With a nice lead-in on the History Channel from "The Bible" mini-series, the new scripted-fiction TV series "Vikings" is gaining traction among viewers... and that prompts me to post this, the latest in our "Nearly Forgotten Master-Works" occasional series. Below is a review of one such book: THE LONG SHIPS, by Frans Bengtssen, the review of which I originally penned for Amazon.com...
And, while I won't take credit, I secretly believe the review had its intended effect: the novel is now back in release. — EM
HEADLINE: RE-ISSUE THIS BOOK!!
Review by Earl Merkel
Every serious reader has had the experience: perhaps by accident --on a library shelf, or in a dusty box at a garage sale-- you stumble across an out-of-print book that seizes your imagination through its author's sheer mastery of the storytelling craft.
And you wonder: why, O why! doesn't the publisher re-issue this in lieu of one or another of the woefully forgettable titles in current release?
Such a book is THE LONG SHIPS by Frans Bengtssen, which crossed the Atlantic from Scandinavia to America in the early 1950s; like Leif Ericson, who made the same trip long before Columbus, this book lingered only briefly here before vanishing with scarcely a trace.
And that is a tragedy for anyone who craves an epic, lusty tale of Vikings and their travels-- told with a sophisticated humor that is both wry and understated and with a sense of historical perspective that blends so subtly into the narrative that one is staggered to later find it is painstakingly accurate. Thank you for the education, History Channel-- but I heard it all first, and far more compellingly, from following Orm Tostesson's exciting voyages, enthusiastic plunderings and thrilling adventures in THE LONG SHIPS.
This book is a delight in every way: certainly, you can read simply for it for the lyrical use of language (it is, by the way, a translation from its original Swedish, and translator Michael Meyer deserves canonization for his masterful rendering of it into English). But it works well on so many other levels --as an action/adventure, or as a character-driven historical novel-- that to attempt to limit this book's sophisticated multi-layered appeal would be a disservice.
The copy I obtained (with great difficulty; it's been hard to track down THE LONG SHIPS, but well worth the effort when you do) was published by Collins of St. James' Place, London. I understand Random House holds the American rights.
If there is any justice in the literary world --or wisdom left in today's publishing houses that is not measured with a cash register-- THE LONG SHIPS would immediately be reissued to a new generation of readers, to much fanfare from those of us who have already had the pleasure of reading it.
— Earl Merkel
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