Skip to main navigation Skip to main content

The 2021 Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize is now open for submissions via Submittable through August 31, 2021.

Before I Burn

A Novel
Gaute Heivoll; Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
In 1970s Norway, an arsonist targets a small town for one long, terrifying month. One by one, buildings go up in flames. Suspicion spreads among the neighbors as they wonder if one of their own is responsible. But as the heat and panic rise, new life finds a way to emerge. Amid the chaos, only a day after the last house is set afire, the community draws together for the christening of a young boy named Gaute Heivoll. As he grows up, stories about the time of fear and fire become deeply engrained in his young mind until, as an adult, he begins to retell the story. At the novel’s apex at a literary festival in Italy, the lives of Heivoll’s friends and neighbors mix with his own life as the identity of the arsonist and his motivations are slowly revealed. Based on the true account of Norway’s most dramatic arson case, Before I Burn is a powerful, gripping breakout novel from an exceptionally talented author.

Share Title

Publication Date
Trim Size
5.5 x 8.25
Based on a true account: an international literary sensation about an arsonist on the loose in rural Norway and of the young man haunted by the story

About the Author

Gaute  Heivoll
Credit: Paal Audestad
Gaute Heivollis the author of Across the China Sea and Before I Burn, which won the Brage Prize and was a finalist for the Critics Prize and the Booksellers’ Prize in Norway. He studied creative writing at Telemark College, law at the University of Oslo, and psychology at the University of Bergen. He lives in Norway.
More by author
Don Bartlett lives in Norfolk, England, and works as a freelance translator of Scandinavian literature. He has translated, or co-translated, Norwegian novels by Gaute Heivoll (Before I Burn), Karl Ove Knausgaard, Lars Saabye Christensen, Roy Jacobsen (Borders; Child Wonder), Jo Nesbø, and Per Petterson (Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes; I Refuse; It’s Fine By Me).
More by author


  • “It’s impossible to fully experience another person’s perspective. To know why they set buildings on fire, or why they feel compelled to write books. But Before I Burn makes a persuasive case that the novel is still the best method we've got.”—NPR
  • “[Before I Burn] succeeds as a dual character study: of the criminal as he goes about his wicked work, and of the narrator as he tries to make sense of a hazy but vital piece of his hometown’s history.”The New York Times
  • "Heivoll's book is tense and taut, taking us inside the mind of an arsonist in a way that is frightening and tragic."Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
  • “Ferociously readable. . . . Before I Burn is an uncomfortably creepy, frequently heartbreaking investigation written by one good young man into the lives of three good young men.”Shelf Awareness
Back to Table of Contents