A Line in the World

A Line in the World coverA Line in the World: A Year on the North Sea Coast
Dorthe Nors
translated by Caroline Waight
Graywolf Press (November 1, 2022), 184 pages
Kindle edition $9.99, Amazon paperback $15.99

Dorthe Nors is apparently a highly regarded author in Denmark. I’m glad that translator Caroline Waight has made this memoir for available to English-speaking readers. Nors writes she was planning to work on her next novel when her publisher asked her to write a travel book about the coast of the North Sea. The result is A Line in the World.

Nors covers a lot of territory in this book. She writes about her childhood home and how the government evicted her family because the site of their home was planned as an exit on a new expressway that was being built. (I can’t help but think of the earth being destroyed to make way for a new galactic superhighway in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.) She then turns to history and discusses the Viking invasion of England, but from a Danish rather than a British or American perspective.

The author describes her family’s summer cabin where she goes to write. It has no electricity and no running water, but it is, she says, a good place for her to be productive. Nors also describes how the cabin is located across the bay from a former chemical plant. That plant was responsible for a lot of pollution, as bad as the pollution from some plants in the United States. That surprised me, given my preconceptions about Scandinavia. On a completely different note, Nors writes about a day trip she took with a friend to look at frescoes in rural churches so her friend could draw them in her sketchbook.

Nors devotes one section to the past of a remote community where the men were often away at sea. When, as sometimes happens, a man didn’t return, Nors explains the women banded together to take care of the one who lost her husband. Over time they developed a sort of uniform whose configuration depicted a given woman’s status: married or unmarried. She writes the longtime locals do not like city folk replicating those uniforms at a present-day annual festival.

Nors segues from a discussion of how birds navigate to a reflection on her experience of a private retreat at the edge of the Wadden Sea. She comments on how one brings all of oneself to a retreat, demons included, despite one’s best intentions.

I have no way of knowing, of course, how Waight’s English compares with Nors’s Danish, but the English flows beautifully. The spelling in A Line in the World is British as are the idioms, but that is not a distraction. In fact, it seems appropriate given the relative proximity of the British Isles to Denmark.

For a readable memoir or travelogue, one could do worse than A Line in the World.



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