Monday, 13 February 2012

The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg

Finnish Epic

review by Maryom

The Brothers is the first offering in Peirene Press' Year of the Small Epic, the tale of Henrik and Erik - two brothers different in almost every way: one is courageous and adventurous, going off to see the world and make his fortune; the other is steadier, the type to stay at home and tend the family farm; one appears to have everything he could want; the other is thwarted at every turn. Through accident, the brothers found themselves on opposite sides as the Russians and Swedes fought over Finland, and as the story opens Henrik returns home for the first time after the ending of the war - the perfect dramatic set-up for an opening up of old wounds and long-held grudges on, yes, an epic scale!

The Brothers is another wonderful offering from Peirene Press - one which might top Portrait of The Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius as my favourite.
A "small epic" seems a curious oxymoronic thing but although The Brothers is short on pages it's certainly not short on plot or characterisation. In just over 120 pages Sahlberg brings to life a family drama of long simmering resentment, sexual tension, financial mismanagement and long hidden secrets. It's rather like watching an intensely focused, dramatically packed 90 minute film, instead of the slow progression of a 12 part TV series. I loved the depth of characterisation and scope of the action achieved in such a small space.
There's something reminiscent of Greek tragedy to the story in the inevitable working out of fate and also in the presentation - each character talks directly to the reader, revealing his/her thoughts, desires and secrets and the action is seen through their eyes. Yet the opening sequence has all the hallmarks of a Western - the crunch of footsteps as Henrik approaches, the measured step, his slow appraisal of his surroundings, for all the world like a gunslinger walking up the main street of a Wild West town. Once you start to think "western" a lot of other things fit in - the horse, the girl, the squabbles over land -perhaps it just underlines the timeless quality of the story.

Translated from the Finnish by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press

Genre - Adult Literary Fiction, translated fiction, Finland

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