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lunedì 30 gennaio 2012

Voices of Sweden: Christine Falkenland

One of the most exciting things about moving to another Country is learning the local language, with all the wonderful possibilities this simple fact implies.

I may not like the cold in Sweden, and the long dark winter days (happy to be in Italy in this moment, btw! ;)) but I love the nature, breathing and living everywhere around you. I love Stockholm (though I can't stand it sometimes), and I absolutely love the Swedish language and all the little doors it opened up to me. One - my favourite one - is the door leading to that part of Swedish (and also Danish and Norwegian) literature that is unpublished in Italian or English. I guess most people think that Swedish literature is all about detective stuff, crime fiction, and the like, while there's a whole world of wonderful things that are simply and sadly unknown because they are not translated, if not into the neighbouring languages.

I feel very lucky to be able to access this special world, despite the obvious limits of my young knowledge of the Swedish language.

I will start to share impressions and thoughts on Scandinavian little-known writers, blended with fragments of memories and emotions. I will start with Christine Falkenland and her dark, disturbing, beautiful Själens begär.

Why? Because when my future partner and father of my daughter came to see me in Italy the first time, he had carried that book with him, in order to read it on the plane. And I already knew that it was one of his favourite books of all times. A small book, with an elegant and slightly gloomy photograph on the cover, and a very intriguing title: soul's desire.

No translation was available, and reading a whole book in Swedish was out of the question at that time. So for quite a long time this book represented some sort of unexplored territory, fascinating and inaccessible, containing precious information about my loved one. It was one of his favourite books, so I felt deeply attracted to it, I wanted it to be mine, too.

I bought my own copy in a second-hand shop, when I was beginning to feel a little more confident with the Swedish language.
I like to have my own copy of books, especially when I know I will write down notes on them. I read it voraciously. I often leaf through it, re-read some parts, partly as a language exercise, partly because I truly enjoy her beautiful writing and dark atmospheres.

Cora and Ernst are cousins, they used to be best friends as children and Ernst was even in love with Cora. But then, Cora's mother suddenly prevents her daughter to have a contact with Ernst. Many years later, Ernst receives an invitation from Cora to visit her at Berg, in the big house where she lives alone. Ernst, almost unconsciously, accepts. Memories from the past start to emerge and blend with his actual feelings towards Cora, constantly shifting between slight irritation and a dark, morbid attraction. The story unfolds on three different levels: it opens with the first-person narration of a priest whom Cora used to turn to. He speaks about a bird he had found in his garden the previous summer, hurt and half-rotten yet still alive. He tells us how the thought of that bird keeps haunting him, together with the thought of Cora. He doesn't say who she is or what happened to her, but we understand that something unpleasant is going to occur. The detailed description of the dying bird and the general dark atmosphere belong to a part of contemporary Swedish fiction, mainly written by women, that is characterized by a strong feeling for all aspects of nature, its being alive even through decaying processes, and also for the darkest aspects of the human mind, the border line connecting love and obsession, attraction and destruction.
The second level coincides with Ernst's arrival at Berg and the time he spends there with Cora, while the third level, graphically differentiated in the text through the use of italics, is Ernst's secret return to Cora's house, hidden in her attic and spying on her.
The book opens and closes with the priest's recollections, while the other two levels are fragmented and intermingled throughout the novel, exacerbating the anticipation of an unpleasant climax.
The reader sympathizes with Cora, who is unaware of her cousin's inner turmoil and appears dangerously fragile and exposed. We never see facts through her perspective and this turns her into a sort of unconscious sacrificial victim from the start.
I won't spoil this refined exploration of a twisted soul by revealing what happens. I wish many more people could read this gifted writer. Christine Falkenland creates dark, disturbing atmospheres through a careful attention to her vocabulary, mixing everyday words and expressions with obsolete ones so as to inscribe her characters in a timeless world, where the most secret "soul's desires" are exposed like open, bleeding wounds.

My first "real" encounter with Swedish literature, that is excluding Italian or English translations, was definitely an unforgettable one.

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