Reviewed by Tuva Tod in SBR 2013:2
Review Section: Fiction: The Past
The book is complex. But the story of forbidden love and ostracism is clear. In the 1880s, in northern Sweden, the agricultural community survives despite the unyielding soil and hard climate. Their work ethic is reflected in their social hierarchy and moral outlook. Hard work is sanctified and religious practice confined to Easter and Christmas, to weddings and funerals. Families meet, the young form alliances. ‘The family’ is at the fore. Religion must be subservient to feeding them all, masters and servants, in farms and crofts.
Crofters, some of whom are serving soldiers, till inferior soil. Social status accrues from material wealth. Obedience to parents is a duty. The heroine, when very young, dreams of marrying creditably to honour her parents; then the happiness of all will be ensured. Her name, Klara Sofia Hoglander, is telling. Klara denotes clarity or, here, ‘of undoubted innocence’. Hoglander, her family name, has connotations of land and ownership.
At the Midsummer celebration, Klara falls in love with the gallant but poor soldier Lars Larsson Seger (victory). Her father – known as ‘Dear Father’– chases him brutally away. Klara Sofia is no longer ‘Dear’ daughter and Dear Mother is devastated. Everybody is named after their function and station. This is how the author shows her opinion of the establishment, though some names are independent of social status. The well-regarded preacher, Gabriel, is given the name of the Archangel. Klara Sofia’s best friend, her humble maid, is named Adele (the noble one).
Seger’s love for Klara Sofia is the beating heart of this story. His poverty is punished by the moral ‘righteous’ community, ostensibly governed by the tyranny of our daily bread. Klara Sofia is also brought down. As the Marriageable Daughter, a prospect of greater wealth, she has now brought chaos and dishonour to her parents and the House. She has been made pregnant, twice, by Seger. In a prudish age she can’t cope. Klara Sofia hides in skirts and shawls at the back of the house and gives birth to her babies. This is her lot in a society wedded to Mammon. She goes into labour full of loneliness and despair, and believes she must hide the babies. When the children die, Klara Sofia is sentenced to two years of hard labour in prison.
At this moment, Klara transcends her own role. She now represents the destiny of many. Her lot is to give birth and care for men and children, to work hard with no material recompense. She has no right to education, or to earn her own keep. She has no legal rights, no vote.
Klara Sofia has been a pawn in a game represented by parents with warped minds in a pitiless society. She is a victim. But Anita Salomonsson is never doctrinaire. She is concerned with the effects of misconceptions on everybody’s fate, the way we struggle in a quagmire of human experience, whether social or psychological. The minds as well as the beliefs of the reader are engaged.
When Klara Sofia assumes the garb of prisoner she stands alone in a bare room completely naked. ‘For the first time she felt a complete individual, a human being and a fully developed young woman.’
One Sunday, the esteemed preacher Gabriel addresses the convicts. Gabriel saw God in the soil when digging potatoes. He had found perfect white, untarnished potatoes in the black soil, their roots undamaged and says that by tending to our God-given roots we, too, can grow.
Finally Klara Sofia is set free from prison, and marries Seger. The family members are reconciled or at least regret their mistakes. The subsequent grandchildren are a lesson in love and wisdom. The grown-ups are enriched. This book is about both hardship and l ove .