An author worth learning Norwegian for?

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg loved Erland Loe’s Naïve. Super so much he learned the author’s language. Does the book live up to the hype?

Pete Buttigieg

Photo: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons
Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention in June.

Nate Axvig
Denver, Colo.

Presidential campaigns are a slog, regardless of your political affiliations. Month after month of canned stump speeches, shaking hands, and kissing babies make the drum beat monotonous and a bit nauseating, but every once in a while something surprising happens. In March, South Bend, Ind., mayor and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg (loosely pronounced “buddha judge,” but that is up for debate, too) was in Texas when he was introduced to Norwegian writer, Åsne Seierstad. Mayor Pete, as he prefers to be called, surprised Seierstad by responding to a question in Norwegian. She was shocked! Norwegian is rarely heard outside of the home country or pockets around Alicante, Spain, and Grand Canary, where Norwegians flock to bask in the sun. But Seierstad was hearing it from a U.S. presidential candidate.

Pete Buttigieg

And to be clear, Mayor Pete didn’t just say “hei, hei” and “ha det bra,” which is basically the sum total of the Norwegian this author picked up while living in Oslo for 13 months. No, Mayor Pete was able to actually converse about visiting Norway and listening to a sermon there. But how and, maybe more importantly, why would the mayor of a smallish Midwestern town speak Norwegian?

First, Mayor Pete is a linguaphile. His mother was a linguistic professor who taught at Notre Dame University for 29 years and imparted her love of language to her son. Mayor Pete speaks Norwegian, French, Spanish, Italian, Maltese, Arabic, and Dari—although not all fluently. Simply put, he has an ear for language.

Second, Pete was drawn into Norwegian by the author Erland Loe. Pete read Loe’s iconic mid-90s coming of age novel, Naïve. Super while in college and liked it so much that he sought out all other works by the Norwegian author. Sadly, none of the other books had been translated into English, so young Pete decided to learn the language of the Vikings and read the rest. It is unclear what Pete thought of the Norwegian original texts, but he included Naïve. Super on his list of top-10 favorite books

I read Naïve. Super to see if it would move me in the same way. It is a quick read (208 pages) that captures the angst, confusion, and inconsistent clarity of your early 20s. The narrator (whose name we never learn) is bouncing from place to place physically and mentally while trying to figure out how the world works. Many of the themes are recognizable, and the setting feels familiar, though dated. For example, the narrator has an extended handwritten conversation with a friend—using faxes.

Will it push me to learn Norwegian? Nope, that language is too difficult for my simple brain. But it did give me an insight into Mayor Pete while making me reflect on my thought processes (or lack thereof) from my 20s. Naïve. Super is obscure enough in the United States to be absent from most libraries, but it is easily found in digital formats and is worth a read, if only to remind you how far you’ve come from your early 20s. (I hope!)

Nate Axvig lived in Oslo with his family for a year. When they returned, he started an online store with his wife Leslie where they import the very best of Scandinavian clothing. Check it out at aktivstyle.com.

To learn more about Pete Buttigieg, visit www.peteforamerica.com/meet-pete.

This article originally appeared in the July 12, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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