Before I Burn Summary & Study Guide

Gaute Heivoll
This Study Guide consists of approximately 61 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Before I Burn.
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Before I Burn Summary & Study Guide Description

Before I Burn Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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Before I Burn by Gaute Heivoll tells two stories that begin some thirty years apart; but, in the end, they intersect. Although the book is considered a novel because there are elements of the story that are dramatized and imagined, it is based on actual events in the lives of real people.

Gaute Heivoll was born in a rural community in southern Norway. The idyllic countryside was dotted with dense woods and featured many scenic lakes. The people of the small towns and villages of this region were conservative, church-going people who were good neighbors. They welcomed strangers. Nothing ever happened in this mundane existence until the month of terror brought about by a series of ten fires.

It was May,1978, and Gaute was just a few weeks old. Although he was alive at the time of the fires, he only learned about them later from the stories his parents told him and in other conversations when the subject would just kind of pop up. It was such a traumatic time for the gentle hills and dales as well as the gentle people of the region that the violence and fear heralded in by the fires lingered in the minds and hearts of the people for years.

Fires rarely happened in the area. One fire was unusual; two fires were unheard of. But, when a third fire occurred, everyone knew that something was very wrong. There wasn’t a soul in the community who wouldn’t have bet that arson as the source of the fires. The police formed a task force to hunt down the culprit. They developed a profile of the arsonist, who was probably a young, local male resident. After the tenth fire, it became obvious to the parents of the arsonist that their son was the guilty party. When an arrest was made there was relief mixed with astonishment over who was arrested.

Gaute had been a good student and always wanted to please everyone else more than he did himself. When he was seven, a perceptive teacher saw that he had a vivid imagination and said that he was a “future” writer. Although the teacher was well-intentioned, young Gaute feared that being a “writer” would make him different than the other students and make him stand out – a fate worse than death! He vowed to never think of a story again.

But, his creativity and talent wouldn’t go away that easily. Eventually, he had to face the fact that he was different – in a good way – and that his teacher was right. He was a writer. Once Gaute found himself, he decided that he owed something to the place he where he had spent his childhood. For years he had been haunted by the story of the hometown pyromaniac. Gaute decided that he needed to write a book about the incidents for the people and to make that final connection that he’d always felt for his hometown and the fires that raged when he was a baby sleeping in his mother’s arms.

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