Showing posts with label swedish. Show all posts
Showing posts with label swedish. Show all posts

Sunday, August 13, 2017

WITMonth Day 13 | Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

There was something instantly familiar and comfortable about Maresi.

I can't say what it was. I went into Maria Turtschaninoff's young adult fantasy (tr. A. A. Prime) knowing that the book was ostensibly a feminist-minded novel, and I couldn't help but be intrigued right off the bat. I also knew that the story takes place on a woman-only island, a sort of feminist utopia.

I didn't think of it at the time, but it seems that my mind must have subconsciously begun to call back to older feminist fantasy novels I read as a teen. Books like Marion Zimmer Bradley's novels (particularly The Mists of Avalon series) or Tamora Pierce's Tortall books. This, at least, is what happened once I started reading: I was instantly sucked into Maresi's world and found myself completely emotionally invested. Maresi - despite a fairly simple, at times more childish writing style than I was expecting - is exactly the sort of fantasy book I used to drink like water as a preteen. The characters are sharply drawn, the world is rich and easily called to mind, and the magic is present but lurking just beneath the surface.

Suffice to say: I really enjoyed Maresi.

It's not just nostalgia. Sure, there's a healthy heap of that too (who doesn't want more Tamora Pierce-like feminist fantasy novels?!), but it's mostly about the story that Maresi herself tells and the powerful message Turtschaninoff conveys about women and women's place in the world. Not only does The Red Abbey Chronicles create this pleasantly evocative little utopia, it also addresses why it's needed. Unlike many gritty, masculine fantasies that reference the subjugation of women as an afterthought, Turtschaninoff explicitly references the struggles that women - and more specifically young girls - go through. Women are abused, attacked, raped, sold off... and the Red Abbey provides a safe haven for them. Other women provide a safe haven for young girls.

In this sense, this is honest YA. The story is bluntly uncomfortable in parts, but it's never dark for the sake of being dark, and it's never painful. Maresi as a narrator frequently highlights the good moments, even as she struggles with the darkness that has come to invade her home. There is a warmth and strength in her voice that I immediately connected with, though again, I did find the writing to be a tad bit simplified in a way that didn't always match the story. The story is fairly predictable, but it also isn't really trying not to be. It works, somehow, in the same way that Tamora Pierce's early books (specifically the Lioness quartet) don't really need overly complex plotting in order to feel wonderfully rich and interesting.

This probably won't be the book for everyone. While the fantasy elements are relatively limited (mostly through a religious lens, with the three-part Goddess effectively contributing to all of the magic), it's still very much a YA fantasy. That's part of what I loved about it, but I recognize that fantasy YA is not exactly a universally beloved genre. And yet. For those readers who do love fantasy, who want to explore diverse YA, who want their historical fantasies to have just a bit (or a lot!) more feminism to them, Maresi is the way to go. It's a great little book, the sort that left me hungry for more books from this world.

Luckily, the next book in the series has already been released...

Thursday, August 3, 2017

WITMonth Day 3 | Wonderful Feels Like This by Sara Lövestam

There's a reason I often crave more YA in translation. There's something about fiction that's a little simpler, a little cleaner and clearer and geared towards younger minds, that comes stripped of a lot of the stylistic baggage that bogs down much of the high-brow "literature in translation". Whether a fair assessment or not, translated literature comes with a fairly heavy price-tag for most readers: the perception that the topics are heavy, the style is dense, and the reading experience bleak. Others still associate translated literature with those old classics, dusty and decaying on the shelf.

Wonderful Feels Like This - with its bright yellow cover and bright confetti splashed all over - seems a perfect antidote to readers who don't care for the heavier style. It's also a lovely, if at times awkward little YA novel, part historical fiction and part contemporary coming-of-age. For readers deterred by translation - particularly for younger readers seeking titles that might be a bit more relatable - Wonderful Feels Like This is a pretty nice starting point. Not the greatest contemporary YA you'll read this year, in all likelihood, but not an embarrassing addition to the collection either. A solid, pleasant, and interesting book that carries with it an important message: it's possible for YA to cross borders without anything getting lost.

In Wonderful Feels Like This, author Sara Lövestam (translated from Swedish by Laura A. Wideburg) explores pretty standard YA topics. Main character Steffi is an outcast with a deep love of music, struggling to get by at her small-town school and trying to forge her own path. She is persistently bullied by the girls at her school (and at home, by her older sister), often uncomfortable in her own skin, and isn't really sure about many aspects of her own identity. But Steffi loves music - writing music, listening to music, talking about music.

The book dives into the story immediately - one day on her way home from school, Steffi hears the sounds of her favorite jazz musician playing. This is the novel's "meet-cute", in which Steffi is introduced to the elderly Alvar (at his retirement home), a former jazz musician himself who begins detailing his history and story to the enraptured Steffi.

The stories then progress in an awkward sort of parallel, with Alvar's narration running alongside Steffi's attempts at navigating her fairly awful teenage experience. There are few thematic similarities between the two stories and at times it felt like Alvar's narrative crowded out Steffi's growth, but the stories work reasonably well. Honestly, at times it felt as though the story was actually better suited to the film medium: there's something very cinematic in the way both Steffi and Alvar's stories play out, and I can imagine a rather lovely adaptation.

As Alvar tells Steffi about his love of music and introduction into Stockholm's jazz music scene during World War 2, Steff herself is undergoing a different sort of growth. Rather than the dramatic goings on of the young Alvar, Steffi is dealing with commonplace school problems. She applies to high schools (including a music school in the city), she quietly tracks the desperate - and at times painful - messages her schoolyard nemesis sends her online alter-ego "Hepcat", she attempts to maneuver her family's assumptions that she's gay (which she doesn't really think about quite as much as they seem to), as well as a strained relationship with her older sister. These events occur fairly quickly - blink and you'll miss them - but they have a rather realistic, comfortable vibe to them too. Like I said: movie-like, with things shown and not necessarily fully developed.

I read Wonderful Feels Like This over one morning, pleased and charmed and entertained. It's truly a "feel-good" book, even as it raises difficult themes. It's not especially plot-heavy (focusing more on the characters and Alvar's backstory) and there were moments when I wished the story could have been a bit fuller, I found that I enjoyed the book a great deal. A sweet afternoon sort of read - the sort of book that leaves a pleasant taste in your mind.

Friday, August 12, 2016

WITMonth Day 12 | Comet in Moominland - Tove Jansson | Mini-review

It didn't take me long into Tove Jansson's Comet in Moominland (translated by Elizabeth Portch) to figure out that I had perhaps chosen the wrong book. The characters were never introduced, the plot seemed to bounce just a little too quickly, and the vibe was quickly that of... a sequel. Oh dear.

Of course, this being a children's book, the order of the stories doesn't seem to have mattered all that much. Possibly because the plot doesn't really make much sense anyways. Comet in Moominland is more of a silly romp than a complex narrative. I was, however, surprised by how text-heavy the story is. For some odd reason, I'd always assumed the Moomins stories to be mostly in comic form. This being my first foray into their baffling world, I'm still not really sure.

It's always hard to review children's books as adults, but I try to read them through the eyes of childhood me. And I realized pretty quickly that childhood me would have probably rolled her eyes very early. The book didn't make me laugh enough to justify its silliness (a comparison that popped to mind was the absolute absurdity of Penguin's Progress, one of my childhood favorites), but I couldn't help but enjoy its lighthearted tone and the playful drawings. There's a reason this one's a classic of the genre.