A Year on the North Sea Coast
International literary sensation Dorthe Nors is back with an evocative and intelligent essay collection that examines the intricate relationship between writer and nature. Through a study of Denmark’s western shoreline – that stretches from Skagen in the north to where the Wadden Sea meets Holland in the south-west – Nors explores her own personal history as it relates to the sand beneath her feet.
Here, the ocean is wild and the sky is steel gray, trees are whipped against the heath and children are pulled out to sea by fierce currents as sea gulls soar above. Spires of a chemical factory carve dark shadows against the horizon and toxic waste leaks through decades of concrete cover-ups. In A Line in the World, the physical and the metaphysical sing in concert; people live off the natural world, embody it and poison it in equal measure. The heart longs and the mind resists, but in the end the land from which we spring will always define us.
In her characteristic precise prose, Nors depicts the magnetic draw of an austere landscape. But here we also find a new Nors – vulnerable yet unafraid to offer her own memories upon the pyre of history as well as to engage in an intellectual query about the decisions we make about how to live the one life we have been given. What does it mean to belong to a place? How is home defined – and how does the place we call home define us?
Dorthe Nors lives on the western coastline of Denmark and in these fifteen essays she invites the reader on a journey through history and present – the landscape’s as well as her own. In this deeply personal and exhilaratingly engaging literary exploration, Nors also urges the reader to step into the natural world, out into that which is greater than ourselves.
In the summer of 2022, A Line in the World was given the prestigious Blixen Prize in the category “Book of the Year”.
“A Line in the World is a stunning portrayal of the connection between landscape, human beings, and memory on the Danish west Coast. […] In this book, the west coast becomes a line that connects people across time and borders. Dorthe Nors sees those who live there as people who are closer to the sea than to the rest of the country. She writes that they in fact more live on the east coast of the North Sea than the west coast of Denmark, and this is one of the truest things I have ever read about my home area. […] With its size, this beautiful essay collection signals that it can hold both exquisite texts and vast photos. It’s neither too large for the words or too small for the photos. […] She writes with knowledge and understanding that can only come from having been born there. At the same time with a distance that comes from years in exile. […] Just like [18th century poet and author Steen Steensen] Blicher it becomes clear that Dorthe Nors’ prose has the potential of eternity. […] It is truly overwhelming how Dorthe Nors is able to incorporate modern references without harming the timeless prose. Her rhythm, her stillness, her humility, her ability to finish calm sentences as if they were a song. […] This is a masterpiece.”
Dagbladet Information (DK)
“Dorthe Nors’s writing is both poetic and harsh, laconic and ironic, and with an impressionable clarity that yet always seems to be keeping secrets, hidden between sentences and words. Her prose makes its way into the landscape and the soul, which opens up and receives. Her extraordinary linguistic talent is reminiscent of that of Johannes V. Jensen.”
Kristeligt Dagblad (DK)
“This is a strong work of art that works on several levels. A book that pierces its way into something quintessentially Danish and Jutlandish, without ever appearing provincial, while at all times maintaining its grand outlook. […] It is a book you know that you will return to once you put it down.”
Pov International (DK)
“Dorthe Nors is an author unlike anyone else.”
“It has been too long since last I sat down with such a complete work. […] Dorthe Nors delivers a remarkably intense story about the magnetic power of landscape, and the personal memories that are formed in the encounter with the coastline and its places, narratives, and people.”
Ugeavisen Esbjerg (DK)
“A Line in the World is so worth reading that I had to read it one paragraph at a time all throughout summer. It was published in May, but I have savored it to make sure not to miss anything, to give every paragraph, every page, the time it deserves.”
Lolland-Falsters Folketidende (DK)
“With the essay collection A Line in the World, [Nors] traces the changeability that a landscape becomes exposed to under the conditions of the elements, while at the same time pondering the significance a place holds for an individual person’s identity. […] These are texts that are so well-written and complete […] we’re taken on a tour from Skagen to Sylt with an author who conveys what she sees in a delicate balance between proximity and distance. […] Nors has written a landscape book. And in line with this somewhat obscure genre, she attempts to dissolve time while at the same time holding on to place. Both the long history, and her own personal story are gathered in points on the map. […] She manages to describe the west coast and its people with the perfect mix of communal sense and an outsider’s gaze.”
“It is hard to imagine a Danish writer who could have portrayed the region in a more fascinating way. The method is poetic and candid. At the same time, Nors takes on the task with an almost devout courage. She has the notebook, the thermos is filled, and she drives up and down the coast in her little Toyota. The writing task even opens up for a tiny feminist mission, as Norse points out that it is women’s turn to put the landscape into words: ‘now I have claimed the right to see and to describe.’
[…] Her unreserved love for the coastal landscape is the engine that drives the text forward. When Nors in poetic ecstasy devotes herself to her longing for the violent forces of nature it results in some of the most beautiful parts of the book: ‘I want a storm surge, I thought. I want a north-west wind, fierce and hard. I want trees so battered and beaten they’re crawling over the ground. I want beachgrass, lyme grass, crowberry stalks and heather that prick my calves until they bleed, and salt crystallizing on my skin.’ I read Nors as a modern vitalist; her attraction to nature always has a physical side, and the wildness of nature is no challenge; it is something that gives her vitality. There is a seductive intimacy at stake in these encounters with nature. Nors can summon the migratory birds, greet the seals, and feel addressed by the sea as were it a persistent lover: ‘Here you have me. Here you have my salt teeth,’ it whispers from the deep. In this sense A Line in the World is also a very poetic text about the unrealized embrace of Mother Earth.
[…] A Line in the World consists of fourteen essays, all based on a specific place along the coast. The composing touch of the prosaist is noticeable here, because even though Nors travels far, visits offshore wind turbines and locks, looks at old churches and fires, each essay has a connecting motif, a thought or a sentence that binds the story together in an elegant way. The coastal paths very often lead Nors down the tracks of a highly personal memory, which in turn makes this her most self-revelatory text thus far.”
“Every essay in this collection by Dorthe Nors is a gem. […] Her writing is meandering, poetic, and apt. Nature evokes childhood memories, which she interweaves with observations about the coastal dwellers, their language and their history. […] A masterful and loving ode to the Danish west coast.”
de Volkskrant (NL)
“Nors returns to nature, to the landscape of her childhood, and tells us why it is so important to her. From there, she lets herself be carried away to the coastline. […] Nors follows the coast in her little Toyota, and effortlessly takes you along to all sorts of places. Completely naturally, she mixes her memories (how she was silenced in her hometown after saying something unfortunate about a wolf) with the stories she catches and unleashes along the coastline. […] She talks about water and watersheds, language, history, literature, climate and adaptation. About Amsterdam, oddly enough, but not so oddly because she was writer in residence there for six weeks in 2019 (and working on this book). Nors connects everything to everything, jumping back and forth in place and time. A Line in the World is yet another wonderful collection of stories by Nors.”
Het Parool (NL)
“You need real nerve to gaze unfaltering at the sea, and to walk untremblingly along the high creaking edges of the land, and life, and ideas. Nors is one of the very rare writers with that nerve, and it is spectacularly displayed in this taut, uncompromising, glittering book. Most of us are dangerously content with the appearance of things. If that’s you, don’t read this book, which cuts straight to the heart.”
— Charles Foster, author of A Little Brown Sea, Being a Human and Being a Beast
“It’s a joy to be in the hands of a writer as funny and playful with form as Dorthe Nors.”
—Lauren Groff, author of Florida, Matrix and Fates and Furies
“A beautiful, melancholy account of finding home on a restless coast. In Dorthe Nors’s deft hands, the sea is no longer a negative space, but a character in its own right. I loved it.”
— Katherine May, author of Wintering and The Electricity of Every Living Thing
“A Line in the World is starkly, achingly beautiful. With stunning intimacy and precision—as attentive to tiny details in nature as she is to vast cloudless skies—Nors shows us how places and their histories shape who we are and how we find home.”
— Jessica J. Lee, author of Turning and Two Trees Make a Forest
“This is not a book: it is magic, like wandering in the mind of somebody in love. Dorthe Nors loves the coast of the North Sea and the Wadden Sea, it is her land, and her beautifully exact writing seems simple until you smell the salt and seaweed; then you know she’s taken you there. She tells the stories of fisher widows, storm and surge, seals as beings parallel to humans, even the glamorous surfers of Cold Hawaii. It must be true love because she can play with everything she so sharply observes and make it sometimes funny, sometimes chilling, always involving. This a wonderful holiday in a very fine writer’s heart.”
— Michael Pye, author of The Edge of the World: How the North Sea Made Us
“Lyrical, luminescent, and yet rigorously concrete, Dorthe Nors’s keen understanding of the intricacies of place and the tensions inherent in attachment make the Danish coast come to life. I loved seeing this landscape through her eyes, but most of all I loved the inheritance of observation, experience, and beauty contained within this volume.”
— Alexandra Kleeman, author of Something New Under the Sun
“A Line in the World is less a collection of essays than a confluence of eons, of feeling, of inarticulable precision—and it pulled me under. Dorthe Nors writes with the cool might of the North Atlantic tide, coasting from naval hubris and a dwindling, seaside matriarchy to geological phenomena and modern displacement. Such scope and focus is a feat, an occurrence of those poignant, silty histories which only an artist of Nors’s caliber can catch.”
— Jakob Guanzon, author of Abundance
“Dorthe Nors first nonfiction draws a beautiful, delicate line into which swims time, space, place, borders and what it means to belong. A deep dive into a coastal landscape, both breathtaking and hypnotic, it is a journey towards your own heart and what it means to truly belong.”
— Natasha Carthew, author of Only the Ocean
“Dorthe Nors is one of those rare authors – like Sebald – who can bring a place to the page so that you forget the outside world while reading. And there are lines of such astonishing beauty in this book, that I find myself circling back to them like landmarks in their own right. In reading about her home coast, I’ve felt my compass shift – I must find these shorelines now and walk them…”
— Tanya Shadrick, author of The Cure for Sleep
“These masterful essays give a strong, personal, and moving portrait of a landscape and of a mind—about loneliness, memory and belonging, in wind and waves, time, place. The light flowing through Nors’ writing is breathtaking, it is hypnotic, consoling.”
—Gunnhild Øyehaug, author of Wait Blink: A Perfect Picture of Inner Life and Knots