Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas review: "The Christmas Mystery" by Jostein Gaarder

Merry Christmas to you all! Today I want to highlight a personal favorite, one that I reread this year and plan on reading every year. I also plan on reading it to my children.

Title: The Christmas Mystery
Author: Jostein Gaarder
Translator: Elizabeth Rokken
Illustrator: Rosemary Wells
Publisher: Moyer Bell, 1996; originally published in Norwegian under the title Julemysteriet, copyright 1992
Where I got it: I originally found this book in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, in 2008 after years of a vague understanding that I wanted to read it, but I had forgotten the title until I saw it there. I then got the copy I read this year at Barnes & Noble, which I had to order into the store.

Joachim, a little boy in Norway, goes out with his father on November 30, on the hunt for an Advent calendar before December begins. At a local bookshop they find a few choices, but Joachim is drawn to a particular, and peculiar, old-looking calendar that the bookseller tells him was left by an odd old flower-seller. They take it home, and Joachim is surprised and pleased to discover that behind each door is not only a small picture, but a scrap of paper that tells the story of Elisabet, a girl who travels back in time to Bethlehem with a group of pilgrims made up of angels, sheep, shepherds, kings and others who played a role in the very first Christmas. Soon Joachim finds out there was a girl who disappeared from his town about 40 years earlier, a girl with the same name and appearance as his Advent calendar's heroine. Could she be the same Elisabet? Was she really brought back in time by an angel to witness the birth of Jesus?

This book is very special to me. It is a treasure, and because each day in December has a chapter devoted to it, I read one chapter a day and use this as my Advent calendar. Chapters are short, and language and the characters written are fairly simple, but it is a lovely story about Jesus and about belief. I will say you have to have at least a modicum of belief in Jesus to appreciate and like this book, but if you do I would seek it out.

Unfortunately, the copy I have has a large number of typos, mostly the wrong sort of punctuation. Though that bugged me, I had read the story before in a better edition from the UK (it was originally published in Norway) so it didn't really detract too much from my reading this time around.

As I said, there is no real depth to the characters, but it is fable-like in that way, and it is great seeing Joachim and his parents try to discover what happened to the Elisabet of their village and find the similarities between her and the Elisabet of their Advent calendar.

For a religious Christmas read, you can't get much better than this. Merry Christmas everyone!

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