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! 🙂