A Line in the World: A Year on the North Sea Coast
A celebrated Danish writer explores the unsung histories and geographies of her beloved slice of the world.
Me, my notebook and my love of the wild and desolate. I wanted to do the opposite of what was expected of me. It’s a recurring pattern in my life. An instinct.
Dorthe Nors’s first nonfiction book chronicles a year she spent traveling along the North Sea coast—from Skagen at the northern tip of Denmark to the Frisian Islands in the Wadden Sea. In fourteen expansive essays, Nors traces the history, geography, and culture of the places she visits while reflecting on her childhood and her family and ancestors’ ties to the region as well as her decision to move there from Copenhagen. She writes about the ritual burning of witch effigies on Midsummer’s Eve; the environmental activist who opposed a chemical factory in the 1950s; the quiet fishing villages that surfers transformed into an area known as Cold Hawaii starting in the 1970s. She connects wind turbines to Viking ships, thirteenth-century church frescoes to her mother’s unrealized dreams. She describes strong waves, sand drifts, storm surges, shipwrecks, and other instances of nature asserting its power over human attempts to ignore or control it.
Through a deep, personal engagement with this singular landscape, A Line in the World accesses the universal. Its ultimate subjects are civilization, belonging, and change: changes within one person’s life, changes occurring in various communities today, and change as the only constant of life on Earth.
Praise for A Line in the World: A Year on the North Sea Coast
“[A] luminous set of reflections. . . . An intricate reckoning with a world that, despite our best attempts to tame it, remains elemental and wild.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“A Line in the World is . . . one of the first books to capture the unique region in English. In prose that is as sparse and quiet as the marshy Jutland peninsula itself, the book provides a snapshot of life in a location that is full of history and at the same time ever-shifting, its future uncertain.”—Courtney Tenz, The Washington Post
An immediacy and an intimacy filter through [Nors's] spare, brilliant prose about the region’s history, shipwrecks and other stories. The reader becomes immersed in Nors’s interior weather as well as the harsh external elements of the rugged Jutland Peninsula.”—S. Kirk Walsh, New York Times Book Review
“Ms. Nors is ever on the hunt for the secret seams of passion—whether from terror or jubilation—beneath the stark surface of the land and behind the faces of its button-lipped inhabitants. . . . The tone here, in Caroline Waight’s translation, is gentle and considered. It has clearly been [Nors’s] intention to avoid both tourist gawking and big-city condescension, and the result is both revealing and respectful. . . . Beautiful.”—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
“A revelation. In 14 eloquent, observant essays that combine journalism, nature writing and memoir, Nors paints a vivid portrait of a remote and rugged territory whose striking scenery masks more than its share of dangers. . . . A Line in the World will appeal to a wide audience of discerning and curious readers.”—Shelf Awareness
“Languorous and evocative. . . . The dramas of the past are evoked not so much through individual characters as through their traces—buildings, ruins, shipwrecks . . . ancient landscapes steeped in myth. . . . Nature is at the heart of this beautiful book.”—Claire Messud, Harper's
“The tight bond between place and people forms the backbone of this evocative and haunting book, which reminds the reader at every turn that permanence is not promised.”—Booklist
“A masterpiece of place-based nonfiction. . . . Nors claims this landscape as worthy of literature, claims nature writing for women.”—Nichole LeFebvre, On the Seawall
“[Nors] orients herself among dust and dirt, sea and sand, brilliantly capturing specks of memories which dance in the light, however briefly. Like W.G. Sebald’s narrator in The Emigrants, who watches dust dance in the projector light, Nors documents how the past haunts the present.”—Elizabeth McNeill, Chicago Review of Books
“In this rather unusual collection, which intertwines subjects as disparate as Viking history, modern surfing, and ancient church frescoes, Nors has written a powerful, authoritative masterpiece.”—Laura Albritton, Harvard Review
“Each essay offers an exquisite, layered exploration of a different stretch of that wild North Sea coast. . . . A Line in the World is no ordinary travel memoir, and its line connects the stories of each place like living tissue. Nors observes what others would not, mixing memory, history, nature, culture, and journalism in a deeply personal exploration of Danish geography.”—Samantha Siefert, Asymptote
“[A] poetic chronicle of her time spent along Denmark’s North Sea coast. . . . Nors’s portrait of her connection to a landscape both ‘harsh and mild’ enchants.”—Publishers Weekly
“A stunning portrayal of the connection between landscape, human beings, and memory on the Danish west coast...[Nors’s] rhythm, her stillness, her humility...This is a master piece.”—DAGBLADET INFORMATION
“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.”—Tanya Shadrick
“Dorthe Nors’s 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 Undercurrent: A Cornish Memoir of Poverty, Nature and Resilience
“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’s writing is breathtaking; it is hypnotic, consoling.”—Gunnhild Øyehaug, author of Present Tense Machine
“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: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
“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—Dorthe 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
“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
“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 and Being a Beast
“Dorthe Nors’s writing is both poetic and harsh, laconic and ironic... Her prose makes its way into the landscape and the soul.”—KRISTELIGT DAGBLAD
“[Nors’s] unreserved love for the coastal landscape is the engine that drives the text forward...There is a seductive intimacy at stake in these encounters with nature.”—MORGENBLADET
“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
“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