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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Danish Writer Naja Marie Aidt on American English, Growing up in Greenland, and Sentimentality

Posted By on Tue, Sep 23, 2014 at 10:00 AM

click to enlarge aidt_baboon.jpg
Reached by phone in Minneapolis, where she was about to eat a bowl of soup, Naja Marie Aidt, one of Scandinavia's leading authors, said she’s enjoying her book tour for Baboon, a collection of short stories – and her first book published in English. For this book, Aidt worked with Baboon’s translator: poet Denise Newman, who teaches at the California College of the Arts.

“I’m grateful that Denise wanted to involve me in the process,” she said. “For years we’ve worked to transform the stories into English in a way that felt natural and kept the tone. For example, in Scandinavian it’s very common to have short sentences one after the other. But in English it looks weird. So we had to find a new rhythm for the stories.”

Aidt says that spending her first eight years in Greenland, before moving to Copenhagen, influenced her writing.

“I grew up with all the fairy tales,” she said. “There’s a strong oral storytelling tradition, and it’s a rough and harsh place. Then going to Copenhagen was like home to me with my grandparents there. I think the landscape and life of a place shapes you somehow. We have these long, dark winters and light, beautiful summers.”

For the last six years, Aidt has lived in Brooklyn. With four kids, she hadn’t gotten to travel much, and now that they’re older it seemed like a good opportunity. Her husband is a cineamatographer, working on shows such as House of Cards, and he was spending lots of time in the states. So she decided to move as well.

Aidt, who says she's primarily a poet, has published nearly 20 books. Baboon, which was published by Two Lines Press in San Francisco, received the Nordic Council Literary Prize in 2008, as well as the Danish Critics' Prize in 2006. In another one of her books, Time, Radhika Jones called the stories “painfully universal,” comparing them with those by James Joyce, Anton Chekhov and Jhumpa Lahiri. Other critics have mentioned the sense of unease the stories create, their passion, and their lack of sentimentality. Aidt calls sentimentality a cheap trick.

“It’s trying to force the reader to react in a certain way instead of doing psychological realism,” she said. “[Writer] Lydia Davis is never sentimental, for example, but she can be very warm. I like that her writing is crisp.”

click to enlarge Naja Marie Aidt - COURTESY OF TWO LINES PRESS
  • Courtesy of Two Lines Press
  • Naja Marie Aidt
Aidt looks forward to coming to San Francisco where she says the thick grey sky reminds her of home. And she wants to see how Americans will react to her stories.

“For a Danish reader, it’s very local,” she said. “But for an American reader, they’re not connected to this place in a concrete way, so I’m curious how they will read it.”

Naja Marie Aidt will read from and discuss Baboon at Diesel Books in Oakland on Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m., and at the Booksmith in San Francisco on Thursday, Sept. 25 at 7:30 p.m.
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