Norwegian Ambassador Torbjorn Holthe sits for an interview with The Korea Times at the embassy in Seoul, Wednesday. / Korea Times
Ambassador offers analysis of crime writer Jo Nesbo's popularity in Korea
Crime writer Jo Nesbo
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo has attracted a lot of attention from Korean readers, as his book "The Snowman" has sold more than 40,000 copies since a Korean edition was published in 2012.
Nesbo's follow-ups, better known as the "Harry Hole series" named after the lead character, have also been on the bestselling-books list here.
Publishers call this a rare phenomenon, given that there had been no Scandinavian writers whose books were consistently on those lists before Nesbo.
On Wednesday, Norwegian Ambassador Torbjorn Holthe said that several things appear to be behind the popularity of the Harry Hole series in Korea.
"First of all, his books were well-written and the plots were very good," the envoy said during an interview with The Korea Times at his office.
Holthe said that the lead character's image as a man next door who makes mistakes just like other ordinary people drew empathy from Norwegians as well as Koreans.
"Norwegians have a little bit of sympathy for him because of the problems in Hole's personal life. And the way he finds solutions also intrigues readers, because nobody else can do it like that," the ambassador said.
He implied that Korean readers might have felt a kind of opposite attraction to the Norwegian writer's lead character.
Holthe said that Koreans seem to prefer group consensus, whereas Harry Hole is independent.
Nesbo's lead character is a detective working at police headquarters in Oslo. Hole is a tall guy who has a drinking problem and occasionally gets emotional. He is a loner at police headquarters.
Despite these flaws, Hole is described as a highly professional detective who has extraordinary instincts.
Ambassador Holthe observed that the imperfect man using his instincts to find clues to criminal cases may have grabbed the interest of Korean readers.
Describing himself as a fan of Nesbo, Holthe lauded the fiction writer for his professionalism.
"My wife has worked as a psychiatrist. She said the way Nesbo describes his characters is very good and very professional."
The Norwegian ambassador noted that Nesbo's imagination, which has been revealed in his books, is also fascinating.
Holthe pointed to an increasing interest in Nordic nations as another possible reason behind the popularity of the Norwegian writer's success in Korea.
Worldwide, more than 40 million copies of Nesbo's books have been sold, and they have been translated into 40 languages.
Some analysts say the popularity of the Harry Hole series in Korea is not surprising at all, given that they are globally popular.
Choi Yeon-soon, executive manager of the publishing company VICHE which rolled out the series, disagrees. She stressed that not all fiction books that are huge successes in other countries are popular in Korea.
"It's not like that. Although Korean readers have shown a similar pattern to their North American counterparts in terms of preference for fiction, several cases showed that best-sellers in North America struggled in the Korean market," she said.
There is no question that the success of the Harry Hole series deserves to be called a phenomenon here, Choi said.
Nesbo was in Korea for nearly a week from Feb. 27. He said that he has no idea what the main driving force is behind his global success.
"I don't know the reason. I've tried not to have many contacts with my readers because I'm afraid that I can be corrupted," Nesbo said during a news conference on Feb. 28 at the residence of the Norwegian ambassador in Seoul.
"I tried to stay away from my readers because I don't want them to interfere with my work."
His remarks were construed as meaning that he could have felt the temptation to curry favor with his readers to please them if he had frequent contact with them.
Nesbo said he tried to write locally by focusing on characters and the socioeconomic setting he is familiar with, and that might make it easy for his readers to follow his storylines.
"The more locally you write stuff that you know, the more globally and universally you communicate with your readers," he said.
Nesbo received a warm welcome from Korean fans after he arrived at Incheon International Airport on Feb. 27.
Tens of fans waited for him for four hours at the airport after his flight was delayed.
Ambassador Holthe said Nesbo was impressed by the Korean fans as the writer said he never had readers wait for hours for his arrival at an airport.