Friday, May 1, 2009

Astrid & Veronika, thoughts on a book

“It is as if time is irrelevant. My life’s memories take up space with no regard to when they happened, or to their actual time-span. The memories of brief incidents occupy almost all time, while years of my life have left no trace.”

“I think that perhaps there are no such defining moments at all. Beginnings and ends are fluid, long chains of events where some links seem so insignificant and others so very momentous, while in fact all have the same weight. What may appear as a single dramatic moment is just a link between what was before and what comes after.”

Astrid & Veronika by Linda Olsson

I'm finishing this book today, and I have not fully processed all my reactions to it yet. It is a stunning novel, sparse, concisely detailed with no extra fluff. Two intertwining life stories of completely different people, and the serendipitous connections that unite them. Astrid is an elderly woman, isolated socially and geographically, and is haunted by horrific memories. Veronika is a modern young woman who befriends her, as she is recovering from her own tragedy. They discuss their pasts and help each other move on. Reading details about Sweden, an area completely unknown to me was especially pleasant (if I go I had better learn to like rye bread and herring). It made me also want to go hug my mom.

I appreciated that nothing in this was Hallmark movie-of-the-week material, and as each chapter unfolded I was genuinely surprised at some twists the story contained. Usually I can predict pretty well what comes next, and this had me floored. One character realizes that her decades old anger was directed at the wrong person, and that she had to recover from the damage that anger caused. It's not an easy story: technically it's simple to read but it brings up some very painful emotions, those that caused me to put it down for a day or two. Again, it's not a happy story, but it was strangely uplifting, in that these ones were able to see forward and not dwell on the past. Most of all, it seems to send the message that we can't possibly know what events have shaped the people we love, and all the pains they may have endured, but we can try to find a way to love them as is. Without feeling like we have to judge or condone what we don't understand.

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