by Linnea Axelsson
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Pub Date 09 Jan 2024 | Archive Date 08 Feb 2024
“Crystalline prose that reads like poetry and myth at once. There are intricate layers of beauty and meaning here in sparse clusters across a vast new landscape as I’ve never read before. The music of this book is old, and it is new, and it is old.”—Tommy Orange, bestselling author of There, There and Wandering Stars
In Northern Sámi, the word Ædnan means the land, the earth, and my mother. These are all crucial forces within the lives of the Indigenous families that animate this groundbreaking book: an astonishing verse novel that chronicles a hundred years of change: a book that will one day stand alongside Halldór Laxness’s Independent People and Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter as an essential Scandinavian epic.
The tale begins in the 1910s, as Ristin and her family migrate their herd of reindeer to summer grounds. Along the way, forced to separate due to the newly formed border between Sweden and Norway, Ristin loses one of her sons in the aftermath of an accident, a grief that will ripple across the rest of the book. In the wake of this tragedy, Ristin struggles to manage what’s left of her family and her community.
In the 1970s, Lise, as part of a new generation of Sámi grappling with questions of identity and inheritance, reflects on her traumatic childhood, when she was forced to leave her parents and was placed in a Nomad School to be stripped of the language of her ancestors. Finally, in the 2010s we meet Lise’s daughter, Sandra, an embodiment of Indigenous resilience, an activist fighting for reparations in a highly publicized land rights trial, in a time when the Sámi language is all but lost.
Weaving together the voices of half a dozen characters, from elders to young people unsure of their heritage, Axelsson has created a moving family saga around the consequences of colonial settlement. Ædnan is a powerful reminder of how durable language can be, even when it is borrowed, especially when it has to hold what no longer remains. “I was the weight / in the stone you brought / back from the coast // to place on / my grave,” one character says to another from beyond the grave. “And I flew above / the boat calling / to you all: // There will be rain / there will be rain.”
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 12 members
Reindeer herding is a way of life for many Sami people living in Sapmi, a borderless region containing Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. Swedish Lapland contains a large Swedish Sami community. This beautifully written novel-in-verse, titled "Aednan" (meaning the land, the earth and my mother), follows reindeer migration over a one hundred year period, from 1910-2o10.
In spring 1913, reindeer lazily graze off the north Norwegian coast. A herding family will move to winter grounds "across glowing autumn pastures". A "weakling" will never be of use in the reindeer forest. "...heartbeats in the ground faint beneath the inherited migration paths...". The does head west, into the mountains to the calving grounds." "To be without the reindeer's gaze was impossible...The herd's body became our bodies, our family." Once May day passed, they crossed the border into Norway to "a simple home at the water's edge."
The 1920s Lapp Administration altered migration paths...A departure from our lives-farewell to the trails and hillsides-forced to graze our herds on unfamiliar grounds". "Strong men [were] sent up through the forests to tame the river and yoke the power of the rapids even though our kinsmen had long moved with their herds across this rolling river valley...the river was left muffled and silent behind the dam's dim stony blind walls...the herds had to give way-a rocky riverbank we were allowed...We didn't belong to those who still remembered this river's voice in song when it had flowed freely."
I was forced to leave my life behind, at age seven, to attend Nomad Residential School. "The Swedish language grew along in my thoughts...the Sami since long asleep in the body of shame...having lived for years in the conqueror's house. I just let [my own language] slip away..." Can I manage to keep my own language alive, as a grown woman, to re-embrace my dialect and share the Sami language with my children?
"Aednan: An Epic" by Sami-Swedish author Linnea Axelsson paints a tapestry of the challenges of life as a reindeer herder while traditional grazing lands, unaffected by boundaries, become closed borders. Displacement has political implications especially between countries that have different rules on animal herding and grazing rights. In 2016, "Girjas Sami Village sued the Swedish State for hunting and fishing rights within the Sami community's boundaries."
It is this reader's hope that this exemplary novel-in-verse, winner of the August Prize for Fiction in 2018, will continue to shine a light on the inequities facing the indigenous Sami people of the north. Highly recommended.
Thank you Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage and Anchor and Net Galley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Aedan is a story in verse about two families of Sámi people over about 100 years of their lives. The Sámi are indigenous people from northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and and Russia. I was a little familiar with Sámi culture and was excited to learn more!
First of all, I didn't realize that this book would not be written in traditional prose until I opened the first page. I had never read a book that was written in this style and was nervous to start. I had a lovely time reading it despite by initial hesitance. The lyrical language really helped to create the atmosphere in a way that I don't think regular prose can. Don't let the relatively high page count scare you off; it goes very quickly. I read this book on a plane from Iceland to the US and finished in around two hours.
This book is definitely more atmospheric than plot focused. You really just follow the families throughout the years, sometimes moving backwards and forwards in time. I liked this style and really getting to sit with the story over a century.
If you are looking for a uniquely beautiful reading experience, I recommend this book! 4 stars from me. Thank you to Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor and NetGalley for the electronic advanced reader's copy of this book in exchange for my honest review!