Friday, March 28, 2008

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold (2007)

I really liked Sebold's Lovely Bones, even though it too started with a murder, more gruesome that this one, because I thought it gave a wonderful insight into family relations and the possible relationship between those that have passed away and those that stay behind. Since I had just lost my mother, this made sense to me.

Unfortunately, I can't say the same for The Almost Moon. I felt ill at ease throughout the whole book. And though it described family relations again, and a real debilitating disease, and the whole issue of taking care of elderly parents that I can relate to, it was one of those books I just hoped would end soon - I even stopped listening to it for a while to take a break. I kept hoping it was going to bring me to some peace of mind, as it did in Lovely Bones, but this did not.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Astrid & Veronika by Linda Olsson (2005)

I continue my exploration of Swedish authors. This was recommended at the airport bookstore, written by a Swedish author living in New Zealand. The cover photo of a handful of wild strawberries was compelling. One of those slow and deep books on the evolution of a friendship between two women. Veronika rents a house in a small village in Sweden next to Astrid, an old "witch". Over a years time they become friends, share secrets and sufferings, and bring joy back into each other's lives. This was originally written in English, so it doesn't lose anything in translation, and evokes an intimate feeling for Sweden and New Zealand.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Treasures: Secret Star / Treasures Lost, Treasures Found by Nora Roberts (2008)

I keep apologizing for reading Nora Roberts, but life had gotten so stressful in early March, that I needed some mindless light reading. This was again the two in one romance. Secret Star was about a detective who falls in love with the picture of his victim, who turns out not really dead. Some good portrayals of female friendships. The second was one of those finding sunken treasure stories. Left the book in Latvia, so I have no real further comment.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2005, trans. 2008)

I saw this in the Stockholm airport on my way to Latvia and read the first few pages and was hooked, but since it was a thick, heavy book, I left it to pick up on my way back. Then I asked my Swedish friend for suggestions of what current Swedish authors I should try reading, Stieg Larsson was one he mentioned. He said the author had written a trilogy and then died unexpectedly, but was quite a phenomenon. In the airport on the way back I found out that only the first book of the trilogy has been translated into English, so I will have to wait patiently for the rest. This was an engaging crime novel that I just couldn't put down.

The characters were intriguing. I like the central character Mikael Blomkvist, a financial investigative journalist, because he is intelligent, ethical and loves women in a friendly non-possessive way. My sense is that this is a Swedish approach, where having married lovers is socially more accepted and is at times even OK with the spouse. I liked the three healthy relationships he had with women throughout the events of this novel. Anyway, he gets convicted of libel at the beginning of the book (he was set up) and it frees him to take on a job for Henrik Vangar, a retired head of a large Swedish corporation, who wants Mikael to investigate the disappearance of a niece from almost 40 years ago. The suspects are mostly members of an extensive dysfunctional family.

The other character is much more colorful - Lisbeth Salander, the one with the tattoo mentioned in the title, and described by my friend as a modern day Pippi Longstocking. She is briefly compared to Pippi in the book, and since Pippi is one of my favorite children's book characters, I really liked Salander. Pippi's creator Astrid Lindgren is a Swedish author and Mikael kept being compared to Kalle Blomkvist, a Lindgren character I was not familiar with, but who turns out to be a master detective. (I just ordered the English translation from Amazon.) Anyway, Salander is a bit older, mid 20's, but is slight in build, not very communicative, but powerful in her computer and reasoning skills. We are introduced to her through the eyes of Dragan Armansky, a Croatian who has lived most of his life in Sweden and runs a security company, that ends up employing Salander. He fades into the background, but is an important support character. As with the Iranian taxi cab driver I encountered, I keep forgetting that Sweden is not homogeneously Swedish.

One of the major themes of the book is violence against women. Each of the four parts of the book starts by quoting a statistic on women and violence in Sweden, the scariest being - 46% of the women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man. It is not apparent in the beginning where that fits into the story, but obviously it does, and Salander is one of the forces bringing about justice.

The setting in Sweden was one of my reasons for reading this book. It doesn't play a major role, but I liked that most of the action was not in Stockholm, but in a small town along the coast. Since I just spent a couple of days in a small coastal town, and for the first time really thought about the expanse of islands off the coast of Sweden, asked my friend how they were used and got the sense of summer tourism, which is confirmed by Mikael's getaway cottage on an island. I was also reminded of Sweden as one of the big players in economics with products sold throughout the world.

As usual, I had to look up
Stieg Larsson and found that he was actually a journalist who focused on exposing extreme right and racist organizations. Not only does he address violence against women, but nazism in Sweden, and corporate corruption. Turns out, Larsson had written these books, but had not published them when he died of a heart attack at age 50. They were published posthumously and have been on the best seller lists for a long time. This book is actually called Män som hatar kvinnor or Men who hate women, giving it a different focus than the English title. I found on Larsson's official site others complaining about the title change too, as the original title speaks to the theme. The next one only comes out in 2009. Can't wait.