Sixteen trees of Somme.
Sixteen trees of Somme, a coming of age story set in remote Norway with a mystery intertwined through three generations of a family. Edvard, the protagonist, lost his parents under mysterious circumstances in France when he was a young boy. He grew up with his loving but reserved and reticent grandfather, and due to the nation which he fought for in the second world war, Edvard suffered continuous judgement and prejudice from the villagers throughout his childhood. In this storyline, Lars Mytting wrote a novel which revolves around a likeable and wholesome character, while still maintaining significant reference to modern society. I enjoyed this novel primarily because I related strongly to this main character and his quest to find his place in the world.
Edvard as a central character experienced and battled with milestones and difficulties which come hand in hand with coming of age and discovering ones central self. After the death of his grandfather, he set off on a journey to find his place among long lost family and within the wider world. Discovering one’s direction and intentions with our lives is a turmoil which as students we battle with as we near our later years of education. Following Edvard through his journey gave me hope and the urge to continue to strive for my own content. His story will undoubtedly spark the same reaction among others. The portrayal of Edvard felt honest and realistic, he was a young and fallible man who was unsure of himself, made mistakes and acted impulsively. He felt wholesome and although fictional, I became immersed in his predicament and willed for him to solve the mystery. The novel is set many years ago, but if we look forward to the 21st century to an age where personal relationships and interpersonal skills are falling to the blow of instant communication, and a life behind screens has become the norm. In this day and age, young adults still struggle with their own acceptance and place in society and new technology often seems to highlight and in some cases amplify their struggles.
The pace and meandering nature of the story was a subtle change to the usual fast paced novel on the bookshelf of a young reader like myself. While there was a continual undertow of urgency to solve the mystery, the author also provided space for the reader to develop an intimate relationship with Edvard. The language was also used to describe moods and places and was emotive and perceptive. This often carried a subtle connection to wood and the craftsmanship of carving adding another satisfying layer to the reading experience. I found the idea of wood being at the centre of this mystery intriguing. It’s not something I’ve considered before and I was surprised by the value and reverence placed on rare and beautiful wood by different societies throughout history. The idea of uniquely grained walnut trees growing in Somme as a result of being soaked in the blood spilled during the war was disturbing. The death and suffering which leads to spilled blood is all as a result of futile wars which countries offer their young men up to fight for. These young protectors are fuelled by nationalism, anger and fear which seeps through many generations much like the walnut trees growing through these generations. The direct links to the great wars of the world have faded in my own society, yet the prejudice which lingers in our lives remains very present. As in Schlinder’s List, I myself had to challenge my prejudices of which I assumed the worst of the German people on account of the Nazi’s actions, and the people of Edvard’s village could not see past the family’s history and failed to judge Edvard for who he really is. Prejudice still exists in today’s society, as it is embedded in the nature of humans and this novel shows the receiving end of this hatred, in an interesting and different story. Mytting’s ability to formulate a unique story while still incorporating aspects of modern society which he used as a warning and call for attention around this issue is extremely pressing.
Who knew the significance of a walnut tree and a small town Norwegian boy could take the readers through an intriguing adventure and challenge its audience while maintaining a slow paced, detailed read. Mytting’s ability to craft a novel with such literary excellence and deeper meaning entails a more thorough appreciation of the writing.