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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



The Conqueror

by
Jan Kjærstad


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Conqueror



Title: The Conqueror
Author: Jan Kjærstad
Genre: Novel
Written: 1996 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 458 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: The Conqueror - US
The Conqueror - UK
The Conqueror - UK
Der Eroberer - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: Erobreren
  • Translated by Barbara J. Haveland
  • Volume II of the Wergeland-trilogy

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Our Assessment:

A- : begins as more of the same, but turns darker and deeper

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Aftenposten . 1/8/1996 Terje Stemland
FAZ D- 8/8/2002 Eberhard Rathgeb
NZZ . 18/2/2006 Anna Katharina Dömling
Die Zeit . (32/2002) Hans-Peter Kunisch


  From the Reviews:
  • "Wir sitzen unterdessen mit verschršnkten Armen da. Wir dösen nicht, aber wir sehen tatenlos zu, wie die norwegische Literatur in Geschwätz und Geschwafel untergeht. Was sollten wir anderes tun ? Wenn wir nicht mit verschränkten Armen dasitzen würden, dann hätten wir uns spätestens auf Seite 22 nicht mehr im Griff gehabt und das Buch zugeklappt." - Eberhard Rathgeb, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Wenige Beispiele gibt es in der skandinavischen Gegenwartsliteratur dafür, dass es einem Autor dermassen glücklich gelingt, theoretische Prämissen des Postmodernismus mit einer überschäumenden Lust am Erzählen in einem Romanprojekt zu vereinen. Die 'Wergeland-Trilogie' ist ebenso intellektuell komponiert wie vergnüglich zu lesen und nimmt den Leser auch im letzten Teil gefangen. Hier wird nicht einfach eine Synthese der beiden vorangegangenen Bände versucht, sondern es werden nochmals neue Spuren in Wergelands Biografie verfolgt, die sich mit den vorigen kreuzen und neue Muster ergeben, die zwar manche alten Fragen beantworten, aber auch wieder neue stellen." - Anna Katharina Dömling, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Eine seltsame Sache, dieser Roman. (...) Und trotzdem weiß man, das ist eines der interessantesten Bücher, die man in der letzten Zeit gelesen hat. (...) Er ist so interessant, weil er, trotz seines Zeitgeistthemas, so gewöhnlich scheint." - Hans-Peter Kunisch, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Erobreren continues the story of Jonas Wergeland, but also recapitulates it. As in The Seducer most of the focus is on what made the man, and again episodes from Jonas' life before he came home to find his wife murdered are recounted.
       Erobreren is presented as a different biography of Wergeland, the work of a different writer. Eventually, the anonymous biographer who wrote The Seducer is identified, the impact of that book described. Now it is the turn of the Professor (though he's hardly ever called that), also trying to come to grips with the personality and subject matter that is Jonas Wergeland. The situation has changed: the popular TV star has been tried and jailed for the murder of his wife, he is no longer the legendary, much-loved figure, but one the public is far less certain of. The Professor only gets so far with his overwhelming undertaking, but then is offered a fill of stories by a mysterious visitor, who seems to know the most intimate details from Wergeland's life.
       Are the stories true ? The Professor has his doubts (how can she know this ? he wonders), but too good to pass up. The oft-repeated question in the text is: is it possible to change a life by telling it ? And this, and the previous book, are exercises in writing and retelling Wergeland's life, shifting perspectives and focus, showing different sides of him.
       The episodes in Erobreren are often darker than in The Seducer: ugly sexual violations, some violence, cruel pranks, betrayals. Some help explain some of Wergeland's actions in The Seducer, and a more complex picture of the man emerges. Details are learnt: the origins of the murder-weapon, for example, the Luger. Where the first (pseudo-)biography focussed on the seductive, life-affirming aspects of his life, of what made him able to seduce a nation, Erobreren explains how Wergeland became a conqueror -- and the costs that came with it, for him and others.
       While The Seducer returned, again and again, to the moments when Wergeland returned home to find his wife, Margrete Boeck, murdered, but remained focussed only on those moments, as in slow motion, Erobreren reveals what happens after. Interspersed between the episodes looking back (and the Professor describing his own efforts at writing this book) are brief flashes of what happened: Wergeland becomes a suspect, his trial, Wergeland in jail.
       The turn of events is surprising, and part of the Professor's dilemma is trying to explain them. In particular, Wergeland's behaviour at the trial is mystifying. He basically refuses to defend himself, and when he finally does have something to say it comes as quite a stunning surprise. Clearly, we still don't entirely know who this man is (though at least Wergeland's actions in this regard are eventually explained).
       Some stories have to be told several times over, the Professor observes, and Wergeland's clearly is one of them. In Erobreren Kjaerstad effectively retells Wergeland's story and re-presents the man. By also moving the story forward, it is also more than a mere second biography.
       After a somewhat slow start, in which the book seems to offer just more of the same from the previous volume, Erobreren goes its own, darker way. With more mystery and open questions (from the identity of the woman with all the Wergeland-tales to why Wergeland's wife was murdered), Erobreren eventually also becomes more gripping and rewarding than The Seducer.
       Certainly worthwhile.

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Links:

The Conqueror: Reviews: Jan Kjaerstad: Other books by Jan Kjaerstad under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Jan Kjærstad was born in 1953.

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© 2005-2009 the complete review

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