Thursday, 23 February 2012

Book review: The Brothers

Written by Asko Sahlberg
Translated by Fleur and Emily Jeremiah
Published by
Peirene Press

If you’re interested in contemporary European literature, you won’t want to miss The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg, published this month by Peirene Press as the first title in the Small Epic series.

Epic might sound like an overstatement when applied to a novel that is only 122 pages long but believe me when I tell you that, with its 8 narrative voices and a wide spectrum of human emotions, this description is indeed quite fitting.

The setting is a farm in Finland in 1809, where brothers Erik and Henrik have returned after fighting in the war between Sweden and Russia on opposing sides. Family tensions had pushed Henrik to leave his country and seek a new beginning in St. Petersburg but when he turns up at the farm unexpectedly it becomes clear that all those past matters are far from being a thing of the past.

As the Farmhand, one of the novel’s characters, declares at the very beginning of the book: The war has been waged, but here we may yet have corpses.

I had expected the pace of the novel to be stilted because of the frequent changes of narrator. The continuous switching of point of view, however, has the opposite result and makes the narration flow more easily and rapidly. Instead of a linear recounting of events, Sahlberg achieved a dynamic effect and readers keep being surprised by new revelations as each character adds a piece to the puzzle.

On top of this, what at first appears to be a simple story of rivalry between brothers turns out to be a deeper portrayal of the struggle between social classes.

All this in 122 pages of exquisite English. The mother and daughter translation team formed by Emily and Fleur Jeremiah has a lot to be proud of!

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