The writer Morten A. Strøksnes talks about ‘The Book of the Sea’, based on a personal adventure.
Surrounded by prodigious natural landscapes in Norway, those that steal the breath, like the walls of Lofoten, the seas of the Vestfjord and the islands of Skrova, two men embark on a pneumatic boat to hunt an animal as impressive as those landscapes: a boreal shark, which is said to live for several centuries, is eight meters long and weighs over a thousand kilos.
Starting in the summer and ending in the spring, the painter Hugo Aasjord and the writer and historian Morten A. Strøksnes faced the hazards of the sea and the climate to catch this marvelous animal, a kind of modern Moby Dick. Assjord himself has a hint of Captain Ahab who was obsessed with capturing the white whale.
From that experience, Strøksnes created ‘The Book of the Sea’, in which he painted a fresco of this region mixing his experiences at the edge of the boat with local myths, scientific data and stories about this immense and unexplored world of the sea. The Norwegian, who spoke yesterday at the Hay Festival in Cartagena, told EL TIEMPO the details of this literary adventure.
First of all: why did you accept the proposal to hunt a boreal shark?
He had been looking for a reason to be near the sea and write about it. When my friend Hugo asked me if I wanted to go with him to hunt the boreal shark in the old way, I knew it was the opportunity I was waiting for. It was a kind of mythical adventure: go hunting this ‘monster’, this huge and mystic shark of the deep sea. Hugo is also a character, almost a creature of the sea, and is full of stories of the ocean. He has had experience with marine mammals, sharks and whales, but not with the boreal shark, because they stopped hunting him in the early 50s. He had only heard stories of his relatives; Most people would have forgotten, but Hugo is not like most people. It became an obsession, and I connected to that.
How was the story structured to combine its history with all the historical and scientific data about the region, its inhabitants and nature?
It was one of the things that made it more difficult. He had so many elements, layers and genres that he wanted to unite in a single narrative. It was mythology, history, biology, poetry, oceanography, geology and more. Sometimes I am using a microscope to observe creatures that although they are too small to see, they are extremely important for life on Earth. On other occasions, I use a telescope to try to look deep into space and the beginning of the universe. And at the same time I have to hold a present, we’re here, in this little boat.
“Hugo is also a character, almost a creature of the sea, and is full of stories of the ocean.”
Another fundamental aspect is the oral stories and mythology, which are another great source of knowledge. What does that bring to the story?
I’m not sure what it brings, but it definitely brings something. Suddenly it gives the book something of verticality, it shows how much creative energy we have spent in the sea, which has been a great unknown for millennia. And I find that much of the mythology is really beautiful, and the Nordic is no less, with its dramas and poems about monsters, destruction and creation.
There are many scientific truths in the book, but mythology has different and more symbolic ones about how we think about ourselves and other forces in this world.
How is your current relationship with Hugo Aasjord?
It’s very good; I earned some money with the book, and I’m in the process of spending some of that on your fishing station, as an investment. I find a certain beauty in that. That old station in the remote Lofoten archipelago gave me material for a book, which became successful and gave new life to the station, which, again, could give me material for another book …
It is as if life and art establish a symbiotic relationship. I will go to Lofoten two days after I return from Colombia, because a national theater made a play about the book that will be presented in 41 places in Norway and whose premiere will be in Lofoten. That, if I do not cancel the flight due to extreme weather; The last few days have been snowing so hard that many places are completely isolated and in a state of emergency.
How much influence is there for Herman Melville and ‘Moby Dick’?
There is an explicit influence. I did not plan it that way, but the first thing that happened to us at sea, on those beautiful summer days, was that we found ourselves with a huge sperm whale; then, it was time to take a new look at Moby Dick.
If, on the other hand, we had not found that sperm whale, I doubt I would have had much interaction with Moby Dick. What happened to us at sea also informs us of what should happen at the target level, there should be a connection, or the book would have felt disconnected.
Growing up surrounded by landscapes as precious as the book describes must develop a very special sensibility …
Well, yes because we all have landscapes that are ours, that we know intimately from our childhood, in which we can feel at home. But at the same time it can be difficult to see with a fresh look what you know so well. Somehow, one becomes blind to what is customary to see day after day, year after year. So I had to try to see those landscapes with new eyes and find new words to describe it.
In a way, nature is a character …
Absolutely, especially the sea, even its deepest parts. When we were in the sea, the light, the currents and the weather always changed; It was so luxurious and it looked a bit like the land of The Lord of the Rings. The landscapes of Lofoten are now considered among the most beautiful and attractive in the world. But culture gives shape to the way we see nature, and I show how people used to think that the same landscape was ugly, something like brutal, dangerous, sterile and uncultivated, not suitable for humans.
Source: El Tiempo