AUP students enjoying an evening picnic at the Seine river.

Center for Writers and Translators

Christina Hesselholdt on 'Companions'

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On October 3, students, faculty and guests packed the Pierre Salinger Grand Salon to hear from the first Center for Writers and Translators guest speaker of the year. Christina Hesselholdt was on campus for a talk and reading on her English-language debut, the vivid and penetrating book Companions.

Described by The New York Times as “a literary ode to the shifting nature of human bonds”, Companions is driven by the experiences of several narrators. Professor Daniel Medin, leading the discussion, was intrigued by Hesselholdt’s use of so-called small forms that add up to something greater than the individual collection. For her part, Hesselholdt roots the style in her literary beginnings as a poet. At the Danish Academy of Creative Writing Hesselholdt explained, “all the teachers were poets not prose writers, so for two years we had teachers only interested in sentences.” It is a grounding method that has stuck with her. “I still try to fill the sentence with as much meaning as I can,” Hesselholdt said. “There should be no deserts the reader has to draw themselves through.”

In her book, Hesselholdt tracks a group of friends through their adult lives, mixing compelling prose about the ways that friendship strains against the realities of time with humor and lingering small moments on which major experiences pivot. Many readers of Companions are drawn to see the inspiration of Virginia Woolf’s work and in particular the beloved The Waves – a work that follows the monologues of six characters. “There is something very special in Christina’s books,” noted Jean-Baptiste Coursard, Hesselholdt’s French translator who joined the pair on stage later in the evening. “There are two characters who think of everything in books… in a very Woolfian way.” For Hesselholdt, it is only natural. “[The characters] read all the time, it’s just as real as real life.  Good literature is just as real.”

Born in 1962, Hesselholdt studied at the Danish Academy of Creative Writing in Copenhagen. She has written fifteen books of prose; her latest publication in Danish, a novel about the photographer Vivian Maier, won the Danish Radio Best Novel Award and was a finalist for the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2017. The book is currently in translation. Companions is now available on the Fitzcarraldo Editions website or wherever you get your books.