Nils-Johan Jørgensen is a master teller of folk tales for children which draw on myth and legend from cultures around the world. His first collection; North of the North Wind included four stories based on Nordic fairy tales, set in curious dreamscapes. His second, East of the East Wind, incorporate oriental themes and lore to create beguiling modern-day fables. West of the West Wind continues the series in the same tradition, featuring three beautifully illustrated stories; The Library, Wolves and the Silence of the Sail. This time, our heroes face adversarial situations and malevolent foes which challenge every bit of their strength and courage. Dark and foreboding, these stories will appeal to older children’s love of the bizarre and sinister.
For me Norway and nature are synonymous, situated at the edge of things. This mystical place conjures up frozen wastes, surrealness and a certain mournfulness that is at once as pleasing as it is anguishing. Michael Avery’s art work which accompanies each story complements this feeling and is wonderfully rendered. The pencil drawings show the contrast of nature and humans vividly.
Former diplomat Nils-Johan Jørgensen has successfully managed to combine these traits into his latest collection of stories in a way that will appeal to both adults and children. With its focus on the human ideals and the misdirection that life constantly throws at us.
The first story is set in World War II, following a boy attempting to stop books being burned and focusses on the themes of confusion, fear, censorship and loss but also exudes a love of words and thoughts upon the legacy of humanity. A constant running throughout the book is that circumstances are not always as they appear to be, preconceptions are usually proved wrong in a gentle way, reminding us of the flaws of preconception in our minds and lives.
The second story, again set during World War II follows the attempts of three children to survive in the mountains and avoid the attention of the advancing german army. A strong sense of nature is rife here backed up by heroics, compassion and sadness. For a short story, I felt this one writhed about adding many pleasing twists and an ending which will stay with me for a while yet.
The last story has a change of time, being set in the middle of the 19th century and tells a tale of Thomas who wishes to be free from a life of just surviving, to start again over in the New World. It’s hard to pick a favourite story, at this moment in time though this is the one for me (opinions subject to change on an hourly basis). The tale of the family, the trials and tribulations the sacrifices and ultimately the conclusion all amalgamate to make a powerful and bittersweet experience…
The meaning in this life is to create meaning. That’s all we can do. It’s not easy.
Lots of themes run through this book whether it be the loss of innocence that can’t fail to affect the reader, or the message of courage and compassion, you will take from this all the good things that one takes from any adversarial situation. With hardship can come better days – times of change not just in growing up and losing one’s naïveté but of wider developments in the world. It is tempting to demolish the whole book in one sitting but to do so is a mistake it should be truly savoured for as long as possible.
I was fortunate to be sent a copy for review by Book Guild Publishing and on looking at the prices, although the paperback seems a tad pricey (in my opinion) at £8.99 for 64 pages in reality for the quality of the prose and art it is not. The book did leave me feeling thoughtful and thoroughly satisfied, which is the very essence of a good book. It is one for all ages and I know my copy will be read through many times, the simple act of reading is never more joyous when a book makes you feel like this one does.
If anybody else would like a book reviewing…please use the Contact Ste! page above to get in touch but please bear with me as I am inundated with books at the moment which I working my way through as productively as sanity allows.