Written by Zeshan Shakar
Genre: Norwegian, Contemporary
Original Language: Norwegian
Read from 2020-09-19 to 2020-10-03
Read in Norwegian
Review: Gul Bok is the second book by Zeshan Shakar, and moves from the “Growing up as a second-generation immigrant in Norway”-theme from Tante Ulrikkes vei to “Living as a second-generation immigrant in Norway”. While I didn’t find Gul Bok to be quite as remarkable as Tante Ulrikkes vei, it’s still an excellent read.
Gul Bok follows Mani who has just come out of university and is looking for a job in which to apply his new, fancy, degree. Having struggled for a while to find a job he believes he deserves, he settles for a job in the department of finance for the Norwegian government… and it turned out to be a job he settles into quite nicely.
While I felt like Tante Ulrikkes vei was a window into a world I knew nothing about, Gul Bok feels much more relatable, for better and for worse. That’s not to say there aren’t elements of Mani’s life that are foreign to me, and challenges he is forced to face that I know I would never have to confront, but the bulk of this book is “life stuff” that I think would be relatable to anyone living what could probably be described as a relatively normal life in Oslo. This book therefore exists on an equal footing with a lot of other books that do the same thing, but for me, it manages to stand out from them by finding and conveying the interesting and remarkable parts of life that could otherwise have seemed mundane.
Going into this book, and knowing when and where it’s taking place, I thought/expected/(feared?) that it might be centred around the terror attack which you know will take place during the course of the book. The attack is handled in a more elegant way than I thought a Norwegian book would be able to. I don’t think there would have been a wrong way to handle it, but I could totally see a book like this, fairly and understandably, using it as en emotional centrepiece around which the rest of the story revolved. This book doesn’t do that at all. The terror attack took place, and it had an impact on the characters in a way that felt exactly right. There was nothing gratuitous or demonstrative about the reactions of the characters, and the most dramatic, tragic, and terrible event in recent Norwegian history was handled in a way which felt understated in a respectful way, and that felt just right for the story that was being told.
Another thing that’s done really well in Gul Bok is the description of the relationship between Mani and his girlfriend, the development of which goes along as a bass-note throughout the entire book, and feels more realistic than any other literary relationship I’ve read for a very long time. Again, something that could easily have been made into a device of its own, and probably been an easy way to create several captivating moments, is rather carried through the story and used as way of telling other, less dramatic but interesting, stories from “real life”.
Gul Bok is another great book from Zeshan Shakar, and while it didn’t blow me away quite as much as Tante Ulrikkes vei did (it must be hard to follow up a debut novel like that), it’s first and foremost a great “contemporary life in Oslo” book, while also, inevitably, touching on the everyday racism that is universal for many, and that the rest of us could benefit from understanding better.