Scribner. Jan. 2023. 432p. tr. from Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles. ISBN 9781668007167. pap. $18. F
DEBUT In this story of Sámi life, named Book of the Year in Sweden, Elsa, the nine-year-old daughter of Sámi reindeer herders, skis to the corral to see her favorite reindeer, only to find her dead. Still on the scene, the reindeer poacher, Robert Isaksson, threatens to kill Elsa and her family if she tells anyone. Divided into three parts covering the years 2008, 2018, and 2019, the novel describes the lives of Elsa and her community who live below the arctic circle in Sweden. Through adept characterization, the novel highlights the problems and issues the Sámi face—racism, loss of culture, alcoholism, suicide, governmental mistakes and neglect, and the devastating effects of climate change. As Elsa becomes a young woman, she begins to challenge the traditional gender roles of her community and the injustice of Swedish society by pushing back against the indifference of the police and their inability to stop poachers such as Isaksson. (While the Sámi view poaching as murder, the police categorize the crime as theft and do not actively pursue poachers.) Note that the chapter titles are written in Sámi.
VERDICT While the novel could have benefited from tighter pacing, award-winning author/journalist Laestadius, who is herself of Sámi descent, succeeds in capturing Sámi life.
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