An early (1974) novel, the first of a tetralogy, by the well- known Swedish author of Blackwater (1996) and other fiction not yet translated. Set in a Swedish village about to enter the modern age, the story begins in the 1870s, as an excited and suspicious citizenry await the first train to arrive at their newly constructed station. We're introduced gradually to a townful of hardy and endearingly eccentric souls, including forthright, contentious Sara Sabina Lans (``the soldier's missus''); restaurant owner Alma Winlîf and her cagey lover, engineer Alexander Lindh; stationmaster Fredriksson and his beloved dog Mulle; tavernkeeper Tubby Kalle and the suavely sex-crazed Baron Cederfalk. These and many others are instantly brought to life and involved in the story's several ongoing actions. Girls are seduced and abandoned, or shackled in unfulfilling marriages. A dead man with a Communion wafer in his mouth is found just outside town. Workers in the social democratic movement form a guild and challenge their heartless employers. We see Ekman's characters join, part, recombine, and change as years pass; trains begin to appear routinely, and the new century proves no more inclined than the old to free common people from their repetitive rounds (``witches' rings'') of toil and discouragement. The focal point is Tora Lans, granddaughter of the aforementioned Sara Sabina, who grows up, motherless, into a weary, unillusioned woman whose intimate acquaintance with the rituals of work, childbirth, marriage, and death develops her grimly comic perspective on the world and on herself (``. . . a body was just a body. It sweated and dripped and bled and swelled''). Bleak, ribald, and unfailingly honest: a fine novel that honors, as it emulates, the tradition of village fiction created by such earlier Scandinavian masters as Selma Lagerlîf and Knut Hamsun. It's wonderful stuff.