People often ask me if it was weird to grow up in Manhattan, to take the subway to school, to trade in backyards and bicycles for sidewalks and Razor scooters. It wasn’t weird. It was the only thing I knew—growing up in New York felt like the only way anyone could grow up. I couldn’t imagine driving to the grocery store, or driving anywhere for that matter—I still don’t know how to drive. Or ride a bike. I considered myself a city girl, through and through.
Until, that is, I left the city for the least-city-like place on earth: the Norwegian Arctic. I’d received a poetry fellowship from my university, and when I graduated I was able to spend a year, writing poems, anywhere. The fellowship committee warned me: don’t spend your year in New York. You’ll waste your time, your money, your energy. I wanted to go somewhere rare, somewhere gorgeous, somewhere I’d never been before. I wanted to work hard, and to spend the year writing—not socializing, or studying, or any of the things I’d done throughout the eighteen years of school that I’d just completed.
I decided to go North. I’d spent two summers in Ireland studying Irish literature, and loved the feeling of being high up on the planet. I loved the mist, the gray weather that parted to reveal bright light, the sheep, the stone walls, the Celtic and Viking histories, the ancient language. I thought I would find more of that richness if I ventured further in that direction. So I picked Scandinavia, and let chance take it from there.
A professor of mine had been on vacation in Norway, and on a mountaintop he’d met an elderly couple. The couple had a son who had an uncle who lived in the Arctic. My professor suggested I get in touch with the family. And soon after graduation, I found myself at the family’s summer cabin: on a rock, in a fjord, off the southeastern coast of Norway, a few hours south of Oslo. From there, I traced the length of the country upward until I reached what seemed to be the end of the earth: the arctic Lofoten Islands.
I’d found somewhere rare, somewhere gorgeous. My destination had kept up its side of the bargain, so it was time for me to keep mine: I buckled down and wrote as much as I could. I wrote many poems—a collection called Lofoten that was eventually published in a bilingual English-Norwegian edition—but also the first draft of what became The Sunlit Night, my debut novel, a book I am immensely excited and proud to release this summer.
It took a long journey to teach me that a city girl can also be a mountain girl, can also be a fjord girl, a farm girl, an all-over-the-place kind of person. When I returned to New York, after almost three years in Norway (I found it difficult to leave), I was delighted to reunite with pizza slices and poppy seed bagels. But I missed Norwegian brown cheese, and the sight of wildflowers out my window. I’d been augmented by that new landscape—I had learned to love even more of the world. New York is no longer the only place I feel comfortable. I will feel at home, and not too lonely, anywhere the earth is vibrant enough to keep me company. And anywhere I feel at home, I will write.
by Rebecca Dinerstein
Shortly after her college graduation, Frances flees a painful breakup and her claustrophobic childhood home in Manhattan, which has become more airless in the aftermath of two family announcements: her parents’ divorce and her younger sister’s engagement.
She seeks refuge at a Norwegian artist colony that’s offered her a painting apprenticeship. Unfortunately, she finds only one artist living there: Alf, an enigmatic middle-aged descendant of the Sami reindeer hunters who specialises in the colour yellow…
Yasha, an eighteen-year-old Russian immigrant raised in a bakery in Brighton Beach, is kneading bread in the shop’s window when he sees his mother for the first time in a decade. As he gains a selfish and unreliable parent, he loses his beloved father. He must carry out his father’s last wish to be buried ‘at the top of the world’ and reconcile with the charismatic woman who abandoned them both…And so Frances’s and Yasha’s paths intersect in Lofoten, a string of five islands ninety-five miles above the Arctic Circle.
Their unlikely connection and growing romance fortifies them against the turmoil of their distant homes, and teaches them that to be alone is not always to be lonely, and that love and independence are not mutually exclusive.