Asko Sahlberg: He [They]

28 June 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Helsinki: WSOY, 2010. 120 p.
ISBN 978-0-36170-2
€ 24.10, hardback

The Finland-Swedish author Asko Sahlberg (born 1964), who lives in Gothenburg in Sweden, has had an interesting, if uneven, career over the past decade. Sahlberg’s particular strengths lie in his precise use of language and the rhythm of his prose. Since his debut novel, Pimeän ääni (‘The sound of darkness’, 2000), part of Sahlberg’s output has been concerned with meditations on existence and the purging of emotions, with the rest delving into historical themes, such as his 2004 novel Tammilehto (‘Oak Grove’) which is set in the year 1918, and He, his ninth book, which takes place in 1809. (An extract from his novel Eksyneet (‘The lost’) was published in Books from Finland, 2/2002.) In He Sahlberg uses a first-person narrative technique with multiple narrators, which feels justified in this highly distilled portrait of a family. The plot is set against the backdrop of the Finnish War (1808–1809), waged by King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden and Alexander I, Emperor of Russia. Henrik and Erik are brothers fighting on opposite sides, their mother drowns her sorrows hard liquor, and Anna, the neighbour’s daughter, ends up with the wrong brother. The end of this novella is surprising, dealing with the anatomy of revenge and deceit.