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February 6, 2014

Book Notes - Dorthe Nors "Karate Chop"

Karate Chop

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Dorthe Nors acutely mines the unexpected and explosive from everyday lives in this brilliantly understated short story collection.

The Daily Beast wrote of the book:

"Peppered with themes of memory, violence, loss, and separation, these pages quietly announce a confident and valuable new voice in translated fiction."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Dorthe Nors's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection, Karate Chop:


#1 Earth Wind & Fire: "Boogie Wonderland"
For some weird reason I associate Earth Wind & Fire's "Boogie Wonderland" with my story "The Buddhist." It's not just because me and my schoolmates used to boogie like crazy to that song up in my brother's room—it's because the protagonist in "The Buddhist" is so full of spunk and twisted illusions about himself that if we lean close to him and look him in the eyes what we see there are disco balls turning. And let's not forget the wisdom of the boogie-lyrics: Midnight creeps so slowly into hearts of men who need more than they get.

#2 "En by i provinsen"
Yes, I'm Danish, and no, you surely didn't think you were getting through this play list without being introduced to some Danish music. Here's a slightly weird one: In the background of my story "Mutual Destruction" you can hear the theme song from a Danish TV-show from the seventies, En by i provinsen (‘a provincial town'). No lyrics, just the best little jazzy, melancholic tune the Danish Radio Broadcast has ever come up with. Danish composer Fuzzy wrote it. Be adventurous! Explore! Go listen on YouTube!

#3 Joni Mitchell: "The Jungle Line"
In Karate Chop there are two stories set in New York City, because the book was written after I returned to Denmark after having stayed in The Big Apple for a while. It was my first trip to the States and before going the whole thing felt unreal. I knew I was going to stay with a couple on Front Street for a while and I knew this couple had a view of The Brooklyn Bridge from their living room, so every time I heard Joni Mitchell sing the line They go steaming up to Brooklyn Bridge I would try and picture myself in that scenario, but never could. I made it to Manhattan, I made it to the view in the apartment, and as I stood there drinking it in it still felt unreal. But it was in this neighborhood around Brooklyn Bridge I met "Raquel," the narrator in the story "The Big Tomato." Yes, it was here along The Jungle Line, I met Raquel, Lumturi, The Bangs—and the tomato itself.

#4 Joanna Newsom: The Milk-Eyed Mender
I listened a lot to Joanna Newsom (and Joni Mitchell, I always listen to Joni Mitchell) while writing Karate Chop, and three stories in the collection have in some way or the other been in touch with Miss Newsom (my character Nat Newsom is obviously related to her). The dark, fragile story "The Duckling" has, in my ears, this strange Joanna Newsom feeling about it: If you want to come on down, / down with your bones so white, / And watch the freight trains pound, into the wild, wild night, it says in the song "Swansea," and I don't know why it is so, but I know in my heart that "The Duckling" wouldn't have turned out so well without the songs from The Milk-Eyed Mender.

#5 Banjo Dudes
There's something about men playing the banjo that gives me literary pleasure. I have used them on several occasions, for instance in the story "Female Killers," so put some Sonny Osborne bluegrass banjo on the stereo and go dancing. (You know you want to, yes, you do.)

#6 Tom Waits: "Waltzing Matilda"
Even though my story "Hair Salon" is set in the part of Copenhagen called Valby (I used to live there for years) there is something so American about the protagonist—a woman—sitting with her split ends in the hair salon looking at the fat lady with the drugged dog in the laundromat across the street. She reminds me of a character in one of Jim Jarmusch's small movies Coffee and Cigarettes: People hanging out in dull and obscure places having conversations about nothing and something while Tom Waits is coughing a tune. I love the song Waits wrote about his Danish sweetheart, the folk musician Matilde. For years I felt envious of Matilde. Who wouldn't love to have Tom Waits write a song for them?

#7 "En lærke lettede"
Yes, I'm Danish, and you surely didn't think we were done with the Danish tunes, right? The story "Mother, Grandmother and Aunt Ellen" has a hidden link to a song called "En lærke lettede'" ('a lark took off'). The song is about the joy that Danes felt after the German capitulation in May 1945. The tune is so full of relief. Burdens have been lifted from the shoulders of a nation, evil has finally gone away, winter is over, and the sky is full of sun and birds. But in my story the burden of war doesn't take off like a lark. It stays and it's passed down through generations in the shape of bad behavior, silence, evil, and manipulation, perhaps even cancer.

#8 Joanna Newsom: "Stardust and Diamonds"
Back to Miss Newsom: The story "She Frequented Cemeteries" is directly linked to this poetic fragment from the song Stardust and Diamonds:
I wanted to say: Why the long face. / Sparrow, perch and play songs of long face. / Burro, buck and bray songs of long face! / Sing, I will swallow your sadness, and eat your cold clay, just to lift your long face; / And though it may be madness, I will take to the grave your precious long face. / And though our bones they may break, and our souls separate /- Why the long face? / And though our bodies recoil from the grip of the soil / - Why the long face?
It's like a credo. I love it!

#9 The Savage Rose: "I'm a Wild Child"
I imagine that the inner voice of the woman in the title story "Karate Chop" is much like Savage Rose front singer Anisette's. Anisette has the kind of voice that sounds as if it has been trapped inside a person for a lifetime and then suddenly it finds a crack through which it can roar. Anisette howls it like it is, so fragile, so strong, and "I'm a Wild Child" is still after all these years one of the coolest songs ever written (even though The Savage Rose could have skipped a couple of verses, but less wasn't more back in the Woodstock days.)

#10 Peter Uhrbrand: Traditional Sønderhoning
The story "The Wadden Sea" takes place on the little island Fanoe (where I also used to live). The island is a pile of sand in the vast and void scenery of the Wadden Sea, and the Wadden Sea is, as it says in my story, one big, moist lung. The folk musical traditions are strong on the island and the local dance—the 'sønderhoning'—is being danced at all parties. The dance itself can't be explained, but you have to bend your knees and twirl, twirl, twirl until you (like in my case) puke. I have heard folk musician Peter Uhrbrand play many a good 'sønderhoning'—and if you have the time, you should listen to him too.


Dorthe Nors and Karate Chop links:

excerpt from the book ("The Buddhist" at the Boston Review)
excerpt from the book ("The Heron" at the New Yorker)

The Daily Beast review
Kirkus review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
Publishers Weekly review

The Atlantic essay by the author
Graywolf Press interview with the author
New Yorker interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Online "Best of 2013" Book Lists
2013 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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