This English version of my website focuses mainly on my works as an author and the publishing in Denmark and abroad.
"Theses on the existence of love" is an ambitious book which wants to tell all – and a bit more. This has been tried before. The really amazing thing about young Torben Guldberg’s novel début is that the project is successful.
What a début! ... what a story! ... Shrewd realism, European history of ideas, humour and magic are amazingly tied together in this novel … Torben Guldberg mixes skilfully and gives us a literary experience over and above the ordinary. Well done.
Søren Kassebeer, Berlingske Tidende
'Applause – standing ovation: Tremendous début novel by Torben Guldberg.' ' It is unique that a relatively unknown 33 year old author can make his début with a grand novel which leaves the reader exhausted, filled with laughter, entertained and amazed – this reviewer is still applauding and sincerely hopes that the promised second volume will be as magnificent as the first one. This is truly well-written literature, and I predict that this book will be bought, read and listened to by an enthusiastic audience. And reviewers will use superlatives and mention Gabriel García Márquez, Simone de Beauvoir, Umberto Eco and what have you as ideals and inspiration. Many may express equal admiration and bend their knees to this author as was the case with Peter Hoeg… With a conscious change of style, ample composition techniques, with an eye for detail and overview and not least magic-realistic ideas Torben Guldberg’s writing will place him at the very front of new Danish literature.'
Maria Sjøqvist, Kristelig Dagblad
'Some books have it. You feel it immediately. A great touch ... Torben Guldberg has written a book for everyone who like the taste of words, enjoy the grandeur of imagination and who delight in the ability of reflections on life and mankind.'
Arne Mariager, Fredericia Dagblad
"New masterly Danish author".
On the front page of Kristelig Dagblad.
"Fabulous ... an elegant mixture of Saxo, Cervantes, Blixen and - yes, Torben Guldberg ... On the whole “Songs of immortality” is an abundance of a novel that goes for it all and succeeds at most. ... A philosophic, poetic vision of man’s solidarity across time and place, because we are cast about in the same existential web of love and death, dream and reality and have the same ability to illustrate it in art and stories. And finally a daring and imaginative play with genres, literary forefathers and the author’s own passion for story telling. One would be pleased to join in the singing of several more of Torben Guldberg’s songs."
Vibeke Blaksteen, Kristelig Dagblad
"… An unusual and very talented story teller … It is fantastic and very full of promise. Torben Guldberg has now completed his great double novel about almost everything in the course of 1000 years and has demonstrated to himself and his readers how capable he is and how high he aims …"
Jakob Levinsen, Jyllandsposten
"Torben Guldberg brings forward this eternal, almost unbearable longing which to the reader is a physical feeling throughout the novel. At the same time he is as clever a narrator as the narrator in the book and makes the reader dive deep into each story without realising how he got there and without knowing where he will be going."
Christine Fur Fischer, Fyens Stiftstidende
My books have been translated and published in both Europe and Asia.
For this to happen a book has to fall in the hands of the right people. Among them are Merete Ries, Karsten Nielsen - my original Danish publisher - and the people at the literary agency Andrew Nurnberg Associates. Thank you.
The translators have been some of the first readers as well, reviewing the book on behalf of the publishers and helping them decide whether to take it on or not. Regarding 'Theses ...' most of these decisions were made even before the Danish version was published, and without reviews and sales numbers to support the book their opinion weighed in heavily.
The translations have later on had a life of their own. The German versin by Ulrich Sonnenberg was used as the basis for the Taiwanese version. And the Greek version by Leo Kalovyrnas was rewarded a literary price for best translation into Greek.
For a list of publishers, with links to the websites of some of them, see the column to the right.
Theses on the Existence of Love
For centuries the novel’s five-hundred-year-old narrator has travelled around and told his stories about love. He has lost it somewhere during his long life journey and has to reacquaint himself with it before he can find peace. Like everyone he had believed that love was an all-encompassing power that existed everywhere and was inside everything. But around him people have started changing their minds.
The year is 1500, during the High-Renaissance. Luther’s Reformation sweeps through Northern Europe. And among the notions that are changing is that of love. The narrator’s audience no longer listens to his stories. So he settles down in Copenhagen and starts listening to the stories people tell him. For the first time he has a fixed residence, in a back yard, where he receives visitors. And in between he still travels around on his old legs to collect stories. But it turns into a long journey that eventually lasts for five hundred years. And for every century between 1500 and today he retells the one love story, which to his mind is the most significant one.
1500: ’A Musical Score to be used in long Wars’
A story of three orphans. The narrator becomes aware of them when visiting an instrument maker about whom it is said that his so-called mourning-pipes have determined the outcome of the siege of Copenhagen during the Civil War in Denmark 1534-36. The instrument maker shows him a musical score you cannot play without breaking into tears. And during the small part of the piece he hears, he perceives dimly the depth of infinite longing caused by unreciprocated love.
One of the orphans, Amalie, is left in a fjord after her birth and drifts ashore on an island inhabited by expelled women. There she grows up, initially thought to be deaf since her screaming is so loud that no one can hear it. At the age of fourteen her screaming has turned into singing, she sings at least once a day.
She meets Frans, a foundling, who has been raised by monks at a monastery in Svindfeld, northern Denmark, and who is capable of singing along with her. They are secretly together for about a year, after which she gives birth to their son, whose upbringing they cannot support. They have to hand him over as an orphan to the monastery, where Frans takes care of him though he can never divulge that he is the boy’s father. Here they live, father and son, side by side.
When the Reformation starts and the monastery is shut down, the boy Magnus flees to Copenhagen. He becomes an instrument maker, specialising in mourning-pipes used to frighten the enemy during wartime.
Frans, who has now lost his Amalie, his monastery life and his son, spends his time writing scores based on Amalie’s unique singing – and ends up composing the first European symphony. After several years he finally considers the work successfully concluded and mails the score to his son. Magnus feels that it could perhaps be sold as a battlefield weapon, but just then an old man turns up and shows an interest in the score...
1600: ‘The Etching of a soul’
The narrator is in Amsterdam to take a close look at the equality between people, which has reputedly developed in the busy commercial town. The idea that all people are equal almost sounds like a common declaration of love. Through a hole in a wall he sees a group of quite different-looking people and he plucks up his courage and knocks on the door. The guests are gathered around the owner of the house, who has been unconscious for a couple of days. The narrator enquires about the man’s background and is told the story of Gregarius Danæ from Elsinore, a painter, illustrator, and a man of pleasure.
As a young man Gregarius went to Amsterdam to become a pupil of Rembrandt van Rijn, who taught him the art of both painting and etching. He took up work as an illustrator for Dutch trading companies and in this capacity travelled around the world, to Central America, Africa, Java and even van Diemen’s Land with Abel Tasman as he sailed along the south coast of Australia.
At home he always had a woman by his side, and he has painted colourful portraits of the many different women he has known.
Between his journeys he has also found time to carry out some work for a wealthy man, making paintings of the most significant men and events in European history. Philosophers and kings, battles and peace negotiations during the endless wars that have ravaged the continent.
When Gregarius is about fifty years old he decides paint the soul of a very special woman. But before he has finished the work he is met with an accident and knocked unconscious.
This story is told by the guests; however, they all have completely different perceptions of Gregarius and his life. When the tales wane off, there is some doubt hanging in the air as to whether Gregarius has had many women, or many different versions of the same woman...
1700: ‘A Sketch of the Nature of Light’
The main character is a young woman. Her parents are servants and by the time she is fifteen years old they are employed by a new master, Severin Bogø. Severin had previously been a notary for the astronomer Ole Rømer, and he had done all he could to bring up his son, Hans, to pick up the mantle from the great genius; he has eliminated everything that might distract Hans, sealed off the neighbourhood and felled the trees and bushes to rid the area of all sounds made by people or animals.
At night the girl sneaks upstairs to Hans’ room and observes him through a gap in the door. One night he invites her in, and subsequently allows her to visit him while he continues his work, some of which concerns the deciphering of Rømer’s written code. On the night where he finally succeeds, the pursuing jubilation wakes up Severin, and on discovering the girl who has distracted his son so badly he sends her away.
For three years she works as a servant on an estate. But it all comes to an end when the master’s two highly competitive sons wound each other in a duel, which their father feels certain has been fought over the girl.
She returns to Copenhagen and is employed to serve in a house belonging to a naval officer. Her evenings are spent strolling through the city. One night she passes by the Round Tower when a feather comes sailing through the air and lands next to her. It turns out to be Hans, signalling to her this way. He invites her upstairs to his astronomical observatory and tells her about his experiments with light, based on one of Rømer's old coded notebooks.
Hans wears an engagement ring, so she decides to keep away from him. However, when she is told that he only wears it to be left in peace by his father, she gives in to his begging and promises to help him test a certain theory of his.
Together they set up an experiment to prove that warm feelings coming from the heart are emitted in the same manner as light, and at the same speed. On the evening of the experiment Hans is both distant and fervent, and during the following days the fate of the loving couple is sealed along with a whole lot more dramatic events...
The story is told by the woman, who writes it down later on in her life. From her point of view it is not just a romantic love affair, but also a story about the unselfish elements of love. She brings the manuscript along and shows it to the old narrator, who finds that he can learn something from it, too.
1800: ‘A Mosaic of a lived-out Philosophy’
A story about the naïve son of a priest, his searching for happiness, and his struggles with understanding philosophy. Didrik grows up in a house where religion hangs heavy in the air. The roof is pressed down, the walls are gradually bending outwards, symptoms which are reflected literally in the boy’s parents. His father is stooping more and more for every day, while his mother is tilting over backwards.
It is the forward leaning father who tells the boy that philosophy is the love of wisdom, and Didrik spends the rest of his life searching for what he calls ‘the wisdom of life’, wherever he may find it.
He tries to be accepted into the University of Copenhagen but has to flee from the people who are housing him after the mistress has convinced him that the wisdom of life can be found behind her petticoat, and she becomes pregnant. In Berlin he joins a group of students admirers of professor Hegel and lives in a big house along with a fellow-student and his three sisters. They are hoping to extract the Big Truth based on Hegel’s thoughts and arrange evening lectures, which develop so dramatically that the building starts to crack in two. When the three sisters become pregnant, too, Didrik is forced to move on.
For a number of years he is a destitute; he is imprisoned and subsequently lives in a barrel, making his money by judging people’s characters based on Schopenhauer’s ideas. When his financial situation finally improves, he starts to travel around looking up his illegitimate children, but the journey ends when he arrives at the house belonging to the Nietzsche family, whom he assists with the birth of a new family member. The child’s screaming ruins his ability to take responsibility for anyone other than himself. He is gradually growing insane.
His parents are now leaning over so badly they finally hit the ground and go to their graves. After their funeral he falls out with the entire village and escapes to Frankfurt am Main where he opens a salon for the town’s bourgeoisie in a big empty flat, which slowly overflows with all the juices oozing out of them because of their decadent living. When the dirt has grown so high it is pressing against the ceiling he collapses.
He is sent to Vienna and treated by Freud. And as the psychologist starts to lay bare the effect of all the peculiar buildings and the strange events he has experienced, a new and horrifying light is cast over his life...
This story, too, is told by its main character; Didrik. Written with a broken pen and posted to the old narrator.
1900: ‘A Symphony for Love that can be Bought’
The tale of Henrik Oberg Kingman’s life is world history, for Henrik is a man who can conduct such things.
Backed by a solid education gained at an elitist school founded by his parents, and run by his father, Henrik has the world at his feet. He starts by entering the Financial Faculty at the University of Copenhagen where he lays down the basis of his career by proving – theoretically as well as in practise – that love can be bought. In a sense money is just an abstraction, a symbol of transactions between people, to do with confidence and consideration, and thereby it touches upon various aspects of love. He develops these thoughts further while his project on international economical politics takes him to the East Coast of the United States, the centre of world economics; there, he gains a high position in the World Bank.
One day he meets Pernille, a Danish-Chinese woman and a receptionist at the UN Headquarters, and falls in love with her. Via her he can get even one step further up his career ladder: He launches a consultative company, serving not only the World Bank but also the UN and the IMF, the International Monetary Fund.
From this position he can press most of the buttons controlling world economy. Meanwhile he tries to comprehend the mysteries of women, which Pernille presents to him, and understand the peculiar feeling of falling and drowning that is part of his love for her.
When they marry, a sense of exhaustion comes over him. The same kind of exhaustion that has also hit the fast growing economies of Asia. He tries all kinds of drastic remedies, but there is only one way out. At a desperate moment he phones a former co-worker; the narrator, who has worked for the World Bank for a number of years to try and understand the idea of love based on the 20th Century conception that happiness can be bought.
Henrik asks him a question which, for the moment, the old man cannot make a reply to...
-- o --
By the turn of the millennium the narrator has done all he could to pursue his query: What is love? But has he grown any wiser and can he finally get peace of mind? Perhaps the answer can be found in his long story of the European notion of love from the Renaissance up until today. Perhaps love is something that has to be told. And perhaps it has really been there all the time, only not inside of him, but inside the people whose stories he has listened to during his journey.