Monday, February 11, 2019


Ulla-Lena Lundberg is a Finland-Swedish author. Is was published in 2012. The English translation, by Thomas Teal, came out in 2016.

The novel is set on the Örlands (a made-up name, I think), one of the many groups of tiny islands to the east of the main Åland mass. (The Åland islands are part of Finland, but are almost exclusively Swedish-speaking.) It begins in May 1946, with a young priest and his family arriving to take up the vacancy. That's really all I want to say, it's a book to be shared but not written about. Here's a typically low-key, almost inert, registering:


Every day it changes a bit -- more hay, less grass -- but what hay! The sea level is still low, the sun shines, there is a light breeze. A dry spell so perfect that Mona ventures out after only two days to start turning the windrows, in the afternoon when the hay on top is completely dry. The windrows are so light and fine that it's a joy to let the breeze help as she turns them with her rake. At times the windrows seem to turn themselves. She walks beside the verger's Signe, who works the neighbouring row. It's not heavy work and they talk as they go, about the animals and their hope that the weather will hold and folks will finish their haymaking well before they start getting ready for the herring fishery. Signe tells her how it used to be, when they all went off to the fishing camps and stayed until well into September. She talks more than she could have in the verger's company, and before the day is over, the hay is turned and the smell has changed -- more barn, less heaven. Both of them are pleased and sweaty. "Almost makes you want to jump in the sea, if it weren't for all those sailboats," says the pastor's wife. But Signe says that you jump in the sea if you want to kill yourself. Otherwise you wash in the sauna!

For the next few days, Mona is deeply nervous. She runs around doing her chores and suddenly stops to look at the sky. This strangely beautiful weather can't last, it's only natural for the sea level to rise a bit at the shore, it's starting to get cooler and there are banks of clouds above the outer skerries. Everyone who came to church on Sunday was astonished that the pastor's hay was already mown. If it rains on the hay now, everyone will say that they were in too great a hurry. She passionately wants to show them that this is the time to cut grass, not when the hay is overgrown, and with all her might she tries to keep the clouds away. "Stay out there!" she commands them silently. "Don't you dare come in over these islands!"

The verger, who is her friend and admirer, states with all his authority that the granite is now so warm that the rain will go around it. "Even if it rains at sea, that doesn't mean it will rain on land." He is wise and experienced, no nonsense about God's will. Why would he want it to rain on her hay! She walks down to the meadow one more time to check. If it doesn't rain, it needs only one more day. At least one, because the humidity is higher now and the hay is drying more slowly. She noticed that with the laundry she hung out.


Petter and Mona are incomers, and their attempts to connect with the Örlanders, both their success and the inevitability of failure, is the bread-and-butter of the book. This provisionality gradually develops a more cosmic dimsension.

They live on the small "church isle", in the centre of the group. A rivalry exists between the east villages and the west villages. In summer you get about by boat; in the winter, the Örlanders are connected by sea-ice.

[As usual, I label Finland-Swedish literature under both national traditions, since Finland-Swedish literature (being in Swedish) is so widely read in Sweden.]

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