Late author defied the literary elite

Bookmark and Share

Margit Sandemo wrote nearly 200 books that sold an estimated 37 million copies, and she long ranked as one of Norway’s most popular authors. Her death last week at the age of 94 was mourned by fans in a dozen countries, some of whom scoffed at the fact she was never recognized by Norway’s literary elite.

Margit Sandemo was a colorful author who inspired many to both read and write. She died last week at the age of 94. PHOTO: Bladkompaniet

Among those paying tribute to Sandemo this week, however, was a former editor at Norway’s largest newspaper and state secretary in the Ministry of Culture who now heads Fritt Ord, the organization devoted to promoting freedom of expression. Knut Olav Åmås recalled how his own mother bought every single volume in Sandemo’s best-selling series from the 1980s, Sagaen om Isfolket, wrapped them up and sent them to her sister who had moved to the US. He also recalled how readers in Iceland lined up to get Sandemo’s autograph on a visit to Reykjavik 10 years later.

“Sandemo was the godmother for other serial authors, she inspired and motivated them” Åmås wrote in a Page 3 commentary in his former newspaper. Most of all, though, Sandemo awakened in people a desire to read.

“Margit Sandemo got hundreds of thousands of people to read, many who otherwise wouldn’t have read books,” Åmås wrote. “Her books got them to like reading, and to continue to read, also other literature.” They found her stories about the supernatural, battles between good and evil, loneliness and romance to be fascinating.

Her books were rarely found in libraries, however, and neither Sandemo nor other writers of books in serial format were welcome in the national authors’ association (Forfatterforeningen). Sandemo and her contemporaries allegedly didn’t and don’t meet their criteria for literary quality. Sandemo remained committed to her genre and her fans, and after earning what Aftenposten estimated to be an estimated NOK 1.3 billion by 2007, she could also laugh all the way to the bank.

She retained a folksey image, though, with her publisher Bladekompaniet citing her “creativity, good humour and love of life.” The daughter of a Norwegian author and a Swedish teacher, she was born at Lena in the agricultural district of Toten in 1924 but grew up in Sweden and reportedly always wrote in Swedish. She moved back to Norway as an adult but spent the last 15 years of her life back in Sweden.

At her request there was to be no funeral, but her family told news bureau NTB that her ashes would be ceremoniously spread at her beloved hytte in the Norwegian mountains of Valdres. The author who wrote her first book at age 40 had continued writing until the end, with her publishers saying they had weekly conversations with her. “Margit was forever young and will be missed,” wrote her editors at Bladekompaniet, now part of Vigmostad & Bjørke in Oslo. “She charmed us all.” Berglund