Friday, September 12, 2008

Question for Åsa Larsson fans

I'm reading Åsa Larsson's newly translated Black Path, which deals obliquely with an issue that one would think would be central to any crime series about the far north of Sweden: ethnic diversity. Of the Swedish crime novels that have been translated, it seems that only Kerstin Ekman's deal with the interface between Sami and Swedish populations. Though The Black Path does bring up the issue, it's a bit difficult for readers of the translated version, or at least readers not familiar with common names in the populations involved, to quite catch the nuances. Some of the characters in Larsson's novel are clearly Sami (or were raised in that community), others are Finnish (in terms of language at least), but the Sami cross the Swedish/Finnish border, so perhaps some of them (what we would have called Lapplanders formerly) use Finnish and Finnish names. So can anyone clarify for me what role the Sami/Finnish/Swedish distinctions play in Larsson's novel? Or at least who in the novel comes from Finnish and Sami backgrounds? Just to be clear, I think The Black Path is a very good book, better perhaps than the first two in Larsson's series--I just can't quite catch how this particular subtlety of language, names, and culture (which very evidently deepens the novel's texture) works exactly. My review follows soon, and I promise any advice I get on this subject will be duly credited.


Barbara said...

I'm not totally clear on the subtleties , but both Finnish and Sami people have lived in that area for a long time. They are related languages, but distinct peoples. The only characters who I recall being definitively Sami are Esther's adoptive parents, and that seems to me to be the only part of the story where those ethnic differences are particularly important. Her adoptive mother's work - and Esther's mixed race heritage - adds an "exotic" label to their art; Ester's relationship to the natural world, and her sideways approach to social interactions, seems influenced by her adoptive mother and the Sami lifestyle she was raised in. But some of it is purely her own.

To confuse things further, there are Finnish Swedes and Swedish Finns. And several groups of Sami, who speak related but different languages.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I can't answer your question, but Vendela Vida's Let the Northern Lights Erase my name (I think that was the title!) addressed these issues. The book had echoes of Miss Smilla's feeling for snow, in that it was about a child of the Samis (I think it was Samis) who discovered this fact in a shocking way and then travelled into the far north to discover her origins and her history.

Ethnic diversity of other kinds features a lot in recent Scandinavian crime fiction, eg Arnaldure Indridason's Archic Chill, Karin Fossum's Indian Bride and The Shadow in the River by Frode Grytten.