Berlinerpoplene [Berlin Poplars]
Every once in a while I do try to read authors outside my English-world comfort zone – it’s a welcome change of pace, or, at least, this book was. To be honest, I muddled through the first 60 or so pages and I was pretty bored, but then I read the whole book in one sitting and I found myself rather captivated by the fate of this odd, lost family.
A couple of weeks ago (when I actually started reading) I was telling a friend about the first chapters – the matriarch on the brink of death, the 3 children: one of them an undertaker, one taking care of the family farm, one that left and never looked back – and she pointed out that it sounds a lot like Six Feet Under. And she’s right – except for the child that left for good (although we do have a gay son to compensate) – it’s based on the same principle: the death of a parent bringing together siblings who had completely lost touch and who couldn’t be more different but who are now forced to cooperate and uncover (slightly sordid) family secrets. There’s not much originality associated to this idea, but the magic of the book is the Nordic atmosphere surrounding them all and the effort Ms. Ragde puts in sketching the lives of all involved, which is probably what eventually gets you to care what will happen to them and if – or how – the events that transpire will change their lives.
I actually have only 2 (tiny) gripes with the book: it sometimes tends to be overly descriptive (to my taste, at least, I don’t actually hold this to be legitimate criticism) – though not reaching Virgina Woolf heights – and the gay couple (Erlend and Krumme) seem a bit caricatured or clichéd, like they would belong in Sex and the City. In fact, Erlend only comes alive (to me) when he has his first encounter with the never before seen niece.
There’s a whole air of melancholy, loneliness and loss that suits the story very well, no one is whole or unscathed and the roots they all thought severed seem to run deeper and stronger – much like life, really. The decay of the farm – I found it very real and felt it very personal. I guess most of us have, somewhere in their lives, a crumbling house that has lost its former glory and is slowly edging towards abandonment – and I just happened to remember mine (I’m kinda romanticizing the whole thing right now…).
If you have the edition that came with Cotidianul, don’t be put off by the spelling error on the back cover 😉 – it’s definitely worth your time. The guys at The Independent liked it – and it’s only the first volume of a trilogy (though I don’t think anything else got translated).