Monday, January 26, 2009

The Swedish novel Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin takes place almost entirely on the Swedish island of Öland, although the time covered in the novel swings between the 1930s to the present. The pivotal events in the story occur in the fall of 1972 when 5 year old Jens Davidsson disappears one foggy afternoon. The story then swings between the 1930s, to tell the story of Nils Kant, the suspected kidnapper, and the present day when Jens' mother and grandfather finally find out what happened to him.

The author does a good job of moving between the past and the present, and keeping the reader involved in both. There are plenty of red herrings thrown in to keep the reader guessing about the true fate of the little boy until the very end. Unfortunately, the resolution of the story didn't really ring true. There was more than one person involved in the child's disappearance, and not everyone's involvement was sufficiently explained in the somewhat hurried resolution. Still, at the end, at least the child's family is finally able to solve the mystery of what happened
out there on the foggy alvar so long ago.

Which brings me to another point: what the @#$% is an alvar? It's never defined or explained, just thrown in to the story with people wandering around on the alvar, going hunting on the alvar, glimpsing wildlife on the alvar, etc. I have no problem with the rest of the translation of the book, but wouldn't you think an unfamiliar word that's repeated, oh, about 1,876 times in the book would merit some explanatory note at the beginning? None of my dictionaries even have the word listed, but I was able to find it in some online dictionaries: alvar -- a limestone plain with thin or no soil and, as a result, sparse vegetation. Seems like they could have found some other word that would have been similar and known to English readers, like heath.

Final Verdict for Echoes from the Dead: Two Gherkins, for being an interesting page-turner with a hurried, unsatisfying resolution


Jamie said...

An "alvar" is an area "with thin or no soil". Apparently they do exist in North Amercia around the Great Lakes. As usual, Wikipedia knows.

Two Lefties said...

But isn't that what is wonderful about books written about other countries? Words we have to look up or figure out their meaning? These kinds of translations are so much more interesting than those that make everything sound "English" or "American."

Lisanne624 said...

Yes, thank heavens we have the Oxford English Dictionary online at work. I make frequent use of it!

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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