Searching for Nora

After the Doll’s House

When Nora Helmer walks out on her husband at the end of Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House, she slams the door. Her action – symbolic, peevish, revolutionary – is known in theater circles as “the slam heard ’round the world.” Her husband staggers about onstage, thunderstruck, as the curtain falls. And that’s all Ibsen gives us. We never see where Nora goes or what she does.

Searching for Nora opens on the other side of that door. It’s late on a winter’s night in 1879, in Kristiania, Norway. Nora, bundled in her winter coat, stands there hesitating for a long moment. She’s never been outside after dark without the protection of a man, and she’s leaving her children behind. She has little with her other than a change of clothes and a string of pearls.

Guided by the historical realities and a close study of this celebrated Ibsen character, author Wendy Swallow sends Nora on a journey that plunges her into Kristiania’s seamy underground, then sweeps her onto an emigrant ship in disguise, and strands her on the harsh Minnesota prairie. She’s searching for family and purpose, but at the heart of her story is the challenge Ibsen left for her: can Nora give up her masquerades and manipulations and learn to stand honestly before the world?

At the same time, a second story about family and legacies alternates with Nora’s tale. It’s 1918, just after the Great War, and a new modernity is challenging traditional Norwegian society. Solvi Lange, a young university student and budding photographer, struggles to escape her family’s bourgeois conformity as she works to unravel the twin mysteries of her grandfather’s hidden shame and the fate of a Norwegian feminist who vanished decades earlier.

“I left late one frigid night. Torvald, too stunned to stop me, stood gaping in the parlor as I clattered down the apartment stairs and slammed the big front door. I wanted to shake the gossips from their beds, to send them to the window to glimpse the unthinkable: Nora Helmer, walking away in her traveling coat, with a satchel!
“I did it to leave Torvald in a stew of scandalous talk because it was what he feared most, more than he feared losing me.”
~ From Searching for Nora: After the Doll’s House

Reviewers Praise Searching for Nora

“So much more than a sequel, Searching for Nora is a masterful tale that spans generations, continents, and the intertwined lives of two remarkable women. Lyrically told and meticulously researched, this unforgettable saga transports you from the fjords of Norway to the wide open plains of the American west. I couldn’t put it down.”

Joanne Lipman, author of That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together, No. 1 bestseller at The Washington Post

“Few narratives in Western literature have inspired more “what happened next?” speculations than Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, with its famous “door slam heard ’round the world.” Nora’s risky (and theatrically unprecedented) act of self-emancipation challenged paradigms of both dramatic and social structure, leaving us to wonder, with a deliberate absence of guidance or foreshadowing, about the next “act” in the play of her life. Wendy Swallow has done the hard work of imagining in four dimensions – across time and space, from Norway to America, and into the first quarter of the 20th century – how the echoes of that door slam might reverberate in the lives of several families, and in the intellectual and social currents of two continents. Her book is steeped in the Ibsen tradition of meticulous observation, careful design, and rich implication. Part family drama, part evocation of early feminism (both also notable Ibsen specialties), the work takes us on a satisfying and altogether believable journey of discovery as Nora’s story comes full circle across the generations.”

Rick Davis, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts and Professor of Theater at George Mason University, co-founder of the American Ibsen Theater in Pittsburgh, and co-translator (with Brian Johnston) of five Ibsen plays

“For those who wondered what happened to Ibsen’s Nora Helmer after she slams the door on her marriage, comes this compelling and engaging novel. A fascinating social history of turn-of-the-century women in Norway and the American Midwest. Beautifully written, with characters that resonate long after you turn the last page.”

Beth Brophy, author of My Ex-Best Friend and Reunion

“Exquisitely crafted and brilliantly delivered. Wendy Swallow has brought us a passionate and cautionary tell that speaks to the life choices we all make – and how those decisions ripple through the generations, affecting us and those closest to us, in ways we never could have imagined. Searching for Nora forces two important questions – are the lives we’re living in alignment with our core values, and if not, what are we willing to do about it?”

Steve Piacente, author of Bella, Bootlicker, Pretender, and Your New Fighting Stance: Good Enough Isn’t… and You Know It

Are You a Teacher?

Click here to request curriculum ideas pairing Searching for Nora with Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House.

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