Talking with Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri

Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri is Norwegian-Canadian translator and writer. She had her first story published in English in 2013 and has since chosen that as her writing language. You find more of her writing on twitter and on her website

Hege's essay “My Tiny Country" will appear in the Summer 2019 issue of Carve. Preorder to reserve your copy or subscribe at a discount by June 30.

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In your essay, you explore the experience of returning to your parents’ home in Norway at the exact moment that news of the 22 July attack broke. Because it has been eight years since the attack, how did you approach retelling the events of this story?

Writing this essay was a very slow process. Though the week I describe in this essay was etched into my memory, I had to go back and check the emails I sent and read the newspapers from that month to validate the accuracy of what I thought I remembered. (Good thing I never clean out my inbox.)

In 2011, I had barely started writing creatively again after a 20-year hiatus, and I only imagined myself writing fiction. I took my first course in creative nonfiction with Ayelet Tsabari in 2013, but I kept struggling with a too academic writing style in nonfiction (I'm a recovering sociologist). The first drafts were pretty awful. But I kept returning to this piece, and the first submission of it got longlisted in a contest in late 2017. I still wasn't completely satisfied with it and did deep edit in 2018.

One thing that really stands out in this story is the feeling of Norway and the shock of terrorism by those who live there. Sadly, when mass shootings are accounted for, this has become an all-too-familiar experience in the United States. Did writing this story help you better connect to the home you left (since you now live in Canada), or did you find an experience in the writing that you were not expecting?

Writing this piece was an opportunity to once more work through the emotional minefield of my connection and "disconnection" with my native country. I believe most immigrants negotiate the sense of belonging and non-belonging constantly, and I'm don't believe here is ever "closure" as such. But writing helps untangle the different threads in the web of relationships: with my family of origin, with the language and literature, with a certain way of seeing the world. My husband, who is Italian, was surprised by how tangled these relationships are for me. His own relationship with Italy is rather uncomplicated, so you might say that writing this essay helped our marriage.

Since we are always looking to share the names of writers that our readers may not be familiar with, can you share with our readers a few Norwegian writers that you love, or other international writers that you have enjoyed over the last few years?

Linn Ullman's De urolige (Unquiet) was one of my best reads of 2017 and I've kept telling everyone to read it. Now it's finally out in English and I have no intention of stopping. It's an autobiographical novel and deals particularly with the relationship with her father, Ingmar Bergman, in the last years of his life. It's beautifully written, and manages the balance of feeling intimate but not at all exploitative.

Roy Jacobsen's trilogy about a family on an island in the Norwegian North through the first half of the 20th century (a little south of where I come from) is written in stunning northern dialect in Norwegian, which is rendered masterfully in English by translators Don Bartlett and Don Shaw. Only the first volume The Unseen has been translated so far.

Since Pete Buttigieg has already made Erlend Loe's books a google item, I'll skip him and instead suggest a writer who died last year and who was fundamental for my feminist awakening. Bjørg Vik's short stories are still an inspiration in my writing. Two of her collections are available in English.