there the mother love is not there. It's like a big taboo, at least in Norway, and I guess it's the same here.
ROBERTSLet me turn -- Lloyd, you there?
LLOYDYes, I'm here. How are you?
ROBERTSYou're on "The Diane Rehm Show," welcome. What's on your mind, friend?
LLOYDThank you. No, what struck me with the novelist wrote, is when I was a child in high school in Jamaica and we had (unintelligible) knowledge as a course in high school because it was a church school. And my minister said to me, prove that you're alive without the help of anyone else. And, of course, I couldn't. So what struck me with her is that the silence of this person not only says that they were not there, but it also says you are not there because you need that other person to verify your presence because you can't do it by yourself.
ROBERTSI'm afraid your phone is breaking up, Lloyd, but we really appreciate the call. Merethe?
LINDSTROMYes. It was a bit hard to hear what he said there, but…
ROBERTSHe was echoing your view about the silence makes you feel like you're not there, that wonderful line you read from your book.
LINDSTROMYeah, a lot of people quoted that and it seems to be like something you can think about and it has different aspects. And, of course, I think it is true. I think it is true that it feels like that. And, at least that was my experience with my father.
ROBERTSI’m Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have another email that bears on a similar theme, Merethe. And Martha writes to us, "It is my belief that silence is often used as a form of control. Could this be possible in this novel?"
LINDSTROMA form of control? Yes, definitely, because Eva is wondering if Simon is silent to punish her in some way. She does think about that. And it might also be true. I heard about…
ROBERTSPunish her for giving up the child?
LINDSTROMMaybe. Or at least not letting him speak about the things that he wants to speak about at a certain point, because he definitely wants to speak at one point. But at the same time, yes, I think we often use silence to somehow -- when we are angry or things like that. So silence is a way to also shut people out. I heard about a terrible thing, a way of bullying people that my son once told me that he had heard. There was some school kids who called up one not very popular kid and -- on the phone and first started to talk.
LINDSTROMAnd the kid was obviously very happy to get a phone, and then they just fell totally silent, didn't say anything more. And the kid would like desperately try to hold the conversation. And I thought that was such a terrible thing to do because it is the connection, it is the connection to other people, how we talk to each other. And it's like a bridge all the time, the way we are together and how we…
ROBERTSWe have another caller who has another view of silence. Cochan, if I have your name correctly, I hope so, in Fayetteville, N.C. Welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
COCHANHey, first of all, I'd like to say I found the real-life premise of the novel very interesting. My question is, is the father's silence almost a form of inspiring remembrance, similar to the fact of like, you know, in stadiums where we sit for a second, all stay silent and kind of think about what's happening. And it's almost like he's turning inward, but it's also turning outward in thought.
LINDSTROMYeah, because Eva, who is the voice in this story, we do not know really exactly what's Simon's thinking because Eva is the voice here. And she says something about Simon in old age, talking about the past. It was like he would pass through doors, like the past was in one room and the presence in another room. And he would pass through that, through the doors kind of. And so in some way you could say that he might have been thinking of the past so much that maybe he just stay in there some way. And that's what we often think about people with dementia because we think they kind of -- often they remember things from all times. And so that's one possibility.
ROBERTSYou know, I don't know if you're familiar with this, whether there's a similar tradition in Norway, but what Cochan was referring to was that sometimes there will be a moment of silence…
ROBERTS…in, say, in a stadium before a ballgame.
ROBERTSOr it's almost a prayer. There are, of course, also religious traditions where silence is essential to someone's prayer life. So there are positive uses of silence, too.
LINDSTROMYes. Yes, now I get it. And I think also that silence has become a word that we think of as very positive. And it's use in mindfulness and the meditation and all these things. And, of course, I do not mean that it's always wrong to be silent, and also, I think there are, as with secrets, we need to keep some secrets. I think it's a kind of way to survive. I don't think we should always tell everything. I don't mean that. And I think silence can be good also between a couple like Eva and Simon.
ROBERTSMy wife and I have often said that candor can be overrated in a relationship and that you can sometimes tell the health of a relationship by the number of teeth marks in your tongue, from biting it at certain moments. This has been a delightful conversation. Merethe Lindstrom, Norwegian author, now translated into English for the first time. And you can get a chance to read Merethe's new book, "Days In The History Of Silence." It's translated from the Norwegian by Ann Bruce.
ROBERTSAnd I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. She's away on vacation, will be back in mid-September. Thanks so much for spending an hour of your morning with us.
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