Sunday, 2 August 2009

Out in the world - 2

Continuing his series of essays on Ulla-Lena Lundberg's Åland trilogy, Hbl's Philip Teir moves on from Leo to consider the second part of the sequence, Stora världen (The Big Wide World), which takes the story into the 20th century. Teir notes that "if Leo was an episodic family 'tall tale' in the best oral tradition, its sequel... is a modern, polyphonic novel with a myriad of versatile intellects."

The book appeared in 1991, the same year that saw the publication of Lars Sund's Colorado Avenue, a family saga about emigration to North America that's also set in the late 1890s and early 1900s (it was also made into a movie by Finnish director Claes Olsson). Teir says that if we include Kjell Westö's Där vi en gång gått (Where Once We Walked), set in the same decades, we end up with a Finland-Swedish trilogy about the years that led to the Finnish civil war of 1918, with a diverse geographical perspective: Ostrobothnia, Åland and Helsinki. Of the three books, Teir characterizes Lundberg's as the most realistic, and analyzes its preoccupation with male identity and the development of social class in Finland -- subjects that Lundberg handles with an absence of any ideological program or political slant.

Besides being a useful introduction to the Lundberg novel, Teir's essay also gives some background on the historical novel genre in Finland and Scandinavia as a whole. One feels that these books would appeal to readers beyond the Nordic countries: not only do they describe a world, but they also place the individual within that world and map out his everyday struggles and aspirations.

Again, one can't help feeling surprise: it's strange that none of these absorbing and well-written narratives has yet appeared in English translation. They do indeed represent the missing middle ground in Nordic fiction that Per Svensson discusses from a Swedish perspective in his Sydsvenskan article.

Out in the world
Philip Teir - a poem
Nordic historical novels
The missing midfield

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