Sunday, December 22, 2013
Strindberg's Star, Jan Wallentin
Ok, so our main character, Don, is arrested for the murder of a diver who found a body while diving in a mine. The body is perfectly preserved by some trick of the mine, so it's super old, and appears to be the victim of either an accident or a suicide. So, there's no crime there. The diver, however, took a few things from the cave where he found the body, got caught up in the notoriety, and never told anyone about them. He invites Don up to take a look, since Don is a symbology expert.
Don obviously finds him dead, hence he's arrested.
Oh, Don is also a prescription drug addict.
Eva, is his lawyer. This is where I think maybe some plot points are lost in translation. Don is in interrogation and Eva just shows up and volunteers to be his lawyer. She says she was in the station for another reason and heard about him. I admit I thought it was weird to begin with, but what do I know from Swedish police procedures?
Don gets out of the local station, but only as a transfer by the Swedish federal (?) police. They take him to the home of a German. A home that's part of the embassy, so technically part of Germany. The German tells him a fantastical story about the real reason for the 1897 Andree Expedition to the North Pole. He claims they were actually searching for the location indicated when an ankh found by the diver is combined with the still missing Egyptian star. A mystical location.
When it becomes clear the German's aren't going to take "I don't know" for an answer, Don and Eva escape. This starts the adventure to find the star and clear Don's name. Or does it....
There are a couple things I want to comment on.
Like I said, there seems to be somethings lost in translation. Not enough where the story goes wonky, but I think we miss some of the nuance. Things that might be obvious to a native reader are harder to grasp for the non-native. And some of the wit in the witty banter gets lost, as well.
The other thing is the historical influence. Don's Jewish and his grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. There is some detail about the horrors inflicted upon her and other Jews by the Germans. Don is profoundly affected by it, leading him to his drug induced spiral. Not having experienced it directly, I think we in the Americas see the Holocaust from a greater distance. We know it happened. We know it was the greatest of evil horrors. But the details tend to be glossed over. It's probably similar to how Europe teaches/views American slavery or the Salem witch trials. This definitely doesn't allow for distance. That's not a complaint, there's nothing wrong with starring a horror in the face. Just an observation.
Finally, this book reminded me of Stephen King. Most people think of King as scary, and at times he is, but more often, his stories are...subtle. His stories are about people. About how people behave and react in insane situations. If you've read Under the Dome, you know that. This book has a similar subtle feeling. I didn't even equate it with King until page 316! There is some paranormal aspects which add to the King vibe, but it's really that human aspect that gives me that feeling. On page 316, Don makes an association between the Nazi paraphernalia he'd found in his grandmother's house, the paraphernalia that started his fear and obsession, and entering the North tower of Himmler's castle in Germany. That kind of tie in was just what made it pop for me.
Once I saw it, I couldn't unsee it.
Over all, I would recommend this book. It wasn't one of the junk books I sometimes read - and enjoy thoroughly. Whether it's because of the language and culture gap, or because of the King-esque story, this one takes some focus.
Strindberg's Star, Jan Wallentin