The continuity of the life force takes charmingly eccentric form in this latest from Swedish author Lindgren (The Way of the Serpent, 1998, etc.).
Hash is a trunkful of interrelated stories set in 1947 in the tuberculosis-ridden village of Avabäck, and in the herculean memory of its unnamed 107-year-old narrator, a former newspaper writer and nursing home resident. Long since terminated by an editor exasperated by his fabrications (“There has never been a turkey farm ravaged by a bear in your district”), the narrator bides his time for decades, returning in his senescence to the unfinished story of Nazi war criminal Martin Bormann (disguised as itinerant clothier Robert Maser) and TB survivor schoolteacher Lars Hogström, who join forces upon discovering their shared love for music and Swedish hash (a formidable delicacy whose rendered constituents are best left unlisted). Lindgren imperturbably juxtaposes “Maser’s” survival tactics, Lars’s empowerment through health and amorous dalliance with his landlady Eva Marklund (whose husband Manfred languishes—quite happily, actually—in a sanitarium), the narrator’s earnest chats with his beguiling “care assistant” Linda, and the morose peregrinations of Avabäck’s bachelor handyman Bertil, a confirmed worrywart whose own “equilateral” physical form alienates him from irregularity and impulse in all things. The search for the perfect hash is a cockeyed quest for the absolute: a celebration of the unruly variety of living vs. the shaping arrangements of intellection. Every character encountered (including a “gloomy and negative” boy named Torgny Lindgren) has something memorable to contribute to this “hash” of experience. And the story climaxes memorably when Lars takes up with “scrofulous,” tubercular Ellen of Lillsjöliden, a knowledgeable crone whose deathlike frailty masks something very like the secret of life.
A brilliant comic novel, unlike anything else you’ve ever read.