• Saturday, September 28th, 2019

Eowyn Ivey was born in Denver, Colorado, USA in 1973 and was raised in Alaska since early childhood. She still lives in rural Alaska with her fishery biologist husband and two daughters. The author’s mother named her “Eowyn” after a character from J. R. R. Tolkien’s book, Lord Of The Rings.

Eowyn Ivey received a B.A. Degree in Journalism and Creative Writing from Western Washington University and worked as a reporter for the local newspaper “The Frontiersman” before becoming a bookseller at independent Fireside Books in Palmer, Alaska. She has written essays and short fiction which have been published in various magazines.

Eowyn Ivey’s first novel, The Snow Child, was published in 2012. It became a New York Times’ bestseller, a UK National Book Award winner and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for first novel in 2013. It has been translated into several languages.

The Snow Child is a fairy-tale set in Alaska in the 1920s. It is inspired by the old classic Russian folk, fairy-tale called Snegurochka – The Snow Maiden – that Ivey happened to come across in the bookshop where she works. That is when she had, as she says in one of her interviews: “one of those rare, lightning-strike moments” about the book she wanted to write.

The story had previously been translated from Russian to English and called “Little Daughter Of The Snow” by the Yorkshire born writer, Arthur Ransome (1884-1967), which Ivey read with great interest before writing her book. She says: “One of the most striking and influential versions for me was Ransome’s The Little Daughter Of The Snow… It provided some very important elements to my story”.

The tale of “The Snow Child” revolves around a married couple, Jack and Mabel, who, encouraged by the US government’s financial help to settle in an inhospitable frontier, moved from Pennsylvania two years previously to a bleak farm in the Alaskan wilderness.

The couple wanted to escape from their home in the USA after the loss of their stillborn child ten years earlier and to overcome their inability to conceive since then. Jack works relentlessly to exhaustion on the farm and Mabel takes care of the household. She feels sad, desperately lonely and depressed to the point of being suicidal.

Now that the couple is well into middle-age their life will change for good after playfully building a beautiful little girl out of the first snowfall of the season. They adorn her with yellow grass hair and red lips from squeezed frozen red berries. Her arms are made of birch branches and a red scarf wraps her neck. They add mittens at the ends of birch branches stuck to her torso and dress her in a skirt and a coat.

The following day they find the little girl they sculpted has turned into “a small, broken heap of snow” while the scarf and mittens have disappeared. A similar child to the one they built the previous evening is furtively seen by Jack, running at the edge of the forest.

The couple’s longing to become parents is satisfied when a beautiful wild, enigmatic, taciturn, pale and shy blond child comes to their doorstep. She is wearing the same red scarf and the same mittens that they had fitted on the snow child they had built. They love her as their daughter and consider her as the sunshine of their life. She tells them that her name is Faina which means “shining light” in Russian.

The Snow Child is a slow-paced, bittersweet, magical and moving tale with few characters. It vividly depicts the ambience of the harsh, chilly, boundless Alaskan wilderness.

The story has two sides: fantasy with Faina, the snow girl who represents the wild forests of bitter cold Alaska, and the reality portrayed by a married couple drifting apart through loss, longing, heartbreak, grief and struggle to survive against adversity, while hoping for a serene life and a better tomorrow.

In the novel, the author tackles various themes: the importance of community life, parenthood, true friendship and family bonds as valuable support during hard times. The story, like the Russian tale, Snegurochka that Mabel’s father read to her when she was a child, does not have a happy ending.

After reading the novel, the reader is left with the haunting question about Faina, who gives birth to a human boy that they call Jack (Jay). Does Faina transform into a human before reverting to a fairy and disappearing? Is she half-fairy, half-human? A puzzle left for the reader’s imagination to resolve like the whole enigma surrounding Faina – the subtle, mysterious essence and the beauty of a fairy-tale.

“The girl appeared and disappeared without warning … There was something otherworldly in her manners and appearance, her frosty lashes and cool blue stare, the way she materialized out of the forest. In ways she was clearly just a little girl, with her small frame and rare, stifled giggles, but in others she seemed composed and wise, as if she moved through the world with knowledge beyond anything”.

Ivey’s writing is fluid and her characters are endearing. The Snow Child is a book to read during the holidays on hot summer days in the hope of feeling cooler and refreshed by the vivid, detailed imagery of an unyielding, unspoilt, rough nature with a landscape laden with ice, snow and icy wind.

• Friday, June 21st, 2019

Fredrik Backman was born in 1981 and grew up in Helsingborg, Sweden. After dropping out of college he worked as a forklift driver at a fruit warehouse and chose night and weekend shifts in order to dedicate his days to writing. He is a columnist, a blogger and a novelist writing fiction and non-fiction books. He has written for the Swedish daily newspaper, Helsingborg Dagblad and for Moore Magazine.

“A Man Called Ove”, Backman’s first novel, was published in Swedish in 2012 and English in
2013. The book became an instant success and one of Sweden’s most outstanding literary exports since Stieg Larsson’s thriller “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, published posthumously in Sweden in 2005. “A Man Called Ove”was adapted as a successful stage play in 2015 and an award-winning Swedish feature film. It has sold many copies, has been translated into several languages and an American movie is planned, starring Tom Hanks.

Fredrick Backman was voted Sweden’s most acclaimed author in 2013. He was married in 2009 and presently lives with his wife and two children near Stockholm, Sweden.

“A Man Called Ove”, tells the story of a slave to routine, retired, eccentric, bad-tempered fifty-nine-year-old Swedish widower called Ove. From the first chapter of the novel the reader gains a glimpse of Ove’s character. He is uncompromising and committed to what he believes in. He is a man of few words, set in his ways, who is obsessed with Swedish “Saab” cars, of which he has continuously owned various models.

Overwhelmed and depressed by his loss, Ove is unable to deal with his grief following his wife, Sonja’s demise six months earlier from cancer, after forty years of marriage. He misses her and longs to join her in the after-life. Several times he attempts to commit suicide but fails due to various incidents and interruptions. He ends up dying of heart problems.

The author reveals Ove’s past in strokes, which helps the reader to comprehend his embitterment and his feeling of being rejected by society due to several elements in his life he deems unfair. First, he experienced a harsh childhood, losing both parents at an early age and had to struggle for a living. Second, he was unexpectedly forced to retire after working for the same company for forty-three years. Third, the unfairness of the untimely death of his wife and fourth, because he is no longer the chairman of the neighbourhood Residents Association, having been replaced by his former friend, Rune.

An undesired, challenging, as well as the unpredictable relationship, starts with a provocation between Ove and a young friendly couple, who move into the neighbourhood next door. This is the Iranian, immigrant, pregnant Parvaneh and her clumsy “lanky” husband, Patrick, accompanied by their lively, uninhibited seven-year-old and three-year-old daughters.

Parvaneh has an entirely different personality to Ove. She is extrovert as well as being self-assertive. She never gives up on Ove until she succeeds in mellowing him by bringing out his altruism, which leads to being forbearing and open to others.

“A Man Called Ove” is an easy read. It is a sad, touching and funny story about a constantly irritated misanthrope character who warms up to thoughtful, friendly, persistent approaches which reach their target by taming him unexpectedly. It reveals goodness hidden under his hard shell, gaining him the empathy of his neighbours as well as the reader and turning him into a lovable, sympathetic character.

In an interview, Frederik Backman admits his susceptibility and justified exasperation toward people who do not comprehend his anger. He says about himself: “I’m not very socially competent” and he says, referring to Ove: “There’s a lot of me in him. When we get angry, it’s about a principle, and we get angry because people don’t understand why we’re angry.”

We all have some of Ove in us, sometimes hidden deep and sometimes revealed when the opportunity presents itself, indicating that: “No man is an island” and there is always hope for the human race.