Gro Dahle’s latest book America is a collection of short stories, which are all interrelated and about the same three persons – the mother, the father and the young daughter who move from Norway to America. It’s about celebrating Christmas in US, feeling outlandish and strange, making new friends, and feeling homesick.
Norwegians Worldwide meets the author in Oslo, where she is working on her next book project Megzilla, a youth novel about being a self-centered teenager.
Facts and fiction
Gro Dahle moved to New Jersey with her parents at age five. Her father was an oil engineer working for Esso, and the move was due to his work. Dahle returned to the states with her daughter when she wrote the book to see what memories surfaced. Her own childhood experiences are the basis for the book, but she emphasizes that facts and events are exaggerated, altered or forged to create a good story. Much of the book is still taken from real life. As is her relationship with the school bus.
“The worst thing the States was the school bus and the school. Everything was strange and I didn’t understand the language. In Norway the kids started school at age seven, while in the States they were all in full swing with writing and reading as five year-olds. I could neither read nor write, and I had to learn to do it in a foreign language. I only mastered a few words. It was a tough experience for a five-year -old. “
Something else that was scary in the US was that we could not walk anywhere. “There were practical reasons why we couldn’t walk alongside the road, as long distances and the fact that the road were not made for pedestrians. But for me as a child this seemed so strange, and I became scared of whatever it was that was so dangerous that one could not walk by the road as we could back in Norway. “
Eventually, she felt more and more at home in the US, and the family remained for three years before they went home. After some time they returned to stay two more years. When she was 16 years old they were returning to Norway for good. By this time, she really wasn’t ready to go back to Norway.
“It is very exciting to move to a new place, you’ve been preparing for a long time and your whole body is ready. When you return after some time, it’s harder. You invest a lot of yourself in this place where you are living, you have friends, and the uprooting to go back can be tough. In addition, a lot have changed when you come home, including you. You are shaped by the experiences you’ve made when living abroad.
On the front page of the book America is a picture of a monkey from the book Animal’s life. In the book it is a symbol of something you forgot to take with you went, that therefore gain great value and is greatly missed. “When you move to a new place.. those things you forget to take with you suddenly seem very important, because you are far away. You get nostalgic. I remember that we went to the Norwegian Church in Brooklyn to eat waffles, and celebrate the constitution day. My mother baked the way we do in Norway, and Norwegian brown cheese suddenly tastes really good”.
America, the land of hope
Dahle’s father had a dream about America, he thought that everything was better there, it was the best country in the world, it was magical, a kind of paradise. Dahle believes that it is often the resourceful that takes the chance to move abroad. Not only in financial resources, but also personal. “You need commitment and courage to break out of your habitual existence. Dad got a lot out of our stay in the United States. I am unsure if my mum got so much out of it, she was probably relieved to get home. Over there she had no job, she was there because of my dad. She never got her own life over there. I think it’s even tougher now if you are following your husband abroad, because now there are greater expectations to a woman’s career. On the other hand, today it is considerably easier to prepare for a stay abroad. The Internet has changed the world completely.
The American dream is still alive; right at the top on Dahles wish list for the future is actually a six-month long road trip across the United States. “I still believe many people have a dream of the United States, and nothing can compare with a dream.”
Gro Dahle (f.1962) have written books in many genres and won numerous literary awards. Among them are Brageprisen, Aschehougprisen, Critics Award, and last in 2015 The Norwegian national poetry award; Vindtorn Price, for her contribution to Norwegian poetry. Her children’s books are often illustrated by her husband Svein Nyhus, or daughter, Kaja Dahle Nyhus. Her books are translated into several languages.
Her book America can be bought at www.cappelendamm.no