Bible becomes 2011 bestseller in Norway | Books | guardian.co.uk
The UK’s 2011 bestseller lists might have been dominated by cookery, courtesy of Jamie Oliver, and romance, courtesy of David Nicholls, but Norwegian readers were plumping for another sort of book last year: the Bible.
The first Norwegian translation of the Bible for 30 years topped the country’s book charts almost every week between its publication in October and the end of the year, selling almost 80,000 copies so far and hugely exceeding expectations. Its launch in the autumn saw Harry Potter-style overnight queues, with bookshops selling out on the first day as Norwegians rushed to get their hands on the new edition.
“We only printed 25,000 to start with and thought it would last six to nine months, but it was launched mid-October and by the end of the year it had sold 79,000 copies – it’s just incredible,” said Stine Smemo Strachan, who worked on the project for the Norwegian Bible Society. “It has only been knocked off the number one spot once, by [literary author] Karl Ove Knausgård … There were people sleeping outside the day before the launch because it was embargoed – it’s a bit ironic seeing that the content has been available for quite some time now.”
Thirty consultant translators, priests and academics translated the Greek and Hebrew original into Norwegian for the new edition, with a team of 12 literary authors including Knausgård and playwright Jon Fosse then smoothing out that text. “Obviously it was very important to get the right translation but they also wanted it to be readable, to make sure it was good literary language,” said Smemo Strachan. “None of these authors are religious - they are all just very good literary writers who thought it would be an interesting project to be involved in.”
A “literary” version of the Bible, with no chapters or verses which “reads like a novel”, has also been published and has “sold incredibly well”, said the publisher.
According to official data, 80% of Norway’s population of 4.9m belongs to the Church of Norway, but not all the new edition’s purchasers are thought to be buying it for strictly religious religions. “It certainly can’t just be actively religious Christians who are buying it because it just wouldn’t make these numbers,” said Smemo Strachan.