Publisher: Albert Bonniers Förlag
Challenges: Nordic Challenge
Synopsis: Fifteen year old Henning is walking into Stockholm. The city lies before him with all its possibilities. The city however doesn’t quite live up to its promises.
My Thoughts: If you read this blog regularly you probably know by this time that I don’t do to well with assigned reading. I tend to resent them. This was one of my exceptions. I was assigned this book the summer between my junior and senior year in high school and I am pretty sure I read it from cover to cover, and then went out and bought the rest of the books in the series. It is that good.
It has one of the most compelling opening chapters I have ever read. I read this in Swedish, but it is translated into English by Jennifer Brown Baverstam. Fogelström in the opening of the book makes the city into a character in its own right. He paints a picture of the city as both a protector and an enemy. These are the last few lines of the opening chapter (my translation):
The City waited. For the fifteen year old boy who had yet not seen any of its glory – and for everyone else who sought it out.
It existed in their dreams and invited all possibilities.
But a young boy neither could nor wanted to see that most were dark, that joy and the possibilities of life were much fewer than those of sorrow and death.
The boy dreamed. The City waited.
Isn’t it evocative and foreboding? The story of young Henning and his family also tells the story of the growth of Stockholm. This is the first book in a series of five books that follow the family from 186o until 1968. This first book covers the period from 1860 until 1880 and is very much the story of the horrors of the industrial revolution. How the poor were used. And how this impacts on the individual. Young Henning has no family and at first no friends. He also has no education and no contacts. This means that he ends up with the hardest jobs there are. However the book also shows the love and friendship that grows even in the at first bleak life of the rented bed and work in the harbour. Somehow it is incredibly beautiful. And the end makes me cry every time.
Although this is a work of historical fiction there is a certain amount of realism. Fogelström presents a well researched book where actual events are incorporated into the book. One of the things I appreciate about this series is that the characters are never given an important part in the historical events of the time. Rather we see them through their eyes, the eyes of the normal person. That makes the books more real to me. One criticism of sorts is that the main characters are incredibly good. It can get a bit grating at times but at the same time makes an important point of not giving into your circumstances.