Review: Daisy Sisters

Henning Mankell is perhaps better known for his Wallander crime series, although he has written a couple of novels as well. One of these is Daisy Sisters, a story about 3 generations of women against the backdrop of Swedish history. The translation of this book was only recently released here in Germany, and has yet to be translated into English. I´ve been debating whether to post a review about this, as it is very likely that any of you will run out to get the Swedish or German edition (I don´t even know what other language editons there are), but as he´s quite the successful author I´m sure the English edition will be released sooner rather than later.

This is one of the very few books that I went into with completely false expectations. I was expecting a story about the Daisy Sisters,17 year old Elna and Vivian who take a biking trip in the summer of 1941, and in equal parts the stories of the other 2 generations of women in this family. Although the backcover description promises a saga of these three generations, most of the story follows Eivor, daughter of Daisy Sister Elna. I was initially disappointed because I had expected the focus to be on female friendships and Sweden in the 40s. Once I had gotten used to the actual plot, I enjoyed getting to know Eivor so well. The book jumps a couple of years with each chapter (and each chapter is more of a novella in length), but meeting up with Eivor every couple of years and see where and what she like now was very interesting. The saga starts out with Elna, happy because she finally meets her longtime penfriend Viv in person. On their trip however, she is raped by a soldier and gets pregnant with Eivor. The story then jumps to when Eivor is herself a teenager with hopes and aspirations. We meet with her off and on again until the 1980s, when she is nearly 40 years old, and has a teenaged daughter herself.

The novel is wonderfully written, in a simplistic but powerful style, but the story itself is unbelievably depressing. I liked the book, and am glad to have read it, but it wasn´t exactly fun. The backcover reveals nearly everything and the plot is not about suspense and twists, so I´m going to mention key events (stop reading now if you don´t like it!).

What happens over nearly 600 pages is that every time these women are on the brink to success or the first step in realizing their dreams, they get pregnant.  Then they make all the wrong decisions and they never manage to break free from their small and confining lives. The men in their lives are all more or less a curse, they exact their influence over Elna and Eivor through the children, through violence and rape, and through their position as breadwinners. Mankell is very successful in depicting the situations of these women, the influences in their lives, and what being a woman means in the worst of circumstances.

Daisy Sisters also dips heavily into social criticism. Elna and Eivor are surprisingly passive characters. They are from a working class family and experience the great times of war and and the ovement of the 60s and 70s, but they never show an interest in politics. They appear as weak and non-confrontational, especially when compared to their best friends who are self-confident and politically active. I often got frustrated over Elna and Eivor, they are not fighters, but at the same time this made them more real as persons.

No favorite passages this time, it´s two in the morning and I can´t be bothered to translate them. Also, I hope this review makes sense somehow, I´m not completely awake! :)

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21 Comments

  1. I like that you reviewed this even though I can’t read it (yet). I like hearing about non-English books. And different books than everyone else is reading.

    Reply
    • Glad I could introduce you to something new :)I think non-English books are the only ones on my reading list that aren´t all over the blogosphere.

      Reply
  2. Interesting review! One of my friends is a big fan of Henning Mankell, and through this friend I have heard of Mankell’s thrillers, but I didn’t know that he wrote other kinds of novels too. ‘Daisy Sisters’ looks really interesting. It reminds me in some ways of a movie I watched a while back called ‘Moscow does not believe in tears’ – but the movie is more positive after the initial depressing moments.

    Reply
    • Wallander is very popular over here (but he doesn´t fit my British cozy crime preference :) ). He´s got a new novel out in English, The Man from Beijing, which is already a bestseller. I´ll need to google the movie, haven´t heard of it before. But the positive part sounds pretty good after this book :)

      Reply
  3. Sounds like an interesting read. It’s strange to think not so long ago unplanned pregnancies were constant threats hanging over women’s heads.

    Reply
    • I know, I always get pretty worked-up over the injustice. Elna´s failed abortion in the 40s is pretty gruesome!

      Reply
  4. I find books about what lives were like for women in the past fascinating, we don’t half seem to have it easy now. Although I’m a bit of a feminist’s nightmare as I actual like to cook, clean and look after people but then I am free to choose to do that I am not forced. This book sounds really interesting, thank you for sharing. As you said I have heard of the author due to Wallander but never read anything of theirs.

    Reply
    • I believe that being a feminist means pursuing equality and not renounce so called `women´ tasks. As long as it´s your choice it´s all good :)I was quite surprised to discover I actually love to cook and bake as well.

      I hope they´ll translate it into English soon. But he has other novels translated if you´d like to try him.

      Reply
  5. Oh, what a pity this is now available in English! I’m glad you did review it, though, because now if it gets translated we’ll all immediately know it’s good :P

    Reply
    • Haha, thanks! It made for quite a change to find out this hadn´t been translated into the world language!

      Reply
  6. candletea

     /  March 16, 2010

    Oh, I really wanted to read this book after hearing about it a few weeks ago. I never read Henning Mankell, because I’m no fan of crime stories, I thought this might be a good introduction to his writing without having to read crime. I’m a bit hesitant now that you’ve mentioned the story is depressing. I think I might save it for some other time when I’m more happy myself.
    It’s weird blogging about books you’ve read in languages other than English, I know, but I always like finding out about books even when they weren’t read in English, or haven’t been released in English (yet, I expect that this book will be released in English soon).

    Reply
    • This was also my introduction to Mankell, and I have heard that it is quite representative of his non-crime works. I´m afraid Daisy Sisters really is quite depressing, but perhaps of you go into it expecting this, it might not be too bad. I would still recommend it, especially as a social study and gender reading. Reading it made me more aware of the possibilities and choices I have in my life.

      I´m glad blogging about books not written in English seems to be alright with my readers. I agree with your prediction, Mankell is pretty popular so this book will be translated into English sooner rather than later.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting :)

      Reply
  7. I cannot find it in Italian either, surprisingly as Mankell is very popular in Italy as well. I really like his thrillers so it would be interesting to read something a bit different. Thanks for posting this. Ciao. A.

    Reply
  8. Donald

     /  April 30, 2011

    Henning Mankell’s last and recent Wallander book is also depressing – did he write Daisy Sisters recently or is it much earlier (as suggested in one reference)?

    Reply
    • As far as I know, he wrote Daiy Sisters in the early 80s. Perhaps depressing is his style ;)

      Reply
  9. Alan

     /  May 28, 2012

    I read the book in German, and enjoyed it very much. Firstly because it spoke seriously to the lives of working class people who are often marginalised or made comic in their representation. Secondly it was noteworthy that they were women, and if what I have said is true it is all the more true of working class women. Lastly, one of the women (I forget which) has studied using distance education, at the famous Swedish institution Hermods. I think this is the first mention in fiction of someone studying at a distance, and as this is my field of work I was very pleased to see it!

    Reply
    • Thanks for stopping by, Alan.

      I think the novel definitively does well with pushing female and working-class characters to the forefront, and doing so in a complex manner.

      That’s an interesting field to work in and I hope it helps a lot of people to an education.

      Reply
  10. Ed Almaguer

     /  July 29, 2012

    I have read some of Mankell’s Wallander novels, and “Before the Frost” was one of my favorites. I plan to read “Daisy Sisters” as I have recently discovered the Spanish edition. I must also say, Bina, I am truly envious of your use of Groucho Marx as your representation. I am a devout Marxist (as in Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo), so your review hit the mark for me. Thanks for your suggestions!

    Reply
    • Haha, thanks, am a total Marx brothers fan as well, and not just Groucho :) Really hope you’ll enjoy Daisy Sisters!

      Reply
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