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Robert Åsbacka, Orgelbyggaren (The Organ Maker)

Schildts förlag,  2008. ISBN: 9789515017963

Reviewed by Željka Černok in SBR 2009:1

‘Man is a fragile thing’, writes one of the characters towards the end of the novel when asked to describe the most painful thing that has happened to him.The main character of the novel, Johannes Thomasson, surprisingly cannot think what to write about when the same task is given to him, even though he spends his days contemplating everything he has lost. Thomasson is almost 80 and leads a quiet life alone in a small town somewhere in Finland. His closest family members are dead – his daughter Maja died of cancer, and he lost his wife Siri in the sinking of the ship Estonia, one of the worst nautical disasters of modern times. He refused to go with her and is now left with a tremendous sense of guilt and loss. It saddens, angers and puzzles him at the same time – she died on the ship he worked on all his life, which they both knew so well.Yet she was unable to save herself even though she was healthy, physically active, always took the initiative and was always the one to provide the best solutions. Thomasson is aware of his inability to find inner peace and a place for himself in life. It seems to him that there is too much space left after his wife’s death – a space he does not know exactly how to fill, feeling like a ‘foot that moves around in a shoe that’s too big’. He starts building an organ in his living room as a sort of shrine to his wife. He spends endless hours thinking about how she played in church; also about her need for art and literature, which she brought into their everyday lives.The injury to his foot is the beginning of a series of events that will leave him dependent on other people, something he always feared more than anything else. As he lets neighbours and acquaintances into his life and finds out more about their problems, hopes and dreams, he seems to come closer to the memory of his wife. In the final scene he is taken by his new friends to the theatre to watch Beckett’s Happy Days. His friend’s convincing acting in the role of Winnie moves him deeply and he feels profoundly connected to his wife and makes peace with himself. But this isn’t just a wonderfully written novel about the fragility of human life; it is also an ode to art, something of a recurring theme for the author. In his novel Fallstudie we followed two characters collecting old metal to build a modern sculpture for an exhibition at an art centre. In his next book, Kring torget i Skoghall,we see how a man transforms a fast food van into a gourmet restaurant and finds poetry in food.This topic continues in Orgelbyggaren (intended as the final instalment in the trilogy that deals with the search for art in everyday life) where the characters are ordinary people who appreciate Beckett’s plays and Baroque organ music. This is a novel of many layers whose silent beauty reveals itself more and more at every new reading.The rights have already been sold to the prestigious publishing house Hanser in Germany so it seems that this is the novel that will finally give Robert Åsbacka the position he deserves in European literature.

Also by Robert Åsbacka

  • Samlaren (The Collector). Reviewed by Željka Černok in SBR 2013:S.

Other reviews by Željka Černok

Other reviews in SBR 2009:1

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