The story of the two Hansen sisters, Nik and Maj, continues in the sequel to Fossil Island. Now sixteen, Nik resumes her relationship with the passionate Carl Nielsen, who returns to the provincial village where she lives with her family for a summer visit in 1889. But their bonds are strained by convention, by Carl’s dream of becoming a great composer, and by Nik’s own stirrings of ambition to study art. Now twenty-one, Maj finds a teaching job away from home, but her mother hasn’t given up the idea that her eldest daughter will marry locally—perhaps Schoolmaster Strandgaard, a widower, whose children are Nik’s friends.
Over the course of two dramatic years, the sisters’ lives will be utterly changed by love, heartbreak, illness, and death. A vivid portrait of two stubborn young women who love their family yet yearn for freedom, The Former World re-creates a time when women’s lives and Danish society were in transition. Whether learning to cycle or dreaming of teaching school in Brooklyn, Nik and Maj are memorable characters in a setting both distant in time and familiar.
Fossil Island and its sequel, The Former World, are inspired by the true story of Denmark’s greatest composer, Carl Nielsen, and by the life of Emilie Demant Hatt, who later became an artist and ethnographer in Lapland.