Book Reviews, Middle Grades, Teen/Adult
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What’s Lefse?

The Invention of Lefse: a Christmas Story, by Larry Woiwode.  Crossway, 2011, 63 pages.  Age/interest level: 8 and up.

“Lefse? What’s lefse?” is the epigraph at the beginning of Larry Woiwode’s latest story.  That was my question, too:  Is it a machine? a person? an idea?  No (as some readers will already know)—it’s something more mundane and simple, like the very stuff of life.  The same stuff that makes up this story.

The first thing Mette sees when she wakes up on the morning of Christmas Eve is her window, “a porthole on the winter sky.”  It was Papa’s gift for her thirteenth birthday, a circle of glass brought from Oslo and perfectly fitted into the log wall of her loft.  “Papa built” . . . “her father made” . . . runs through the narrative, strung with his creations like beads on a string: her window, the family sledge, a flour box, slippers made of reindeer leather.

But papa’s creativity falls short when it comes to getting along with Grampy Andreson.  Today, Mette, her parents and her two sisters will be traveling to the Andreson’s for Christmas with the in-laws, and papa is already feeling his inadequacy when they set out.  When he misses a shot at a deer, wasting fully half of their meager supply of bullets, he plunges into an “endless Norwegian night of a black mood.”

The story, only 63 pages long, follows that day-long journey through the snow, followed by the usual family jokes and jibes and the special challenge of salvaging Christmas from a grudging year.  Grampy Andreson lives up his reputation, as cantankerous and quirky as they get in those Norwegian woods, with a bit of troll in him.  It’s beginning to look like a gloomy, contentious Christmas—not even a haunch of meat for the feast–until they pool their slender resources and come up with something new to put on the table.

And what is it?  That’s what everybody wonders, after the womenfolk have been working on it through the night.  It’s made of a few old potatoes from Grammy’s cellar and flour from Mette’s family harvest, mixed with milk and butter: part potato pancake and part flatbread.  Grampy names it lefse.  Like manna, it feeds a multitude.  “Out of their poverty came riches that abounded to many” (II Cor. 8:2).  And lefse has been a Norwegian Christmas staple ever since.

Larry Woiwode (pronounced WYE-woody) is of German and Norwegian stock.  He grew up on–and eventually returned to–the windswept North Dakota plains, where the natives have known what lefse is for generations.  His highly-acclaimed novels draw from that soil, but this story reaches back to the motherland, which the Andresons and Iversons and Kleppes of the USA remember only in their bones.  We all remember, though.  We lived in darkness, but He brought us light.  We were poor, but He made us rich.  Life itself is richness: “It means you got to run and play and sneak out in your woods and yell loud cough balls of hey!  It means giving thanks.”

The Invention of Lefse is a very slim volume, but it can be read many, many times.  It’s the kind of story that becomes a Christmas tradition.  Even if you’re not Norwegian.

If you’d like to try some lefse yourself, here’s a step-by-step guide to how to make it.  Chances are you’ll already have the ingredients.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!  With loud cough balls of hey!

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6 Comments

  1. Oh, that sounds wonderful! My mom makes lefse for us and the relatives every Christmas. Something about it is so… well, Christmassy. 🙂

  2. Summer Lee says

    Yay! I married a 100% Norwegian fella and we have lefse every time we have a special family gathering. It is a wonderful treat, though plain is a good way to describe it too. I am definitely going to consider buying “The Invention of Lefse” for my husband and possibly his siblings. Thanks!

  3. I am Norwegian and this looks like a great addition to our Christmas story basket. Thanks for highlighting it!

  4. Charlotte of Kansas says

    Janie,

    Takk (Norwegian for thanks) for an enticing book review: THE INVENTION OF LEFSE! I first tasted it many years ago when I was a graduate student at an international summer school in Oslo, Norway. I eventually bought a lefse grill & I’ve made lefse for my family for years. Of course, I will buy the book!

  5. I’m not Norwegian, but I’m anxious to try this. Next Christmas, I’ll read this story again–after a trip to my local Scandinavian specialty shop.

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