[diary] 13 – sweden

Hej everyone !

I can’t even remember how I discovered and selected the book for Sweden, because it felt like an evidence when I saw the cover and read the résumé. I had to wait some time because my to-read pile was way too high, and now that it’s done, I don’t regret it at all. Daisy Sisters, by Henning Mankell, has been a remarkable, moving read : a novel that I devoured despite its 500 pages (I even carried it around in my bag, if that is not love for such a big book I don’t know what it is).


In this piece, each chapter/”part” starts on a different year between 1941 and 1981, allowing us to follow the lives of Elna and Eivor, mother and daughter. I don’t really know what I expected with that synopsis, but certainly not such a powerful, emotional read. Here I met two women who have been unforeseeably mown by destiny as they were very young, who had to forget their hopes and dreams to get back to the tough reality. Two very different women and though they are also incredibly resembling, Eivor repeatng the story of Elna in her own way. Elna, the mother, is raped during the war (we know it from the résumé, don’t worry !), at a time and in a society where victims are not truly recognised and helped, without even understanding the situation in which she is (no information is given to young girls on anything sexual). And Eivor… ah, Eivor, result of this terrible night, who wants so desperately not to be like her mother, who wants to fly away and live… and who will echo her mom’s fate as she grows up. Eivor, so touching, so realistic, mingling strength and apparent fatalism (sometimes a bit annoying because of her lack of will, but much more subject to empathy than to irritation, and she also has impressive reactions at times) as she is looking for her place. As a woman, how could I have not identified with these two women, these two fighters who struggle to stay alive in a world that overtakes them ?

I wasn’t anticipating a book so committed and committing when I started Daisy Sisters, and though… the representation I had of Sweden as a “social Eden” (one of the countries we figure as among the most “advanced” about citizens’ well-being) is here quite weakened : the story highlights, among other things, the difficulties linked with class struggles and above all the despicable feminine condition (at any time of the story, the taboos and the prejudices are the same in 1940 and in 1980 !). What a terrible reminder to ascertain that the situations presented in this book (abortion impossible even in case of rape, male domination in all domains considered as evident, domestic violence sometimes extreme, difficulty of access to employment, early marriage…) are still present today, everywhere in the world. I have been shocked and outraged by the situations the female protagonists have to deal with, which are so close to contemporary feminist causes, I have been divided between pity, outstanding empathy and disarray, I have hoped that things would get better for the characters, I have wished that I could stand next to Eivor and encourage her not to give up and to do what seemed fair.

This fight she is engaging in, on a daily basis and on her own, is that of womens’ empowerment – a fight against society, against the education she had : she wants to find herself, loses her illusions, and strives to prove everyone – including herself – that she can make her own choices without a man, especially without a husband. In the background of Eivor’s itinerary, Elna is also (re)building her life, facing her demons. Around these women are gravitating a lot of achieved and relevant characters whom we see learning and getting older : Erik, Elna’s husband, Lasse, Eivor’s first love, Anders, the suicidal elderly neighbour, Péo, Liisa, Vivi…

At first, I had some difficulty to get into this text, but that was really just about the beginning. I liked this read for the unexpected intellectual slap it gave me, and for the way the author succeeds in bringing in the situations he describes. The prologue, placed on Eivor’s side in 1981, introduces the rest of the piece as a chronological flashback ; the omniscient narrator communicates with great accuracy the feelings and thoughts of the characters, and helps us getting close to them. The writing style is simple and steps back to enhance the experiences lived by Elna and Eivor : it offers a captivating and impressive read, that reminds us an important and unfortunately up-to-date truth There are women who struggle everyday against the impossible, not on a faraway planet but just next door” . A mighty, moving book, that leads to brainwork without being hefty : to read !

> The next review will be about The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende.

> MANKELL, Henning – Daisy Sisters, Éditions du Seuil – translated from Swedish by Agneta Ségol and Marianne Ségol-Samoy.
> written listening to “Du gamla, du fria” .

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