Hanna's Daughters, by Marianne Fredriksson

(Swedish titel: Anna. Hanna och Johanna) This is a history of three women, grandmother, mother and daughter, moving from 1870 - when Hanna is conceived - to the late 1980s, when Anna comes to terms with ageing and death. Hanna is Johanna's mother, Anna is Johanna's daughter. At the center is Hanna. Born in 1871, grandmother Hanna Broman is a woman of "sense and continuity," Hanna's Daughters, by Marianne Fredriksson but her life is blighted when she is raped and impregnated by a cousin at the age of 12. She is stigmatized as 'whore', and her son as 'bastard'. Then, marriage to miller John Broman restores her honor and produces three additional children. Hanna survive to a great age, and her personality, forged in a hard school of life determines to a considerable extent the emotional careers of the descendants.

All three of these women are remarkable and fascinating. It is interesting to note how the grandmother's lifestyle differed from the grandaughter's although they still share a common thread. Constant and common themes in their lifes are love and loss, becoming strong though sacrifices, yielding to men and the hardships of running a household. Johanna, Hanna's daughter and an atheist-socialist, is contemptuous of her mother, whose life has been so deprived that she must learn about mirrors, indoor plumbing and electricity. And Johanna's daughter, Anna, who is a writer living in the concrete suburbs, hungering to understand her antecedents. Ultimately, Anna acknowledges that she cannot find "a way home" in her research about her family; instead, she discovers that everything about them is "full of contradictions.

In Hanna's Daughters, Marianne Fredriksson surveys the three women's lives from the perspective of Anna, who in an effort to understand her mother, gathers letters, diaries, and journals to read about her mother and grandmother's life. The life of the three women revolves around mother-daughter relationships and the path our lives take as a result of the decisions we make. And in telling the story, Anna also tells a social history of Sweden as well, of how it, during this period, progressed from being one of Europe's poorer nations, to its mid-century position of one of the continent's richest.

Marianne Fredriksson also charts the emancipation and liberation of women, a parallel upward movement without historical precedent. It is a story of progress. But even so, menstruation, sexual intercourse, pregnancy, giving birth, the menopause, ageing, dying - these basic biological facts of life will always impose themselves on women, bringing disruption and pain, and also the last two not excluded - satisfaction.

As well, Marianne Fredriksson portrays males with compassion and charity. They have been victims too. The portrait s of Ragnar, Hanna's bastard son who exerts so much charm on so many, and of Anna's selfish but feeling and morally principled husband are very sympathetic . A bestseller from 1994 , not only in the Scandinavian countries but elsewhere, Hanna 's Daughters is hypnotically readable, moving, authentic and rises to heights of poetry. A wonderful book that also brings much material for an understanding of Swedish society.

See also at amazon US, by Marianne Fredriksson, Simon's Family.. Or at amazon UK: Hanna's Daughters and Simon's Family: A Novel of Mothers and Sons

The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist

Ninni Holmqvist

Ninni Holmqvist was born in 1958. In 2010 she received the Ludvig Nordström prize for her short stories.

Ninni Holmqvist

Bibliography

  • Kostym, 1995 (short stories)
  • Något av bestående karaktär, 1999 (short stories)
  • Biroller, 2002 (short stories)
  • Enhet, 2006 - The Unit, 2009

The Unit is the debut novel of The Unit, by Ninni HolmqvistSwedish writer Ninni Holmqvist. She has previously published three collections of short stories, but this is the first time I have read her. I really liked the book – while the tale itself is dark, and to me quite disgusting and terrifying – the writing style is quiet, solemn, well-controlled, descriptive and at times relatively sparse, and the book has been excellently translated by Marlaine Delargy. The Unit is a dystopia set in a near future, and the writing style – and the humanity, passion and warmth - contrasts dramatically with the horrifying story Holmqvist tells, and the contrast makes the tale all the more gripping.

This is a novel that transcends genres; it could justifiably be labeled as science fiction, fantasy, or crime fiction. In many ways it is a Huxley-type or Orwellian dystopia – very, very scary.

The Unit is about a future Sweden where a utilitarian philosophy – to some extent mixed with aspects of the welfare state ideology that currently dominates in all the Scandinavian countries – has been carried to it’s extreme. Human beings are now viewed as valuable capital–they are biological material. They are blood, organs and tissue that can be recycled. And all who fall into the new social category of “dispensable” are moved into special facilities where they are tended and harvested.

Dorrit Weger, the main protagonist of The Unit, is a dispensable. On her fiftieth birthday she is picked up and checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. For male dispensables, the same thing happens at their sixtieth birthday. All contact with the world outside is shut off. For the world outside the institution, she has ceased to exist.

Dorrit gets a nicely furnished apartment, she gets to meet lots of people, she can use all sorts of recreation facilities at no cost, there are restaurants, theaters and much more available. Everything going on inside the institution is monitored – there are cameras and microphones everywhere – even in the bathroom there are three cameras. The people living in the Unit are now property of the State, and can do anything they want as long as they do not harm themselves – the property of the State.

Dorrit – like most humans – is adaptable. She makes and spends time with friends, engages in other people’s lives, and she shares in the pain when friends have operations to remove organs or are damaged as the result of medical experiments gone wrong. The dispensables are expected to participate in drug and psychological testing and donate their organs, one by one, until the time has come for the final donation. Like the others, Dorrit resigns herself to her fate, what else can she do? Then she meets a man, falls in love, and things turn upside down for her.

The Unit is a rich, terrifying novel full of understated themes– satire, ethics, human adaptability to circumstance, ideology, and so forth. However, there is little to no argument in the book – it is not a polemical book; it just tells a story. And the story it tells is haunting, compelling and very intriguing, full of believable characters, with interesting turns and twists, and told in excellent prose. I liked it a lot and I recommend it.

Praise:

"Holmqvist's spare prose interweaves the Unit's pleasures and cruelties with exquisite matter-of-factness, so that readers actually begin to wonder: On balance, is life better as a pampered lab bunny or as a lonely indigent? But then she turns the screw, presenting a set of events so miraculous and abominable that they literally made me gasp." - Marcela Valdes, The Washington Post

A Faraway Island, by Annika Thor

Dealing A Faraway Island, by Annika Thor with the situation of Jewish children in Europe during Nazi rule in Germany and the participation of Sweden in the saving of Jews, this is an interesting historical fiction novel. 500 Jewish children were sent to safety in Sweden in 1939 and had varying types of experiences living with Swedish families. The book is based on interviews with real Jewish refugees in wartime Sweden.

Annika Thor

Swedish writer Annika Thor is an excellent writer. Her writing style is interesting and her way of telling her tales sets her apart.

Bibliography Annika Thor

  • Film är inte bara bio, 1992
  • En ö i havet, 1996 - A Faraway Island
  • Näckrosdammen, 1997
  • Sanning eller konsekvens, 1997
  • Havets djup, 1998
  • Öppet hav, 1999
  • Ildfågeln, 2000
  • Rött hjärta blå fjäril, 2002
  • Pirr i magen klump i halsen, 2003
  • Altuns tre liv, 2004
  • Nu, i morgon! 2005 -
  • Motljus, 2008
  • Vad skulle du ha valt? 2008

Film manuscripts:

  • Hannah med H, 2003
  • Kattbreven, 2001
  • Sanning eller konsekvens, 1997

A Faraway Island tells the story of two fictional girls that are evacuated from Vienna to escape the Nazis, 12-year-old Stephie and her younger sister Nellie (about 7 years old) who come to Sweden in 1939. They live on a remote island in Sweden, populated mostly by fisherman and tourists in the summer with two foster families. The book is told from Stephie's perspective as she struggles to adjust to life in Sweden.

A Faraway Island does not tell a rosy tale of a new, easy and wonderful life. Rather it is a realistic account of some of the problems these children faced in adopting to a totally different environment in a very faraway place. At first, Stephie seems to find the transition very difficult while Nellie seems to both come to a family where things are easier and also be better at adapting. Part of the difference can probably be accounted for by the age difference between the girls. Thor describes problems of integration into a different culture, of missing friends, of jealousy and similar problems.

Twelve-year-old Stephie has promised her parents that she will try to ease her younger sister's way. As it turns out, this is a promise which it is difficult for her to keep. Auntie Alma, Nellie's Swedish mother, is warmer and more welcoming than Auntie Märta, Stephie's more austere foster parent.

The girls had expected to stay in Sweden for six months, until their parents can flee to Amsterdam. After that, it was planned that they all would go to America. But as the world war intensifies, the girls must remain in Sweden.

This is a good book for children and adults alike. Children will readily empathize with Stephie's courage. Both sisters are well-drawn and very likable characters. The story is very gripping. Annika Thor grew up in a Jewish family in Sweden and had young refugee cousins who had fled the Nazis in Europe. A Faraway Island is the first in a series of four books, and I am very much looking forward to the next book in the series to be published in English.

The reviews of Death of a Beekeeper and A Time in Xanadu have been moved to our Lars Gustafsson page.
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