“The first time I met Otto,” Madame Vidal said to me, “was in April 1935 – a day when, from the early morning to late evening, the most delightful rain of spring fell over Königsberg; a gentle, refreshing rain that washed the streets clean, the grounds of Sternengarten got steam and within a few hours the trees had unfurled their light green little leaves.” This is where the author Carola Hansson lets her story begin.
In the summer of 1939, sixty Jewish young people from Germany arrive at a farm outside Falun in Sweden. Here they will learn farming, to reach the goals of their dreams, a kibbutz in the future of Israel. But the war breaks out and they remain in Sweden.
With her low-key suggestive language, she slowly brings to life how their lives are gradually being wiped out by the Nazi terror. Still, from studies and eager conversations around Zionism’s ideas, a fragile faith for the future grows – a belief they struggle to preserve even in the vulnerability of exile.
Königsberg is a place that no longer exists, except in the memory of those who once lived there. Today’s Russian Kaliningrad is, the author writes, almost like a backdrop, erected on the graves of the displaced. The conversation, which the whole novel revolves around, follows the threads of the past, a Europe and a civilization that has perished.
The pain comes to the surface when Madame Vidal tells about the losses and all the dead. The result is a personal intense novel narrative, so loaded with grief and loss that reading sometimes feels unbearable. Carola Hansson reminds us that literature in its best moments is a work of remembrance that restores the honor of the murdered and brings life across generational boundaries.
This novel was shortlisted for the August Prize 2020.