I would never have read this book if I hadn’t first listened to an interview with the author, Vendela Vida, on NPR while working on a filing project at work.
I liked the way that Vida spoke and the stories that she told the interviewer. Her voice had a certain whimsical quality–at first I thought she must be a poet, not a novelist.
Later, I searched for her book, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, which had been the main topic of the interview, while I was selling some books back at Half Price. They didn’t have that one, but they did have a copy of Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name. On a whim, I decided to use the money I got from selling my books to buy this one, instead of holding out for her newer book.
I am very, very glad I did. Northern Lights tells the story of Clarissa, a woman whose father has just died. A woman whose mother left her when she was fourteen. A woman whose identity is shaken to the core when she finds out that her father was not her biological father.
Clarissa sets out on a journey to Lapland–to the Sami (the Indigenous people of Lapland)–to find her biological father, a Sami priest. On the way, Clarissa learns about her mother, about the Sami people, and even a little bit more about herself.
I really, really enjoyed this novel. Contemporary realist fiction can be a hit-or-miss for me. I usually want the fantastic, the extraordinary. And contemporary fiction can often times seem depressing, even hollow to me–the words are so carefully chosen, the sentences are so beautifully crafted, but sometimes I just feel like the FORM of the novel takes over the story.
In Northern Lights I felt that Vida did a good job of creating an intriguing story and balancing the beautifully crafted language she used to create it. Even as a first-person narrator, Clarissa retains an air of mystery. She is in shock and not even the reader is allowed to get too close.
My only complaint: more reindeer! I’ve always wanted to see reindeer. Now Lapland and the Ice Hotel are definitely on my travel bucket list!
Also, I liked how my hometown–San Antonio, Texas–was involved in Clarissa’s story. Vida could have chosen Austin, Dallas, or Houston–any of the cities I would have expected an NYC/California-dweller to have chosen. I might be biased.
I found a copy of The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty. At some point in my life (probably not this semester) I plan on reading that one as well.
Here is a picture of a Lapland reindeer for your enjoyment: