Sunday, March 1, 2015

Just Published: Two Novels about Emilie Demant Hatt and Carl Nielsen

I’m really pleased to announce that my novel about the young Emilie Demant Hatt, Fossil Island, and its sequel, The Former World, are now available as e-books for the Kindle, Nook, and Kobo reader. They join a number of other titles of mine, both fiction and nonfiction, that have been or are being digitized and finding new life in electronic form. In the next few blog posts I’ll talk more about the historical background of Fossil Island and The Former World. I’ll also write about Carl Nielsen, who’s having an anniversary year in 2015 to much fanfare in Denmark and elsewhere.

The novels take place from 1887 through 1891 in Denmark and tell the story of two sisters. When Fossil Island begins, Emilie Hansen, called Nik by her family, is a fourteen-year-old tomboy who spends her time dreaming and fossilizing on the nearby island of Fur. Her older sister, Maj, is studying to be a teacher and starting to entertain ideas of women’s rights introduced by her Swedish friend, Eva Sandström. Both girls know they must marry eventually—just not yet.

The summer of 1887 begins with a visit from the girls’ aunt, who brings with her from Copenhagen a young man she calls her foster son. Carl Nielsen, from a poor family, has just finished at the Royal Conservatory of Music and plans to become a composer. Flirtation turns to a secret romance between Nik and Carl, as Maj weighs an engagement to Lieutenant Frederik Brandt against her intense friendship with Eva. The following summer brings the sisters’ intertwining stories to a head during a month in Copenhagen with their aunt, where they juggle passion, jealousy, and violent events with their search for independent lives of their own.  In the sequel, The Former World, sixteen-year-old Nik resumes her relationship with Carl Nielsen, who returns for a summer visit to the provincial village. But their bonds are strained by convention, by Carl’s dream of becoming a great composer, and by Nik’s own stirrings of ambition to study art. Now twenty-one, Maj finds a teaching job away from home, but her mother hasn’t given up the idea that her eldest daughter will marry. Over the course of two dramatic years, the sisters’ lives will be utterly changed by love, heartbreak, illness, and death. A vivid portrait of two stubborn young women who love their family yet yearn for freedom, the novels re-create a time when women’s lives and Danish society were in transition. Whether learning to cycle or dreaming of teaching school in Brooklyn, Nik and Maj are memorable characters in a setting both distant in time and familiar.

Fossil Island and its sequel, The Former World, are inspired by the true story of Denmark’s greatest composer, Carl Nielsen, and by the life of Emilie Demant Hatt, who later became an artist and ethnographer in Lapland. For more about her see

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