Thursday, May 10, 2012

Win STRINDBERG'S STAR by Jan Wallentin

A multilayered international thrill ride at breakneck pace, reminiscent of The Rule of Four

The Arctic, 1897: Nils Strindberg crashes his hydrogen balloon during the mysterious Andrée Expedition to the North Pole.

Germany, 1942: Gruesome and inexplicable experiments are performed on concentration camp prisoners.

Sweden, present-day: Cave diver Erik Hall finds a dead body wearing an ancient ankh, buried deep in an abandoned mine. Religious symbol expert Don Titelman seeks out Erik to study the ankh—but finds Erik dead. Don is the prime suspect, and soon he’s being chased across Europe to escape a secret society that will do anything to get their hands on the ankh. . . .

In this international bestseller, each of these fascinating strands weaves together to create a mind-blowing cross-genre thriller that includes arctic explorers, a secret railroad network, Norse mythology, Nazis, and ancient symbols—and a shocking secret that’s been hidden for centuries.

A conversation with Jan Wallentin, author of STRINDBERG’S STAR

 Q. Strindberg’s Star is a roaring adventure—can you tell us where your very first ideas for the novel came from?
 A. Well, it’s very hard to pinpoint something in particular as the inspiration, writing a book is such a long and winding process I discovered. However, my intention was to create an irresistible story of suspense that would have a strong forward-momentum without using a lot of violence and blood. Instead, I wanted to write something that would be completely unpredictable; where the reader wouldn’t even be able to know what kind of genre he or she was reading. It would take off as your usual crime story, a whodunit with all the common ingredients, and then after about fifty pages, the story would switch into a sort of Hitchcock-thriller—an innocent man being accused of a crime he did not commit, being on the run. After that, it would develop into an adventure story, a search for an ancient artifact, and then again shift into something completely different. I also wanted to write about historical topics where the reader would have a hard time to distinguish between what were facts and what was indeed pure fiction and lies. Getting into the bizarre world of the Nazi esoteric and the Andrée Arctic balloon expedition of 1897 suited this purpose perfectly, I thought.

 Q. Your book is brimming with many ideas, ranging from Nazis and Norse mythology to the Strindberg expedition. Of the plot points in your book, which ones stem from your own personal interests? And which ones required you to do the most research?
 A. The most difficult thing writing this book was to make all these very different ideas and topics come together in a natural way, supporting and enriching each other and keeping the reader’s suspension of disbelief. Personally I have always been very interested in the Arctic balloon expedition of 1897, it has such a romantic quality, being very much like a Jules Verne-novel in real life: three Swedish men trying to sail by the mercy of the winds to the North Pole. The mastermind of this expedition, Andrée, had only piloted a balloon nine times before the take off. Nils Strindberg, a close relative of the great Swedish author August Strindberg, had no arctic experience at all, besides skiing around Djurgården in central Stockholm. The balloon they used had never flown before the actual takeoff, and the technique of steering this craft had never worked out. Yet they went. Researching this and the occult world of the Nazi movement was probably the most time consuming effort, but also very interesting.

 Q. Strindberg’s Star takes the reader to many exotic locales. Have you been to many of those places mentioned in the book? Which destination would be your favorite?
A. Some of the places in the book I have taken many liberties with, the German town and castle of Wewelsburg is one example of that. Other places that I have visited, like the Belgian city of Ieper are very accurate, though I wouldn’t advise a reader to have Strindberg’s star as a travel guide. My favorite research destination would have been a cruise to the North Pole of course, but that was unfortunately quite beyond my budget.

 Q. Are there any authors of works in particular that were influential in your development as a writer or in the early stages of writing Strindberg’s Star? A. I’m very much a film person, and one source of inspiration writing Strindberg’s star was the movies of Quentin Tarrantino. In works like Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction Tarrantino plays around with and is able to transform a lot of worn out clichés in a very elegant fashion, and I find his work inventive and interesting. Among the authors that were important inspiration for writing Strindberg’s Star, Jules Verne, Peter Hoeg, Haruki Murakami … it just goes on and on.

Q. What was your reaction when the book started gaining steam in Sweden, eventually becoming a bestseller? And then when the rights sold in so many other countries?
 A. Basically I didn’t know anything about the book market and I was extremely surprised, because I thought that Strindberg’s Star was a bit too odd and twisted to become a bestseller, and in Sweden especially the readers are extremely fond of traditional crime stories – not wild adventures. Then, when the rights were sold in about twenty countries in a blink of an eye I was suddenly blessed with the opportunity to write full time, and that truly is a wonderful gift.

 Q. Your main protagonist, Don Titelman, is made to cope with some very serious demons. What was the thought process behind giving him such complexity?
 A. I knew from the beginning that writing this book, containing so many references to the Nazi esoteric, I needed a protagonist with a very strong personal connection to the real history of Nazi war crimes and the Holocaust, otherwise the story just wouldn’t work. In addition, I have always been very fond of anti-heroes, and Don Titelman is very much that, he is the anti-Robert Langdon of The Da Vinci Code if you will. He is a guilt ridden, broken character that basically by chance gets drawn into this great conspiracy, triggering a chain of events which to him turns out to be a total nightmare. I really love this character, and I’m so sorry that I had to put him through hell writing this book.

 Q. What’s next for you? Will you be working on a new book anytime soon . . . perhaps featuring Don Titelman?
 A. Sadly, right now I’m working on a new novel with a very different theme, so Don Titelman will have to wait for a while anyway. Actually, I think that Strindberg’s Star contains about everything that I have to say about the Nazi esoteric, the Arctic, the underworld and Mr, Don Titelman … but then again, who knows?


Tuesday, June 5 / Decatur, GA / Eagle Eye Bookshop @ 7 PM
Wednesday, June 6 / Portland, OR / Powell’s Books (Cedar Hills Crossing) @ 7 PM
Thursday, June 7 / Los Angles, CA / Book Soup @ 7 PM
Friday, June 8 / San Diego, CA / Mysterious Galaxy @ 7 PM
Sunday, June 10 / Chicago, IL / Printer’s Row Book Lit Fest

 To win a copy of STRINDBERG'S STAR by Jan Wallentin, send an email to, with "STRINDBERG'S STAR" as the subject. Make sure to include your name and mailing address in the US only. This contest is open to all adults over 18 years of age. One entry per email address, please. Your email address will not be shared or sold to anyone. All entries, including names, email addresses, and mailing addresses, will be purged after winner is notified. This contest is only going to run for two weeks so get your entry in by May 24th, 2012. Good luck!

Monday, May 07, 2012

2012 James Beard Foundation Book Awards Winners

Winners of the 2012 James Beard Foundation Book Awards:

Cookbook of the Year: Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold with Chris Young & Maxime Bilet (the Cooking Lab)
American Cooking: A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen by Hugh Acheson (Clarkson Potter)
Baking and Dessert: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer (Artisan)
Beverage: Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, & Formulas by Brad Thomas Parsons (Ten Speed)
Cooking from a professional point of view: Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold with Chris Young and Maxime Bilet (the Cooking Lab)
General cooking: Ruhlman's Twenty by Michael Ruhlman (Chronicle)
Focus on health: Super Natural Every Day: Well-Loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen by Heidi Swanson (Ten Speed)
International: The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert (Ecco)
Photography: Notes from a Kitchen: A Journey Inside Culinary Obsession by Jeff Scott and Blake Beshore (Tatroux)
Reference & scholarship: Turning the Tables: Restaurants and the Rise of the American Middle Class, 1880-1920 by Andrew P. Haley (University of North Carolina Press)
Single subject: All About Roasting by Molly Stevens (Norton)
Writing and literature: Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton (Random House)
Cookbook hall of fame: Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

James Beard award–winning chefs and restaurants will be named tonight. The complete list of award winners in all categories will be available on the James Beard Foundation website.

Courtesy of Shelf Awareness, 5/07/12

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