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Told in 24 short chapters which are each assigned a date from 1st – 24th December, this book was apparently designed to be read like an advent calendar, with the appropriate chapter being read on the specific date.

On 1st December, a young boy named Joachim is given an unusual advent calendar, and behind each door contains a chapter of a story.  As the story unfolds, Joachim (and his parents) learn about a young girl named Elisabet who disappeared from Norway years earlier, and a pilgrimage of angels, shepherds and wise men who travel across land and time, to be present when Jesus was born.

Unfortunately, I did not particularly enjoy this book.  Although I am not religious, I can enjoy reading books about religion, but I felt that this particular story was preachy and sanctimonious.  Also, while it might be considered a magical tale of a pilgrimage, it could equally be seen as the story of a young girl who was tempted away from her mother by a cute animal, and led away with an angel who promised to look after her, but instead took her away from her home, and left her mother wondering for years about what had happened to her daughter.  (Which to me anyway, sounds a bit sinister.)

I do think the idea was quite a good one, because it could be a useful tool for learning about the history of certain places, but I just couldn’t connect with it at all. There was no characterisation – I didn’t know Joachim or his parents any better by the last page than I did on the first page, and I felt the same way about Elisabet.  The writing just seemed too simplistic, and the story was also somewhat repetitive, and the ending was – possibly deliberately – a bit unclear.

I should add that I have only read one other book by this author, and I didn’t enjoy that either.  Plenty of reviewers have loved this book, so it may just be that I am not the right reader for Jostein Gaarder.  I wanted to enjoy this, particularly reading it at Christmas time, but sadly, was just not able to.

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