Kevin From Canada offered an intriguing review of this novel,so I decided to take the plunge!
An old man in a nursing home in Sweden writes in his notebook. He was a journalist until his editor found out that everything that he wrote was fiction. The editor forbade the journalist to write another word; he followed the order until the editor had died. He assumed that he was now free from the edict.
The old man writes about two men in northern Sweden who ride a motorcycle looking for the best hash (a type of stew, with everything thrown into the pot). The first man is Robert Maser , an ex-Nazi official; he now works as a peddler selling clothes. The other man is the school teacher, Lars Hogstrom.
Lars contracted TB in his childhood and spent most of his youth in the sanitarium. When he was cured, he really didn’t want to go out into the world. ““The whole sanitarium, all its corridors and stairs and lobbies, full of the constant smells of stewing, and new-bake bread and cloves and oranges. Where in the world shall I be able to find such nourishing and well-cooked food?” He was particularily fond of the potted pork with mashed turnip and potato and pickled gherkin or beetroot. And herring pie with melted butter.”
Living in a foodie-loving place such as New Orleans, I can understand someone being fond of food, but these entrees sound unappetizing to me.
Lars asks for and get assigned the most tubercular school district in the northern Sweden. Both he and Robert are newcomers and find out (funnily) that they share a love of music and sang together some evenings. And later on, they go on the hash quest during the summer.
Everyone in the district makes their version of hash (even the winter ones) and wait for the men to taste and comment on their hash.
When Lars and Martin go to Ellen’s home, to taste her hash, “they broke off small fragments with their fingers and pressed them against the roof of their mouths, where the hash dissolved on its own accord and trikletle over their tongues and molars. They didn’t chew, they let the air filter in between their lips so that nothing of the experience would be lost, and they delayed swallowing as long as they could.”
Between the story of the people in this region of Sweden, the novel goes back to telling the story of the journalist and his life in the nursing home. This portion of the novel (and Lars’ unethusiatic return to work) can be seen as a comment on the government’s policy to take care of everyone. The home had an obligation to take care of the journalist but now the administrators were worried about the costs; he kept on living and didn’t die.
Two words of caution. The novel is a bit strange. It doesn’t really follow in the traditional pattern, but you will get accustomed to the rhythm. Another think is the descriptions of what is put into the hash can turn your stomach. Don’t read this after a nice meal.
The format reminded me of Magnus Mills’ works. Both authors make commentaries on their worlds, but there is really not too much action. Both writers have the characters going in circles or loops as they live out their lives. You have to be in the right mindset to enjoy this novel and any of Magnus Mills’ works.
I am going to look for more of Lindgren’s novels to discover whether they follow the same pattern.