Gaarder, Jostein

Gaarder, Jostein
   A Norwegian novelist and short story writer, Gaarder is known primarily for his novel Sofies verden (1991; tr. Sophie's World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy, 1994), which was the world's best-selling work of fiction in 1995, but he has produced many other books that straddle the boundary between literature for young adults and adults. Educated in philosophy, the history of ideas, and Scandinavian literature, he had, with several collaborators, published several titles in the areas of religion and ethics by the time he produced his first work of fiction, Diagnosen, og andre noveller (1986; The Diagnosis and Other Stories), which continues his work on ethics and religion. Two children's books followed, Barna fra Sukhavati (1987; The Children of Sukhavati) and Froskeslottet (1988; tr. The Frog Castle, 1999).
   Gaarder's first adult novel, Kabalmysteriet (1990; tr. The Solitaire Mystery: Å Novel about Family and Destiny, 1996), features an inquisitive child named Hans Thomas who travels through Europe with his father in search of his mother. The journey is one of education both outwardly and inwardly, for Hans Thomas learns to know both himself and the world of history and intellect. The relationship between him and his father is a Socratic one, but the boy increasingly takes responsibility for his own education.
   Sofies verden is structurally similar to Kabalmysteriet but has two pairs of learners and mentors. The reader is first introduced to Sofie Amundsen, a teenager who is receiving notes about the history of philosophy from a mysterious figure who calls himself Alberto Knox. After they meet, their relationship continues as a Socratic dialogue. But each of the two has a double, a Norwegian United Nations observer named Albert Knag and his daughter Hilde. The book soon takes a postmodern turn, however, as the reader learns that Sofie and Alberto Knox are nothing but characters in a novel about the history of philosophy that Hilde is reading. Hilde thus becomes the reader's double as well, and the reader turns out to be the real recipient of the information that is transmitted in the book.
   One of the main themes in Sofies verden is the healthy curiosity of children, which returns in Gaarder's next book, Julemysteriet (1992; tr. The Christmas Mystery, 1996). It has a frame story in which a boy named Joakim opens the windows of his Advent calendar and is drawn into an adventure that takes place in Palestine in 1948. There are also strong spiritual overtones in I et speil, i en gate (1993; tr. Through a Glass, Darkly, 1998), and didactic history lessons resurface in Bibbi Bokkens magiske bibliotek (1993; Bibbi Bokken's Magical Library). The necessity of questioning life returns as the theme of Hallo? Er det noen her? (1996; tr. Hello? Is Anybody There?, 1997), while Vita Brevis: Floria Aemilias brev til Aurel Augustin (1996; tr. Vita Brevis: A Letter to Saint Augustine, 1997) is a meditation on the church's attitude toward women in late antiquity.
   The novel Maya (1999; tr. 2000) combines Gaarder's concern with ethics with an inquiry into the nature of science. Sirkusdirektørens datter (2001; tr. The Ringmaster's Daughter, 2002) tells the story of the separation of a father and his daughter; only as she dies does he discover her identity. Appelsinpiken (2003; tr. TheOrangeGirl, 2004) is another juvenile novel about the separation of parent and child.
   See also Children's books.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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