Coffee table book publishing, Norwegian style

Batalden: Shipwreck and Emi­gration, by Trond Strømgren. Strømgren Publishing.

Trond Strømgren is an unusual but confident Norwegian publisher. I say unusual because his imprint is “Strømgren Publishing: Batalden – New York – Tokyo”. You’d expect an international publisher to have office in the two cities right enough, but Batalden?

Batalden, home of the publisher, is a peerie island group off the Norwegian coast west of Florø and south of Måløy; it takes a fair flight of imagination to envisage a Shetland equivalent – perhaps “Skerries – New York –Tokyo”. I say confident because his latest publication is the third in a five-volume series of books on – yes, you’ve guessed – Batalden. The series title loosely translates as “West Norwegian Coast Culture – Island Communities”, and covers history, trade, culture, fisheries, farming and other related topics.

Book 2B came out recently, and like its predecessors it isn’t a peerie book, but a finely-made product fit to take its place on the smartest of coffee tables; 176 pages, colour photographs, the lot. It deals with storms, shipwrecks and emigration. Batalden lies on the Inner Lead, the sheltered coastal passage running down the Norwegian coast, so its recorded shipwrecks provide a fair reflection of the development of the country’s transport and trade, from local jekts carrying dried fish to Bergen to sailing coasters laden with Russian grain or timber, and British trawlers making the long passage to fish at Bear Island or the White Sea. Between 1825 and 1930, it’s estimated four Norwegians out of every 10 emigrated to America, so that there are now more Americans of Norwegian descent than native Norwegians. Batalden lost some 20 families this way, and the story of their travels is outlined in the second part of the book. There are numerous historical parallels and analogies between Shetland and west-coast Norway, and this book – indeed, the whole series – brings these out again and again. For anyone interested in the subject there’s a wealth of comparison to be uncovered. Although the main text is in Norwegian, the multitude of photographs have captions in English, and there’s a paragraph of summary in English on almost every page.

I described the publisher as “confident”; he has to be, in producing such a mass of detail about one comparatively tiny island community in a country where there are thousands. It’s certainly an expression of pride in his community – and perhaps the fact that today there are 4,000 Americans of Batalden descent justifies the New York office. I’m not so sure about the Tokyo connection!

Charlie Simpson


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