Gaarder, Jostein 1952-

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GAARDER, Jostein 1952-

PERSONAL: Born 1952, in Oslo, Norway; married Siri Dannevig; children: two sons.

ADDRESSES: Home—Oslo, Norway. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus, 19 Union Square W., New York, NY 10001.

CAREER: Writer. Worked as a high school teacher of philosophy in Norway for eleven years.

AWARDS, HONORS: Norwegian Literary Critics' Award, and Norwegian Ministry of Cultural and Scientific Affairs' Literary Prize, both 1990, both for The Solitaire Mystery; Sophie's World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy was ranked number one in the world by Publishing Trends 1995 in their International Fiction Bestseller List.


Froskeslottet, illustrations by Torill Maro Henrichsen, Aschenhoug (Oslo, Norway), 1988.

Kabalmysteriet, Aschenhoug (Oslo, Norway), 1990.

Sofies verden: Roman om filosofiens historie, Aschenhoug (Oslo, Norway), 1991, translation by Paulette Moller published as Sophie's World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1994.

Julemysteriet, Aschehoug (Oslo, Norway), 1992.

Bibi Bokkens magiske bibliotek, Universitetsforlaget, 1993.

The Solitaire Mystery, translation by Sarah Jane Hails, illustrations by Hilde Kramer, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1996.

The Christmas Mystery, translation by Elizabeth Rokkan, illustrations by Rosemary Wells, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1996.

That Same Flower: Floria Aemilia's Letter to St. Augustine, translated by Anne Born, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998.

Hello? Is Anybody There?, translated by James Anderson, illustrated by Sally Gardner, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998.

Through a Glass, Darkly, translated by Elizabeth Rokkan, Phoenix House (London, England), 1998.

The Frog Castle, translated by James Anderson, Dolphin (London, England), 1999.

Maya, translated by Elizabeth Rokkan, Phoenix (London, England), 2000.

Sirkusdirektorens datter: roman, Aschehoug (Oslo, Norway), 2001.

SIDELIGHTS: Jostein Gaarder is a Norwegian writer who is probably best known to English-language readers for Sophie's World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy, a 1994 translation of his 1991 novel, Sofies verden: Roman om filosofiens historie, for readers in their mid-teens or older. In this work, a teenage Norwegian schoolgirl, Sophie, receives a series of inquisitive letters, posing such questions as "Who are you?" and "What does it take to live a good life?" Intrigued, Sophie begins corresponding with the sender of the mysterious letters. The ongoing correspondence quickly becomes a course in the history of philosophy from pre-Socratic to modern times.

Sophie eventually meets her instructor, Albert Knox, and as they continue their study of philosophy both characters come to suspect that they are actually characters in a novel. The suspicions of Sophie and Albert lead, in turn, to an investigation of metaphysics and the discovery that the duo are, indeed, characters in a novel, one being written by Albert Knag, a Norwegian military officer stationed in Lebanon. Knag is writing his novel for his daughter, Hilde. Knag's impending return to Norway provides a fair measure of suspense as Sophie's World builds to an appropriately quirky climax.

Upon publication in Scandinavia in 1991, Sofies verden developed into an exceptionally popular work. It achieved bestseller status in various European nations and was eventually acquired for American publication. Sophie's World appeared in English translation in 1994 and proceeded to draw praise from reviewers. Among its supporters was Andrea Ashworth, who wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that the novel is "seductive and original." She concluded that "Sophie's World is, as it dares to congratulate itself, 'a strange and wonderful book.'"

Although some critics expressed reservations about Gaarder's book, they acknowledged the work's merit. John Vernon declared in the New York Times Book Review that "the history of philosophy becomes inserted into the tale of a Norwegian Nancy Drew like an aspirin into a piece of cheese," but conceded that "Mr. Gaarder's tour through the past of Western thought will perhaps have the good effect of encouraging some readers to seek out the real thing." Village Voice reviewer Richard Gehr, while noting the book's "one-size-fits-all coziness," acknowledged that Sophie's World "is a concise, clearly written corrective to philosophic obscurantism."

Prior to the huge success of Sophie's World, Gaarder taught philosophy at a high school in Norway for eleven years. With more than twenty million copies of the book in print, Gaarder's story has spawned an industry. The book has been adapted into a movie, a musical, a board game and a CD ROM. The success of Sophie's World not only made the author a very rich man, but it allowed him to become a full-time writer and a philathropist. He and his wife, Siri Dannevig formed the Sofie Foundation to "promote a sustainable environment." The foundation makes an annual award of 100,000 dollars to an individual or organization "that is pioneering or suggesting a particularly creative alternative to present development."



Booklist, December 15, 1998, review of "Hello? Is Anybody There?"

New Statesman, August 2, 1996, review of The Solitaire Mystery, p. 45.

New York Times Book Review, September 25, 1994.

Publishers Weekly, November 17, 1997, review of That Same Flower: Floria Aemilia's Letter to St. Augustine; August 10, 1998, review of Hello? Is Anybody There?, p. 338.

Sunday Times (London, England), January 29, 1995, p. 3.

Times Literary Supplement, January 13, 1995, p. 20.

U.S. Catholic, August, 2000, review of The Christmas Mystery, p. 46.

Village Voice, November 15, 1994, p. 87.


Jostein Gaarder Web site, (August 5, 2004).*