Title: The Christmas Mystery
Author: Jostein Gaarder
If you had lived in Hamburg in the fourteenth century, or Venice in the ninth century, or Damascus in the second century, you might have looked up from what you were doing and glimpsed – just for a second – a strange procession rushing past and out of sight. There were, at different times, a little girl, a flock of sheep, shepherds, angels, a Roman governor and the Emperor Augustus, and they were hurrying to Bethlehem to see the Christ-child.
The little girl was Elisabet Hansen, who disappeared from Norway at Christmas in 1948. Years later, a young boy called Joachim opens the 24 doors of a magic Advent calendar and pieces together Elisabet’s story – how she was taken on an astonishing journey, not just from Norway to Bethlehem but back through two thousand years of history.
Like Jostein Gaarder’s hugely popular Sophie’s World and The Solitaire Mystery, The Christmas Mystery is an enthralling story-within-a-story, full of surprises. It is written with an enquiring open-mindedness and a sense of wonder that startles the reader into looking at the story of Christmas with fresh eyes.
I borrowed this book from a friend who recommended it to me as a good Christmas story. She was not wrong.
The Christmas Mystery is set out in Advent Calendar format. One could, I guess, read it as one would open the doors of an advent calendar each day of advent. The story is about a little Norwegian boy, Joachim, who goes into a bookshop with his Papa on the hunt for an Advent Calendar. While there, he spots a beautiful, old one which he immediately asks for. The bookshop owner agrees that he may have it, and he takes it home. When he opens it, to his surprise a small folded up piece of paper falls out of the first door, and when he reads it, becomes engrossed in the story of a little girl who went missing from a shop in 1948.
Behind each door is a similar piece of paper, and the mysterious tale unfolds.
This book is simple in structure, but quite complex in content. It simultaneously tells the story of Joachim’s advent and the story contained within the advent calendar, as well as delving into the history of Europe through the ages, the Christmas Story as told in the Bible, and interspersed among it all are some discussions on theological questions and truths. It is very detailed, but is a pretty easy read, and very interesting. Definitely not dry and boring. One could, if one wished, dig out some atlases containing ancient maps to use alongside reading the story.