Sunday, February 04, 2007

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name * Vendela Vida

Vendela Vida’s newest novel, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, does not shy away from dark issues. While addressing such meaty topics as rape, betrayal, and what makes us who we are, Vida somehow manages to write a book that is at the same time both achingly bleak and very funny. Her lean, spare writing disguises a world of heartache in brief, matter-of-fact sketches. “If someone gave me a pile of bones and said they were my mother’s,” says Clarissa, the novel’s narrator, “I decided I would cry for a day and move on.”
When Clarissa and her fiancé return home after her fathers sudden death, she find out that he wasn’t really her biological father at all, and that her fiancé knew it all along. That, topped with the fact that she was abandoned by her mother at the age of fourteen, sets her off on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Lapland in search of herself and her roots. Such journeys have a way of revealing the unexpected, and Clarissa does not encounter the truths she anticipates. While blundering about in Finnmark (the polar region where Finland and Norway overlap), she explores a bit of the indigenous Sami culture, checks into an ice hotel, and runs away from not only everyone she meets, but also everyone and everything that has made her who she is. What better way to explore your identity than by throwing yourself outside of it? What better way to test the warmth and meaning of home, than by checking into a hotel made entirely of snow and ice? Through her adventures Clarissa sheds the tethering connections of her life and slowly comes to understand, if not forgive, her mother’s choices, and perhaps her own as well.

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