Wednesday 12 July 2023

CBR15 Post 27: "De kaller meg ulven" (They Call Me the Wolf) by Zeshan Shakar

Page count: 240 pages
Rating: 2 stars

#CBR15 Passport Challenge: Books from different countries (Norway)
CBR15 Bingo: You are Here (It's set in Norway, where I am)

15-word-review: A son constantly yearning for more social mobility tries to understand his elderly father, unsuccessfully.

Official book description (translated from Norwegian by me):
"Why didn't they have more? I remember thinking after my grandmother died. They were from here, Norwegian, shouldn't they have had more things? Those things other Norwegian parents and grandparents have, at least a simple cabin, the kind without power or water, somewhere no one else wanted a cabin, in the middle of the woods? But no, nothing. I asked my mother once why it was like that. - It was just the way things turned out, she replied."

They Call Me the Wolf is a story about growing up with the knowledge that not everyone is dealt as fair a hand as others. The parents of the protagonists have worked their entire lives, so hard that their health has suffered. Nevertheless, they don't have a lot to show for it. There is nothing to inherit except memories and some family stories, from his father's early life in Pakistan, his mother's life in Finnmark in the north of Norway, and from their life together in Oslo.

Now that home has been dissolved, the father wants to leave Norway to grow old in Pakistan, leaving behind the protagonist, with his unquenchable hunger to own and acquire that which everyone else has more of. 

Back in 2017, Zeshan Shakar became a publishing phenomenon in Norway with his debut novel, Tante Ulrikkes vei. It has gone on to sell over a million copies, which is impressive when you consider that Norway only has a population of about 5.7 million people. This is Shakar's third novel and I think that each new book he writes is less interesting than the last. His previous novel, Gul bok (yellow book) was underwhelming and I didn't really think there was any real character development or progression in it. This book basically just has a protagonist who is always dissatisfied with his life, constantly wishing for a bigger and better house, all the while bemoaning any real closeness to either of his parents, despite the fact that they have had no meaningful contact since the protagonist grew up and left the home he seems mostly ashamed of.

While our protagonist clearly has a big house, a successful job, and a picture-perfect family, he keeps striving for more. He's also unhappy about the fact that his father, elderly and rather alone, having been evicted from his council estate flat because the city council is planning to upgrade his building, would rather move back home to Pakistan than let his son buy him somewhere to live in Norway. The son is frustrated because his father doesn't really seem interested in packing his remaining belongings to have them shipped to Pakistan, and keeps reminiscing about events in his childhood and adolescence that shows his disconnect both with his two very different parents, and his sense of alienation with the people he grew up with. 

As seems to be the case with me a bit too often when I read contemporary Norwegian literature, I kept reading in the hopes of finding out what the book reviewers had found so impressive, because like Shakar's other novels, this book was fairly universally well-reviewed. I suspect this may be because there are so few authors with a multicultural and immigrant background writing in our country today, so anything written about the multicultural experience must therefore be encouraged and lauded, so it doesn't become obvious just how narrow-minded and secretly prejudiced a lot of middle-class Norwegians really are. I really don't this that if this book was about a white, middle-class Norwegian dude with divorced parents who just couldn't seem to talk properly to his dad, written by a white, middle-class Norwegian dude - so many people would be raving about it. Then again, maybe it's just me who's a bit racist? I'm willing to live with that if it allows me to say that this book felt like a waste of my time. 

Judging a book by its cover: With this cover, the publisher has moved away from the design choices of the past two books, where they had a single-coloured background with some simple line drawings, choosing instead to just use the same ugly living-room decor from the early 80s twice on the cover instead. Not a fan. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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