Tuesday, April 29, 2008

April Witch

So, I turned 30, being something of an April witch myself, but this post is actually about a book I recently read by Majgull Axelsson. I bought it back in Canada in one of Chapter's lovely sales - only $5 for a Swedish bestseller? What a deal!

Right after I arrived in Hwajung, I tried to start it but didn't make it past the first chapter. Can't recall what the problem was, but it just didn't suck me in. This time round, however, I quickly got drawn into the story and was curious to see how it was all going to play out. The basic premise is that there are three "sisters", girls raised by a foster mother, whose biological daughter (the primary narrator) has been institutionalized with CP. All of this is tied up in the fact that the primary narrator, Desiree, is an April witch who is able to leave her own body at will and travel in the bodies of birds or people or raindrops. In this way, Desiree spies on and affects the lives of her sisters.

It's got one of those Reader's Guide thingies at the back. I find these things interesting - there's been the odd book where the author interview was more interesting to me than the book itself. That wasn't the case with this one, but one question I found intriguing - when the author was asked if she identified strongly with any of the characters, she said she identified with Desiree, having written the book after experiences when her parents and sister had been very ill. That struck me, as there is no character I identified less with. Desiree says towards the beginning of the novel that she is looking to figure out which of her sisters stole the life that was rightfully hers. Her character had quite an emotional impact on me and left me feeling an anger-tinged guilt.

I didn't especially identify with any of the other sisters either, granted. What I did notice was the real lack of male characters - most of them barely exist in the novel. Two of the sisters have husbands/lovers who are away for the most part on trips. The other has a dead lover/pimp and a son in foster care. The only man who plays any real role is that of Desiree's doctor, who also lived with the other sisters at one point, and who has diabetes that he neglects. The female characters are fascinating - all dealing with broken families, a foster home, and the aftermath of a life once their foster mother becomes ill and they are all sent off on their own. Desiree's back story is equally fascinating, as it traces her life and the Swedish welfare state's policies surrounding disability care.

"This is the most human of predicaments... We know nothing about our origins. God abandoned us in a laundry room and went away."

"Every day she's promised herself that tomorrow will be the first day of her new, better life. The life in which she'll stop smoking and start the day with morning exercise and breakfast; she'll put up kitchen curtains... But not today, today she has lots to do and if she doesn't do it right now death will catch up with her and it will never get done."

"He's childish in the best sense of the word; the world still amazes him. At some point in early puberty, most men stop being surprised by the world, and sepnd the rest of their lives trying to vanquish it. But Erik is still curious. He's fighting not for glory but for knowledge."

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