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.
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