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Reviewed by:
  • Culture and Customs of Norway
  • Gerald M. Haslam
Margaret Hayford O'Leary . Culture and Customs of Norway. ABC-CLIO Culture and Customs of Europe Series. Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood, 2010. pp. 227 + Glossary and Index.

O'Leary begins with a helpful chronology from the Viking Age to the present (2009). Chapters on "People and Politics," "History," "Religion and Thought," "Marriage and Gender," "Holidays," "Cuisine and Fashion," "Language and Literature," "Media and Cinema," "Performing Arts," and "Art and Architecture" follow. Helpful maps and illustrations accompany the narrative throughout.

The chapter on politics, pointedly, discusses the minorities Sámi, Kvens, Forest Finns, Romani, Roma, Jews, and immigrants. Surprisingly, "11.4 percent of the population of Norway was of immigrant background" in 2010, "552,000 people in all, from more then 200 countries." Of these, 459,000 [End Page 284] were "first-generation immigrants." The history chapter does an excellent job of tracing internal Viking expansion in Norway. "The Oil Age" informs us that fully a third of all Norwegian exports are related to the petroleum industry, which further accounts for one-eighth of the Norwegian gdp. Norway in 2008 "was the fifth largest exporter of oil and gas products in [the] world, behind Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran," and the "third largest exporter ... behind Russia and Canada" of natural gas. The expository "Pantheon of Gods" from Norse mythology is particularly astute in the chapter on religion, including treatment of the white god, Heimdall, who "lived at the rainbow bridge, Bifrost," "served as the watchman for the gods," and blew the "Gjallarhorn" to alert the heavens to the commencement of the Ragnarök finale. Pietism, in the 1700s and early 1800s, usually given short shrift or entirely ignored by historians, is fleshed out through short biographies of, among others, Hans Nielsen Hauge and Gisle Johnson. And we get a discussion, in the Norwegian context, of Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism—approximately 93,000 Muslims, 12,000 Buddhists and 5200 Hindus resided in Norway in 2009.

The chapter on marriage examines the groundbreaking "gender-neutral marriage law" of 1 January 2009 which granted wide-ranging legal protections to gays, lesbians, and partners in "samboer" [cohabitational] relationships although homosexual couples as of 2010 were "still unable to marry in the Church of Norway." But "other churches or philosophical societies have the right to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, if they so choose." O'Leary's excellent essay on the language controversy notes, cogently, that "about 25 percent of newspapers in Norway are published in Nynorsk, and about 10 percent are written in both Bokmåxl and Nynorsk." And a third of the Lutheran parishes ("serving about 1.3 million Norwegians") have adopted a Nynorsk liturgy. In addition to sections on Norwegian literature through the centuries, the discussion of the contributions of Asbjørnsen and Moe regales readers with a learned exegesis of Kjerringa mot strómmen [The Old Woman Against the Current] in which O'Leary highlights "the issue of spousal abuse" along with the woman's "courage to go against the patriarchy." Obligatory sections on Ibsen, Björnson, Lie, Kielland, and Hamsun reveal little that has not been chewed on ad naseum. But exposition of Amalie Skram's Constance Ring (1885) with its "explicit sexuality" and At St. Jörgen (1895; Under Observation [1992]) which exposed "the cruel treatment of the mentally ill" "based on her [Skram's] personal experience as a mental patient," brings new insights. Somewhat unique is an English-language treatment of "literature for children and young people" including "the golden age of Norwegian children's literature" from 1890-1914, which saw the publication of Illustreret tidende for børn [End Page 285] (1885-1892; Illustrated Journal for Children). And the reader is informed about the writing of several children's authors, such as activist Anne-Cath. Vestly (1920-2008), the first Norwegian "to write about urban children solving problems themselves, alternative families, and where babies come from." Vestly, in 1954, "created a scandal ... when she told children on the radio about a mother with a baby in her tummy, ... [the] first pregnant woman in Norwegian children's literature!" There is also a survey...


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