Book Review – Sista Resan by Carsten Jensen

One of my goals for this year is that I want to read two books per month, or 24 books total for the year. As a part of that goal I decided I also want to write down some of my thoughts about each book, so that I can remember more of what I learn from them. For the past few years I’ve mainly read non-fiction, but last week I picked up a novel by Danish author Carsten Jensen called Sista Resan (“The Final Voyage”) that I got from my dad a year or two ago, and it reminded me how much I enjoy historical fiction. The book was in Swedish, and I don’t believe there’s an English translation, which might be a bit of a challenge for some of you potential readers out there, but I’ll share my review nevertheless. 


The story takes place in Denmark in the mid-1800s, and chronicles the life of marine painter Carl Rasmussen. Born the oldest of eleven, by a tailor in a small town on one of Denmark’s many islands, his life seemed predestined to be one of toil and hardship, working in the trades or shipping industries. That changes when his painting work is discovered by the town’s wealthy merchant and benefactor, who puts him into training to become a painter. 


The story then follows Rasmussen on his two journeys to Greenland – the first one in his youth, that leads to his breakthrough and subsequent fame as a painter, and the second one at the end of his life, searching for lost inspiration, that ultimately leads to his demise.


The book is a beautifully written narrative of a man’s struggle with faith, family and purpose. I personally really related to the tension between Rasmussen’s longing for adventure, that lead him to travel to the edge of the known world in search of a greater meaning and purpose for his life, versus the draw of the comfort, love and belonging that he established for himself as a family man and respected member of society in his home town. It reminds me of my own struggles with going down a career path in finance that has provided a steady income with lots of comfort and security, but not much sense of adventure or purpose, which I’ve had to search for in alternative places instead, such as my photography. Overall, a great book that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.