Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Back Reviews Reel: June 2015

In the month of June of three years ago I started My Reading Summer of Nordic White Nights that led me around the Arctic Circle making a literary stop in each country with territory that far north. The contemporary novel Eight White Nights by André Aciman brought me to the USA, though to a Christmassy New York City instead of Alaska during a Midsummer’s night simply because the title caught my attention. In the following, I crossed the Atlantic Ocean to land in Scandinavia with two twentieth-century classics, first Norwegian Alberta and Jacob by Cora Sandel and then Finnish People in the Summer Night by Frans Eemil Sillanpää, laureate of the 1939 Nobel Prize in Literature. For my final stop I returned to the American continent, more precisely to Canada with the modern short-story collection Dear Life by Alice Munro who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013.

- - - - - title of Eight White Nights by André Aciman is inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s famous novella “White Nights” from 1848 that the contemporary American author also refers to in his novel. The story, however, isn’t set in Saint Petersburg at Midsummer, but in snowed up New York City. At a big party on the Upper West Side of Manhattan a woman called Clara begins a conversation with the shy narrator who hides behind the Christmas tree. They soon realise that they have much in common and enjoy each other’s company, but as regards love they are both burnt children. They pass several days together watching old French films in the cinema, visiting friends, listening to music. And all the while, they carefully avoid talking about their feelings.
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- - - - - are long, cold and dark in the unnamed small sea town in Northern Norway where the teenage siblings Alberta and Jacob by Cora Sandel grow up in the late nineteenth century. They are daughter and son of the town magistrate and expected to behave accordingly although the family’s finances hardly allow keeping up appearances. Alberta even had to leave school, when her younger brother needed expensive tutoring and now she is stuck at home with her mother who always reproaches her for not being much help around the house and for being too plain a girl. In addition, the atmosphere at home is rather hostile because the marriage of their parents is all but happy. And Alberta is painfully aware that her fate as a woman will be just the same.
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- - - - -’s a Saturday in July in the early 1930s and in the farmland around Tampere in Finland many People in the Summer Night by en-NOBEL-ed writer Frans Eemil Sillanpää stay wide awake. In the company of young men two cousins enjoy themselves away from home and control at an engagement party in town that lasts far into the small hours of the following day. A farmwoman helps her neighbour to deliver her child, while her husband chases after midwife or doctor who are out visiting other patients. At the same time a young raftsman gets into a row with another who is dead-drunk and kills him in blind fury. At home the old farmwoman’s mind is working so hard that she is unable to find sleep. And the artist passes the night observing his surroundings.
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- - - - - are fourteen quiet, to a certain point even contemplative short stories that unite to the collection Dear Life by Alice Munro, the Canadian laureate of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, and that evoke the everyday lives of a small variety of ordinary people between World War II and 2010. The protagonists are women, men and children living in small towns in Canada and struggling hard to cope with the inevitable challenges that human existence has sooner or later in store for everybody, notably with interpersonal relationships, failing (physical or mental) health and death. In four stories the author allows her readers a look into her own past sharing some childhood memories although in a more or less fictionalised form, without doubt.
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