Klara Hveberg (Norway)

Photo: Agnete Brun

Klara Hveberg (b 1974) never planned to become a writer. She is a mathematician by education, and in her doctoral theses she studied fractals, which are complicated geometrical objects built up of smaller, distorted copies of themselves. But even before defending her thesis, she developed a postviral fatigue syndrome which eventually made it impossible for her to continue her work at the University of Oslo.

When she started writing, she was bedbound and could only write a few sentences each day – ending up with lots of small fragments that didn’t seem to fit together. Then she got the idea that she could try to use mathematics in a literary way: Fractals are also quite fragmented, but the fragments are connected through reflections and repetitions. Perhaps she could link her text fragments in a similar way? Gradually the fractal structure seemed to emerge naturally from the patterns of life, with everything that is repeated through history and generations.

In Hveberg’s first novel Lean Your Loneliness Slowly Against Mine (Lene din ensomhet langsomt mot min) we meet two female mathematicians, Rakel Havberg in our present time, and Sofya Kovalevskaya in the 19th century. Kovalevskaya was the first female professor of mathematics. Hveberg says that she was fascinated by Sofya’s personality — how she was both strong and vulnerable at the same time, both intelligent and naive. In mathematics it is important for Hveberg to present things in a simple and clear way, but in literature she enjoys to explore the more complex and ambiguous aspects of human nature.

The novel tells a story of love and loneliness, illness, mathematics, painting and music, and how art can help to define life anew when everything seems lost. Hveberg’s debut novel has already been published in Danish and Korean, and will soon be published in English, German and Polish.

What does the phrase Small world mean to you? And does your work relate to the theme?

My first thought is the exclamation «What a small world!» which we use when something very unlikely happens. But I also think of «small world» in contrast to «large world»: our small daily world of routines and tasks, family and friends, against the large world of politics, arts and science. Most of us live almost exclusively in the small world, but that small world is constantly being changed, challenged, and illuminated by the large world. 

Rakel, the protagonist of my debut novel, lives in a very small world indeed – she has never mastered the art of making friends, and halfway through the novel she gets so sick that she has to spend most of the time in bed. What keeps her alive and sane is input from the large world; the ideas, impressions and emotions she gets from the worlds of literature, music – and mathematics. By chance («what a small world!») she discovers somebody she comes to think of as almost a twin in the Russian mathematician Sofya Kovalevskaya – and her small world starts to expand to take in the cultural and scientific world of the nineteenth century. When Rakel begins to write, her guiding light is the mathematical notion of fractals which are built up of smaller copies of themselves – hence the small world contains a full copy of the large world!

I see art (including mathematics) as a way of connecting the large world with the small – a way of showing the significance of what we are experiencing and endowing it with meaning.

Wednesday, September 22nd

16.00 A discussion The Diplomacy of Translating in the hall of Tartu Public Library