You don't have to be a Beatles fan to relate to this book, but it would probably help. I was - and still am - a Beatles fan, which was what initially drew me to this massive novel. I mean, how could I not be intrigued by a book titled simply BEATLES? The book was first published in Norway twenty-five years ago and has become something of a modern classic there, recently voted the most popular book in Norway. Its first English translation just appeared this year (2009), and the Herculean task of transforming over 500 pages into idiomatic British English was performed spot on letter perfect by Don Bartlett. He has taken this tale of young Kim Karlsen and his three friends Seb, Gunnar and Ola, and turned it into a tale for the ages that will, I suspect, be read for years by English-speaking readers around the world. The fact of the matter is, Christensen has written a timeless and enduring coming-of-age story about the turbulent times of the sixties that will resonate long after the last page has been read. All the ingredients are here: the booze and drinking, long hair and hippies, generational conflict, youthful revolt and civil unrest. And of course that timeless triumvirate: sex, drugs and rock and roll. And the Beatles and the other pop groups and artists of the British Invasion are uppermost themes throughout the book. The hero-narrator's own continuing quest to shed himself of the onerous burden of virginity is well-documented here too. Kim almost manages to score, with his beautiful upper-class sometime girlfriend, Cecilie, on the night of the American moon landing, and Christensen portrays this skillfully, interweaving the sweaty fumblings, Kim's frantic and fruitless search for his condoms and the radio coverage of the momentous space landing -
"And the Eagle was on its way to the Sea of Tranquility ... It was a strange time. Men on the moon. Cecilie here. I held her tight. My heart was in my throat and I couldn't swallow ... At twelve I went in search of more red wine. I couldn't find anything. Mum must have hidden the bottles well. I couldn't find the johnnies either. I was sure I had left them in my wallet, they had to be there, but the wallet was empty ... The voices on the radio were becoming excited ... 'I love you,' I whispered, not knowing whether I had said it before or whether I meant it ... The door of the Eagle was open and Armstrong was on his way down the ladder. We sat with our ears to the radio in a deep wet kiss ... Cecilie's tongue was licking the inside of my mouth ..."
But then, at the most inopportune moment, Kim's parents show up. Kim Karlsen's story is, in so many ways, every teenager's story. But it is made unique by its sixties setting (albeit in Oslo) and by the importance paid to popular music of the time, particularly that of the Beatles. Every chapter is headed with a particular Beatles song or album title, and they fit. Kim and his friends want to BE the Beatles. Indeed, they dream of forming their own band which they will call the SNAFUs. How appropriate, because when you are between the ages of 14 and 21, the normal state of things usually is "all fouled up". The civil unrest and the Vietnam war are much in evidence here. In fact the Americans and the US Army are cast as the imperialistic villains and invaders. Which is of course no surprise. There were similar protests right here in the U.S. I could go on and on about all the wonderful stuff in this book. Even after 534 pages I wished there were more. Apparently there were two sequels to this book, but, alas, they have not been translated into English. But if BEATLES catches on in England and the U.S., perhaps they will be. In short, this is one hell of a GOOD book. Don't miss it. - Tim Bazzett, author of SOLDIER BOY: AT PLAY IN THE ASA