Lisbeth Nebelong

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Når engle
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Review in Nordic Voices


Nordbok august 2005

by Kirsten Thisted

When angels play Mozart

Also Lisbeth Nebelong’s (b. 1955) novel Når engle spiller Mozart (When angels play Mozart) (2003) is a declaration of love for the Faroe Islands – at the same time as being a spirited novel about the national community between Denmark and the Faroe Islands. As the main character did not spend her earliest
childhood, but only one summer (1967) when she was eleven in the Faroe Islands and later on her last year at upper secondary school (1973-74) the conflicts are more obvious. Lisa chooses to take her A-levels at the Faroese gymnasium, but gets so furious with her anti-Danish Faroese teacher who cheats her out of the top marks she deserves, that she cuts the tassels off her Faroese student’s cap, thus turning it into a Danish cap. Lisa feels rejected in her attempt to integrate, and never will the ambitious Lisa forget or accept this defeat, this insult that has been allowed to overshadow so much of what was positive about her stay.
Lisa cannot be said to be completely wrong when she accuses the Faroese society of being narrow-minded
and closed towards foreigners – but we learn later that she was also partly at fault herself in seeing herself in the role of a foreigner.
At the beginning of the book we find ourselves onboard a plane together with the 44 year old Lisa, in February 2000, on her way back to the Faroe Islands to give a lecture on the subject «The Faroe Islands as an independent state – necessary reforms in the process of sovereignty».
Over the years Lisa has made a career for herself as an internationally recognised specialist in constitutional law, but without in any way making the Faroe Islands her subject. On the contrary, she has always consciously avoided the Faroe Islands, and when now she is on her way back, it is only because a colleague has become seriously ill.
Over the following three days and nights, the text cuts between her brief stay in Tórshavn and all the memories that come flooding back. Slowly the palisades that Lisa has carefully been constructing between herself and all that the Faroe Islands stood for, not least her childhood sweetheart Kåre, are broken down.
At the same time we follow the breakdown in the political process that were to lead the Faroe Islands to independence.
Lisa works hard on her speech, which in accordance with her colleague’s plans is meant to be «a bone dry, legal paper» without any form of personal involvement. One must stick to the facts. No politicising, no having a personal opinion – even less any personal feelings. Well, of course something quite different happens. Softened by memories, seeing the place again and moved by evocative music, Lisa finally manages to loosen the grip on herself, and in her speech she at last combines the political and the personal.
By acknowledging the connection between these two, otherwise carefully segregated tracks, Lisa gains redemption and reconciliation, both personally between herself and the choices of the past, and between
herself as daughter of the Danish rigsombudsmand and the Faroese audience.
First and foremost the novel is a story about an individual coming to terms with herself. Closely connected with this is the theme about modern female identity, split between career and the choice of whether to have children or not. The novel’s point is the transference of these psychological approaches to the problematics of the cultural encounter. Just as Lisa at last confronts herself with the injustices of the past and reconciles
herself to them, so must the partners in the national community arrive at an understanding and put aside the past – whether the Faroe Islands choose to continue within the national community or form their own nation state. Both in Greenland and in the Faroe Islands one sometimes hears the question asked why the Danes are so extremely reluctant to discuss the national community between Denmark and the Faroe Islands. Why
does one never hear the Danes talk about what the national community means to them and what they want from it?
When angels play Mozart can be seen as an invitation to open up this debate.

Kirsten Thisted er mag. art i nordisk litteratur, ph.d. Ovenstående om "Når engle spiller Mozart" er uddrag fra artiklen "Grey areas" i Nordbok-publitaionen "Nordic voices", der udkom i august i forbindelse med en international litteraturkonference og udstilling i Oslo. Publikationen kan downloades på, hvor den også gratis kan bestilles.