A noted Swedish writer makes his English-language debut with a novel that limns in lyrical prose the dispiriting saga of a family blighted for three generations by a bizarre accident. Evoking mood and scene with beguiling skill, Tunstrîm tells a dark tale weighed down by tragedy and madness. And though there is a long-deferred expiation of grief—the staging of Bach's Christmas Oratorio in the family's hometown by a grandson, 50 years later—the redemption is bought at great cost. On a fine June day in the early 1930s, watched by her children Sidner and Eva-Liisa, beautiful Solveig sets off from their farm on her new bicycle. Within minutes she is dead, crushed by a herd of stampeding cows she's unable to avoid. Her husband, Aron, is devastated, and young Sidner will never fully recover, though he will inherit Solveig's talent and passion for music, which led her to propose a production of the daunting Oratorio by the local church choir. Aron sells the farm and finds work in town, but is still haunted by Solveig. Convinced that she is reincarnated in the unhappy Tessa, with whom he has been corresponding, Aron sets off for Tessa's home in New Zealand, with tragic consequences. Sidner, a sensitive and introverted adolescent, is seduced by a much older woman, who bears his child, Victor. Troubled by tragic and erotic dreams, Sidner breaks down and is confined to a hospital for the mentally ill. A journey to New Zealand after his recovery to see the equally troubled Tessa offers a small measure of comfort, but it is Victor, a musician and conductor, who finally lets ``the music that gives us hope ring out.'' Comes close to confirming all those clichÇs about the cheerless Swedes, but beautifully written with finely wrought perceptions.
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