After years away, Jana returns to the Swedish village she grew up in. There is only her twin brother Bror left of her family. But as soon as she arrives, all the memories of her childhood come back. Her father, a brutal alcoholic who used to beat their mother and the kids, the mother who only ever told them to pray but never stepped in against the violence the kids had to endure. All those things Jana wanted to forget resurface, but there are also other things she wants to know after all this time: where is her daughter and who was Maria?
“I always assumed that something was wrong with me. The classic therapy answer was that I ended up in the same situation again and again in order to relive my childhood. “
Karin Smirnoff‘s novel lives on a very gloomy atmosphere. A snowstorm sets the mood on the very first page. Just as the fierce and merciless nature, the people also treat each other without too much softness in this remote area in the north. It is a story of violence and abuse, of adults looking away, not protecting children and a community which prefers to remain silent over stepping in. The result are scars on the outside and inside and two childish souls marked forever.
“All one can do is pray she said. And how we prayed. Childish prayers for help. “
Jana and Bror’s childhood is the most horrible story to imagine. Afraid of the father, every week hoping that he might die before returning to their home on Friday evening when he used to first drink and then hit whoever got in his way. The mother weak on the one hand, herself victim of constant beating, maybe having given up the hope for a better life, on the other hand, ignoring what her husband does to the kids. Surely not a novel easy to read. Bror’s addiction and Jana‘s tendency to end up with men who show similar patterns like her father are the logic consequence.
Yet, there is more than the inner circle of the family, the whole village is full of secrets, things which are common knowledge but never told which Jana, now a grown-up and strong woman, uncovers.
To call the novel an enjoyable read would be totally inadequate, there is nothing to enjoy when reading about child abuse and domestic violence. However, the characters are authentically drawn and the dynamics within the village are interesting to observe.