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(The Marzipan Soldier)
Bonniers, 2001. ISBN: 9100576638
Reviewed by Silvester Mazzarella in SBR 2003:1
This novel traces the fortunes of a Finland-Swedish family during the wars between Finland and the Soviet Union of 1939-40 and 1941-44. The emotional Leonard Kummel is head teacher of a village primary school not far from Helsingfors, though he longs for his native Åland Islands. His practical wife, Martha, helps in the school and does most of the work involved in running their home and bringing up their four children. Their three sons are of military age. Petter, training to be a pastor, is exempt from normal call-up and able to help at home, but Frej and Göran take a full and active part in the wars. Their sister Charlotte is still a child. Frej and Göran, the novel’s leading characters, are very different from one another. The younger, Göran, is universally popular; lively, outgoing and full of charm if not always to be relied on, a natural breaker of hearts. Frej, more introverted, lacks charisma but is admired as solid and responsible. War comes to reverse the family’s perception of these two in unexpected ways.
The action takes us from the Finnish army’s initial push into Russian east Karelia with its irredentist dreams of a greater Finland, through Finland’s ill-starred attempt to strengthen her hand against the Soviet Union by a rash alliance with Hitler’s Germany, to her final desperate struggle in 1944 to remain independent even at the cost of losing a tenth of her territory.
The author has said that her starting point was a collection of letters home from the front written by her father and his brothers during these traumatic years; she has owned and lived with these letters since she was sixteen. They have helped her understand that even during a time of deep crisis people may frequently be light-hearted, and none more so than the often high-spirited young men who make up the bulk of an army. She is brilliant on the paradoxes that affect daily life at such times; one small example: the declaration of war in 1939 and prospect of being bombed merely exhilarates 13-year-old Charlotte. When her school is suddenly closed all she can think of is that Providence has unexpectedly saved her from punishment for not having done a particular piece of homework. There are bigger paradoxes too, but to give away too much of the story would be to destroy the author’s extremely skilful use of suspense. Above all, this is a novel about the long-term effects of war on personalities and personal relationships. At the same time it is full of little insights, often humorous, such as when a Swedish-speaker realizes that the unsophisticated lover he has found himself in the Finnish-speaking area where he is stationed is not only a great emotional support to him, but expects him to make accurate use of all the fifteen case-endings of Finnish grammar even in bed.
Also by Ulla-Lena Lundberg
- Is (Ice). Reviewed by Sarah Death in SBR 2013:S.
- Regn (Rain). Reviewed by Joan Tate in SBR 1998:1.
Other reviews by Silvester Mazzarella
- Niklas Rådström, Månens anförvant (Kinsman of the Moon). Reviewed in SBR 2011:1.
- Bengt Ohlsson, Hennes mjukaste röst (Her Softest Voice). Reviewed in SBR 2008:1.
- Johanna Ekström, Avskedsstafetten (The Last Leg of the Relay Race). Reviewed in SBR 2006:1.
- Agneta Pleijel, Mostrarna och andra dikter (The Aunts and other poems). Reviewed in SBR 2005:1.
- Kjell Westö, Lang. Reviewed in SBR 2003:2.
- Yrsa Stenius, Tills vingen brister - en bok om Jussi Björling (Until His Wings Failed - A Book About Jussi Björling). Reviewed in SBR 2003:2.
- Susanne Ringell, Av blygsel blev Adele fet, Alfabetiska nedslag (It Was Embarrassment That Made Adele Fat, Alphabetical Sketches). Reviewed in SBR 2001:1.
- Agneta Pleijel, Lord Nevermore (Lord Nevermore). Reviewed in SBR 2001:1.
- Kjell Westö, Vådan av att vara Skrake (The Dangers of Being a Skrake). Reviewed in SBR 2001:1.
- Roger Holmström, Hagar Olsson och den öppna horisonten. Liv och diktning 1920-1945 (Hagar Olsson and the Open Horizon. Life and Works 1920-1945). Reviewed in SBR 2000:2.
- Roger Holmström, Hagar Olsson och den växande melankolin. Liv och diktning 1945-1978 (Hagar Olsson and Increasing Melancholia. Life and Works 1945-1978). Reviewed in SBR 2000:2.
- Birgitta Boucht, Mariposa. Reviewed in SBR 2000:2.
- Kjell Lindblad, Oktober - mars (October to March). Reviewed in SBR 2000:1.
- Marianne Backlén, Donovan från Jamaica (Donovan from Jamaica). Reviewed in SBR 1999:2.
- Anders Larsson, Kalevala för lata (The Lazy Person's Guide to the Kalevala). Reviewed in SBR 1999:2.
- Yrsa Stenius, Mannen i mitt liv (The Man in My Life). Reviewed in SBR 1999:2.
- Marianne Backlén, På andra sidan Finska viken (Across the Gulf of Finland). Reviewed in SBR 1999:2.
- Henrika Ringbom, Martina Dagers längtan (The Longing of Martina Dager). Reviewed in SBR 1999:1.
- Ulf Eriksson, Paradis (Paradise). Reviewed in SBR 1997:1.
- Elisabeth Olin, Vattenvägar (Waterways). Reviewed in SBR 1997:1.
Other reviews in SBR 2003:1
- Gerda Antti, Livet skriver kapitel (Life Writes its Chapters). Reviewed by Sarah Death.
- Majgull Axelsson, En stad av slott (A City of Castles). Reviewed by Linda Schenck.
- Ernst Brunner, Fukta din aska. C M Bellmans liv från början till slut (Moisten Your Mortal Ashes. C M Bellman's Life from Beginning to End). Reviewed by Birgitta Thompson.
- Stewe Claeson, Rönndruvan glöder (The Rowan's Cluster Glows). Reviewed by Charles Harrison-Wallace.
- Stig Claesson, Efter oss syndafloden (Après nous le déluge). Reviewed by Henning Koch.
- Åke Edwardson, Segel av sten (Sails of Stone). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie.
- Anna Ehn, Man ska vara tyst när man önskar (Make a Silent Wish). Reviewed by Sarah Death.
- Per Gunnar Evander, Plötsligt medan dimman lättar (Suddenly While the Mist is Lifting). Reviewed by Rick McGregor.
- Theodor Kallifatides, Den sjätte pasageraren (The Sixth Passenger). Reviewed by Peter Linton.
- Maaret Koskinen, I begynnelsen var ordet: Ingmar Bergman och hans tidiga författarskap (In the Beginning Was the Word: Ingmar Bergman and his early writings). Reviewed by Annika Lindskog.
- Björn Larsson, Den sanna berättelsen om Inga Andersson (The True Story of Inga Andersson). Reviewed by Tom Geddes.
- Henning Mankell, Innan frosten (Before the Frost). Reviewed by Laurie Thompson.
- Jan Myrdal, Gubbsjuka. Reviewed by Eivor Martinus.
- Cilla Neumann, Dem oss skyldiga äro (Those Who Trespass Against Us). Reviewed by Linda Schenck.
- Håkan Nesser, Kära Agnes! (Dear Agnes!). Reviewed by Stig Olsson.
- Johanna Nilsson, Rebell med frusna fötter (Rebel With Frozen Feet). Reviewed by Sarah Death.
- Elisabeth Rynell, Till Mervas (To Mervas). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie.
- Niklas Rådström, Kvartett (Quartet). Reviewed by Anne Born.
- Friedrich Strindberg, Under jorden i Berlin (Underground in Berlin). Reviewed by Eivor Martinus.
- Jerker Virdborg, Svart krabba (Black Crab). Reviewed by Stig Olsson.
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