Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Orange Girl

This is the newest book (translated into English) by Jostein Gaarder. Some years ago I read Sophie's World and became intrigued by Gaarder. Every one of his books is an intellectual fun house. Things keep jumping out at you, or are distorted by wavy mirrors, or move in slow motion under strobe lights.

I have since read all of his books that have been translated into English. Some I like very much, and others I don't care for at all, but I am never bored reading a Jostein Gaarder title. Few modern authors are as blatantly didactic as Gaarder. He has a message to share and his stories are crafted to lead us through the intellectual maze so that we will turn a corner and there! There is just the surprise he wanted to see!

He's very, very good at stories within stories (The Christmas Mystery is one of the best), and The Orange Girl is one of those types. There are two different but connected stories in the book, as a teenage boy reads a letter written to him by his father who died many years before. There are a few typical Gaarder themes--the oranges, the cosmos, death, and just a tiny glimpse of Norwegian life. Gaarder has written this book, like many of his others, to be accessible to young people. I think he suspects adults of being too dull to open their minds and share the wonder and fascination Gaarder has for life.

As much as I like Gaarder, a little goes a long way. I couldn't read one of his books after the other, and in fact, I don't think I have reread any of his books except for The Christmas Mystery. I'll have to do that sometime, but not all at once! Gaarder is not a Christian, and his answers to questions are not the same as the answers I would give. But I love his questions. I don't know anyone who asks questions the way he does, and frankly, I continue to be amazed that anyone could ask the kinds of questions he asks and yet remain an unbeliever. (He knows the Bible very well.)

For me this has always been a magical world, I've thought so ever since I was quite young....I still have the feeling I've seen something that no one else has seen. It's hard to describe this sensation in simple words, but imagine the world before all this modern fuss about natural laws, evolutionary theory, atoms, DNA molecules, biochemistry and nerve cells--before it began to spin in fact, before it was reduced to being a 'planet' in space, and before the proud human body was divided up into heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, brain, blood system, muscles, stomach and intestines. I'm talking about the time when a human being was a human being, a complete and proud human being, no more and no less. Then the world was just one sparkling fairy tale.

That's the premise of this book--that life is a wonderful fairy tale and it is thrilling to be a part of it. And yet it must end in death. Gaarder wants his readers to realize how magical and wonderful the fairy tale is so that they will appreciate it while it lasts.

I appreciate his message, but can't help following up with a Biblical response: The best is yet to be.


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