At the end of Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House, Nora Helmer walks away from her family and comfortable life. It is 1879, late on a winter’s night in Norway. She’s alone, with little money and few legal rights. Guided by instinct and sustained by will, Nora sets off on a journey that impoverishes and radicalizes her, then strands her on the harsh Minnesota prairie. She’s searching for love, purpose, and her true self, but struggles to be honest in a hostile world.
Meanwhile, in 1918, a young university student tries to escape her family’s bourgeois conformity as she unravels her grandfather’s hidden shame and the fate of a shadowy feminist who vanished years earlier.
With this inventive work of historical fiction, Swallow answers a question that has dogged theater audiences for A Doll’s House: whatever happened to Nora Helmer? Masterfully crafted and painstakingly researched, the twin story lines of Searching for Nora combine to tell a powerful tale of redemption as they unfold over four decades in the fjords of Norway and the unforgiving American frontier.
Wendy Swallow writes about women’s challenges, now and in the tender past. A memoirist, journalist and professor, Swallow spent ten years working on Searching for Nora, traveling to Norway to interview Ibsen scholars and Norwegian historians, and driving across western Minnesota to hear the stories of immigrant grandparents and experience the wide, empty land. She is also the author of Breaking Apart: A Memoir of Divorce (Hyperion/Thea) and The Triumph of Love over Experience: A Memoir of Remarriage (Hyperion). Her work has been critically acclaimed by Publishers Weekly, Elle, Booklist, Newsday, and The Washington Post, among others, and reprinted in many magazines. She and her husband divide their time between Reno, Nevada, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
“So much more than a sequel, Searching for Nora is a masterful tale that spans generations, continents, and the intertwined lives of two remarkable women. Lyrically told and meticulously researched. I couldn't put it down.” —Joanne Lipman, author of That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together (Washington Post No. 1 bestseller)
“Few narratives in Western literature have inspired more ‘what happened next?’ speculations than Ibsen's A Doll’s House, with its famous ‘door slam heard 'round the world.’ Nora's risky act of self-emancipation… (leaves) us to wonder about the next ‘act’ in her life.
“Wendy Swallow has done the hard work of imagining in four dimensions – across time and space, from Norway to America, and into the first quarter of the 20th century – how the echoes of that door slam might reverberate in the lives of several families, and in the intellectual and social currents of two continents. Her novel is steeped in the Ibsen tradition of meticulous observation, careful design, and rich implication.
“Part family drama, part evocation of early feminism… the work takes us on a satisfying and altogether believable journey as Nora's story comes full circle across the generations.” —Rick Davis, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts and Professor of Theater at George Mason University, co-founder of the American Ibsen Theater in Pittsburgh, and co-translator (with Brian Johnston) of five Ibsen plays
“Exquisitely crafted and brilliantly delivered. Swallow brings us a passionate and cautionary tale that speaks to the life choices we all make – and how those decisions ripple through the generations in ways we never could have imagined.” —Steve Piacente, author of Bella, Bootlicker, Pretender and Your New Fighting Stance: Good Enough Isn't ... And You Know It.
“For those who wondered what happened to Ibsen’s Nora Helmer, after she slams the door on her marriage, comes this compelling and engaging novel. A fascinating and well-researched social history of life in Norway for women from 1880 to 1919, as well as a chronicle of the rigors of immigration to the American Midwest. Beautifully written, with characters that resonate long after you turn the last page.” —Beth Brophy, author of My Ex-Best Friend and Reunion.