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Book 4: The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder

Book 4: The Christmas Mystery.
Author: Jostein Gaarder, 1992. Translated from the Norwegian by Elizabeth Rokkan; Illustrated by Rosemary Wells, 1996.
Genre: Children's Story. Magical Realism/Fantasy. Time Travel. Religious History.
Other Details: Paperback. 246 pages.

Fifty years ago a girl disappeared from her home in Norway. She ran after a lamb and found herself travelling right across Europe to Palestine, and back through 2000 years to meet the Holy Family in Bethlehem. There she met angels, shepherds, wise men and other biblical characters who joined her on her pilgrimage; and she heard of many of the things that happened in the world in the last 2000 years.

In present-day Norway, a boy acquires a strange old Advent calendar. Hidden in each of the windows is a tiny piece of paper. Little by little these pieces unfold the girl's story and as we learn what happened to her, another story is revealed - that of the strange old man who made the calender.
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

A heart-warming story-within-a-story about the meaning of Christmas that also explores issues of family and trust. I certainly enjoyed it and felt that it was a story that would appeal not only to children but adults who have the right frame of mind and who are willing to accept the naivete of the narrative. It has some quite amusing and moving moments, many provided by the angels. Although I read it in one sitting it does seem an ideal story to read during Advent, one short chapter at a time. I also loved the sense of history and geography found in the pages.

This was a reading group selection and I was a little surprised that only three of us were enthusiastic about it. While only one of that number was Christian, myself and the other member do share an awareness of Christianity and its legacy as well as other world religions. Whether this was a factor is hard to judge. Still this range of opinion about the novel did provoke discussion especially about the relationship between Joachim and his parents.
Tags: kidlit, magical realism, religion, translation
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