Michael, Ib

Michael, Ib
   A Danish novelist, poet, and dramatist, Michael is one of Denmark's best-known writers of the late 20th century. While studying Central American indigenous languages and culture at the University of Copenhagen, he traveled extensively among the Mayans, and his first two novels were strongly informed by those experiences. En hidtil uset drøm om skibe (1970; A Previously Unseen Dream of Ships) and Den flyvende kalkundræber (1971; The Flying Turkey Hunter) are both highly experimental and challenging texts that violate most of the conventions of traditional linear narrative.
   After taking his degree in 1972, Michael embarked on a career as a writer of literary texts without giving up his connection with the world of Maya scholarship. He translated the Popol Vuh, the Mayan sacred texts of myths and history, into Danish (1975) and wrote a travelogue, Mayalandet (1973; The Land of the Maya), in which he argues that European-style ethnography is in reality an imperialist tool. His novel Hjortefod (1974; Stag's Hoof) recounts Mexican history with an emphasis on the abuses ofthe European colonialists.
   In his books about Central America, Michael is powerfully inspired by the area's mythology. He relies on myth in his novel Rejsen tilbage (1977; The Journey Back), in which he created the myth of the immortal soldier, a figure related to the Wandering Jew. The immortal soldier has been cursed by a Native American medicine man, who has deprived him of the ability to die and to learn from his experiences; the curse is essentially that of a permanent stasis. The same mythic figure returns in Keiserfortællingen (1981; The Emperor's Tale), a nonlinear narrative that covers thousands of years and takes place in a variety of locales. In the novel Kilroy, Kilroy (1989), it is stated that the immortal soldier was created at the time of the Big Bang and consequently is as old as the universe.
   The novel Troubadurens lærling (1984; The Minstrel's Apprentice) is set in Europe during the time of the plagues of the 14th century. Its protagonist is a wandering minstrel who experiences the contrast between the elite culture ofthe church and the lower cultural forms of the people. This mixture of high and low is one of the defining characteristics of postmodern fiction, of which Troubadurens lærling is a good example. During the 1980s Michael also produced two collections of poetry. The first, Himmelbegravelse: Digte fra Tibet (1986; Sky Burial: Poems from Tibet) is the result of several visits to Tibet and shows a great deal of sympathy with Tibetan culture. The second, Vinden i metroen (1990; The Wind in the Metro), is the result of Michael's encounter with Rome.
   In the first half of the 1990s Michael wrote a trilogy that is largely about family relationships, and in which he confronts some of his own childhood memories. Consisting of the volumes Vanillepigen (1991; The Vanilla Girl), Den tolvte rytter (1993; The Twelfth Knight), and Brev til manen (1995; Letter to the Moon), the trilogy is recognized as a significant artistic achievement.
   Most of Michael's works depart from the conventions of realist fiction. The novel Prins (1997; tr. Prince, 1999) goes further than most of the others, however, in that its narrator is a ghost. Atkinsons biograf: En vandrehistorie (1998; Atkinson's Biographer: A Traveling Story) contains nine short stories that have many of the characters in common. Michael had long been interested in the magic realism of Latin American literature, and Kejserens atlas (2001; The Emperor's Atlas), drawing on a Japanese legend, may well be regarded as a magic realist text. The story takes place on three different temporal levels—past, present, and future—but the levels are interconnected and events on one level depend for their resolution on what happens on the other two. Paven af Indien (2003; The Pope of India) makes extensive use of the Inca Chronicle, written by Guaman Pomas in 1610 and addressed to the king of Spain for the purpose of bringing about reforms in Spanish colonial rule in the Andean region. Michael's novel tells the story of both the manuscript itself and its historical background. Michael appears to have made a turn in the direction of traditional realist narrative in his novel Grill (2005), in which he criticizes Denmark's involvement in the war in Iraq.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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