Johanna Holmström: Asfältsänglar [Asphalt angels]

21 March 2013 | Mini reviews, Reviews

[Asphalt angels]
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2012. 294p.
ISBN 978-951-52-3120-8
€29.90, hardback
Finnish translation:
Helsinki: Otava, 2012. 333 p.
Suom. [Translated by] Tuula Kojo
ISBN 978-951-1-26841-3
€29.90, hardback

The immigrant novel has not played a significant role in contemporary Finnish literature; since the wave of Russian refugees in the early 19th century, there have been few immigrants to Finland. In her short story collection Camera Obscura (2009) Johanna Holmström (born 1981) managed to combine realism and fantasy in a fascinating way; her new novel, Asfaltsänglar, is the directly yet eloquently told story of two young immigrant sisters. Leila, bullied at school, is becoming a drop-out, while Samira, who has tried to live according to western norms, lies unconscious after an unexplained accident. Their Finnish mother is a fanatical convert to Islam and their father comes from the Maghreb region. The novel confronts claustrophobic Arabic family culture and western ideals of freedom, taken so far that people completely lose any sense of responsibility for one another, with the adults’ betrayal of their children playing a key role. Holmström goes to great lengths to give a balanced portrayal of both cultures and show why her characters act as they do, even when the results are tragic.
Translated by Claire Dickenson


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