Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida

# Hardcover: 240 pages

# Publisher: Ecco (January 2, 2007)

# Language: English

Vendela Vida's last book "And Now You Can Go", didn't have all that much to write home about, but the writing was so quirky and clever, the characters so unusual and unique that I made a mental to note to hunt down her next book just to treat myself to more Vendila Vida, and I am glad I did!!!

"Let The Northern Lights Erase your Name" borrows its title from a Sami poem, by Mary Ailonieda and it, together with the cover art, effectively captures both the setting as well as the theme of the novel. Most of the book takes place in Lapland, the place where Norway, Finland and Sweden come together aboove the Arctic circle and is the abode of the Sami or indigenous population of Northern Scandanavia. I was excited that Vida chose to set this book in Lapland, because this fabled home of Santa Claus and his reindeer, is an irresitable draw.

THis is a hard book to write a review for because, like with any mystery novel, giving even a little away might be too much..in a nut shell, Clarissa, the protagonist of the novel, was abandoned by her mother in a shopping mall when she was 14, in an excruciating painful way...the two were out Christmas shopping together and when suddenly her mother disappared, leaving a goodbye message with a store clerk (“She said to tell you she got tired of waiting”) leaving Clarissa and her brother who suffers from "Down's Syndrome" to be brought up by the father.

Upon her father's death, Clarissa accidently learns that he wasn't her real father , which takes her on a journey to Lapland in the hope of uncovering her identity, instead, she learns of several more secrets, deceptions and lies...

This book is filled with characters you are going to despise and yet, you are going to want to read more about them...the atmospheric descriptions of Lapland and the Sami people with their reindeer herd, their JOeks ( a personal song that sounds like a yodel) are beautiful and enlightening. I was particularly excited to be given a ringside view of the Ice Hotel...spending a couple of nights at the ice hotel has always been on my list of "must-experience" and after reading about it here I know it has to be done sooner than later! Just make sure you bundle up well and grab yourself a mug of hot chocolate before reading the book because her descriptions of the cold and snow are so vivid, you almost feel the cold artic air as you read.

While secrets and lies are the pervading themes of this book...the author also addresses issues of abandonment, one's quest for one's identity, mothers and daughters, reinventing oneself, communication, or rather the lack of it... this book is a multi-dimensional one and will present a lot of questions as you read, but the good news is that it will answer all of the questions it presents.

If you're looking for something quick and something a little different, give this book a try, you might be happy you did.


Sanjay said...

Lotus, An excellent review as always.
This book is filled with characters you are going to despise and yet, you are going to want to read more about them.
Therein the author succeeded, because you were hooked by the book :)

Quest for one's identity, mothers and daughters, reinventing. These are such common and human themes that transcend all cultures and boundaries. But there lies the rub too, how does the author make this common theme unique in it's own way? Perhaps by presenting them thru the unique lens of their writing and characters? Wait did I answer my own Q? :)

Also you say it answers all the questions it presents, did you think they satisfied you as a reader? Becasue sometimes I have found that, that may not be the case.

Thank you again for a great review and telling us about a different kind of book, you do have an eclectic reading taste! :)

Laura said...

Oh yikes!! After reading your lovely review, I want this book right now!!! My list is growing so long!! However, since I am going on a little trip to visit my Dad, maybe I can get this book to take with!!! It sounds really cool!! I have always wanted to go to the Ice Hotel too! Thanks for telling me about a book I did not even know was out there!!! Isn't this author married to Dave Eggers?

Asha said...

I loved the tiltle itself and the review is more temping!:))

Thanks for reading all these books and letting us know Lotus.Hugs.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Sanjay!

Thank you for your kind words as always...you know, I was really impressed with this novel. It's a brief little thing really and the prose is sparse, but the author is such a clever writer, she manages to pack so much into this little book, that you have to read it to believe it! I'm not saying it's a work of great literature or anything, but it's a lovely mystery and keeps you engaged throughout.

To answer your question, yes, I was happy that this book answered the questions it presented. While I have nothing against ambiguous endings, sometimes, especially when it's a mystery, it's nice to have a little closure.

Thank you for your comment!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Laura!

So nice to see you here!!! YES! Vendela Vida is married to Dave Eggers. I am so in awe of her, she's really a very clever writer ( I saw that even in her first novel, "And Now You Can Go"). She is also the co-editor of the magazine "Believer", you might want to take a look at it sometime.

Have a great time at your father's place...will you have access to the internet there, do you think?

hi, Asha!

Yes, I fell in love with the title, too...you know, both the title and the cover are indicative of the setting of the book, and now when I look at the pages, I realize that even the way the words are arranged on the pages gives off feelings of isolation, wide open spaces, frigid cold, sparsely-populated terrain, etc. I have a feeling this was deliberately arranged by the author, but I am excited to have discovered it! :)

Wendy said...

Another great review, Lotus! I've been eyeing this book - and put it on my wish list; now, after reading what you had to say, I think I'll move it up on the priority list :)

Lisa said...

This one is on my list, too! Thanks for the great review, now I know I didn't make a mistake putting it on my ever-growing to be read list. I loved the title, and that's not my usual way to choose a book. Glad the book lives up to it!

Sanjay said...

Lotus thank you for your response.
Your response to Asha brings up another question..
I realize that even the way the words are arranged on the pages gives off feelings of isolation, wide open spaces, frigid cold, sparsely-populated terrain, etc. I have a feeling this was deliberately arranged by the author
When you talk about word arrangement do you mean the structure and/or number of words on a page or their structure as sentences? I mean if it is a small book (240 pages) and the language is sparse, are there pages with fewer words (say to convey desolation)?
Is that what you are referring to?
If so how would cold be conveyed?
You have gotten me so curious that now I almost want to go but this book :)
If you meant arangement as in the structure of the prose then my question is silly. :)

Beenzzz said...

Hi Lotus!
I love books of this nature. Ones that stir the blood, but make you want to continue reading until 3:00 am! Will add this to my 9 foot long list of books to read! :) Great review as always.

tanabata said...

This sounds fabulous! And I love wintery books. I'm adding it to my wishlist. Might be the perfect escape from a hot, humid summer.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Wendy!

I hope you will like it as much as I did. Although it's not necessarily a page turner, it is one of those books you can sit down and read in a single afternoon. Thank you so much for stopping by, always happy to see you.

Hi, Lisa!

Yeah, I found the title so fascinating, but I'll confess that Lapland was the draw ( I knew very little about Lapland and the Sami people and my anthropological mind wanted to know more) the fact that it turned out to be such a nice read was a huge bonus! :)

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Sanjay!

Great question! I found that the book, because it is divided into little sections, allowed for quite a bit of blank spaces on the pages, also, like I have said already, the prose is kinda sparse, so as you read, the pages start to imitate the landscape or the terrain of cold and snowy Lapland, with the blank spaces resembling the white expanse of snow ...I guess it's just my own weird imagination...you might not feel the same way as you read the book! :)

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, beenzzz!

Thank you! And this is a quick read too....you can easily finish it in a single evening!

Hi, Nat!

Yes!!! This is the perfect book for a long, hot summer's day. Maybe I'll save it for a re-read in the dog days of July. I'm glad you made that suggestion!

Sanjay said...

Lotus, thank you for the explanation. I guess that clarifies it for me, after all there are so many different ways to read a book and no that is not a weird imagination at all.

You have to see mine to know weird. :)

Radha said...

So can you explain the name of the book without giving away the suspense? Because it is a strange & intriguing name for a novel!

Fay said...

I am wondering if the release of the new Tolkien fantasy, _Children of Hurin_ will create interest in all things Northern European, since his story is reportedly based on the national epic of Finland. If Scandinavia catches on with readers, then you're ahead of the curve with this book, Lotus.

booklogged said...

I want to back out of all the challenges I've signed up for and read this one right now. I love things that are a bit different. And then for it to be a mystery - Ahhhhhh....

Lotus, I always love your reviews. You express yourself so well and you read such interesting books.

ML said...

Great review, as always, Lotus! Sigh, another book to add to my ever growing list.

By the way, I'm almost finished with The Good Earth. I'll write a review on that soon.

Olivia said...

I give up on my list...I am still 20 books behind because as I catch up, I buy more.

Do you buy yours or borrow them?

Olivia said...

I forgot to ask, where is Vendela Vida from/where is she based?

diyadear said...

hey lotus, all this while i had blogrolled u with the anthropologist URl.. N every time i visited i found the same post ;)
how dumb of me..
Nice review..sounds interesting.. will try to read it..

Angela in Europe said...

I think you wrote a good review. It was tantilizing enough to make me want to read it. However, I doubt I will find it here.

Lotus Reads said...


Can't give too much away...but this is the story of Clarissa's search for her true identity (she finds, upon her father's death, that she is not the person she thought she was) and she travels to Lapland, home of the Northern Lights (the casual name for Aurora Borealis,the unusual glow seen in the arctic in the winter) which is where she uncovers her true identity.


Thanks so much for stopping by and letting me know about "The Children of Hurin"... I love that it was completed by Tolkein's son! But apparently it's going to be darker and gloomier than "Lord of the Rings"? According to Wikipedia it's due out on the 17th of this month, yeay! And yes, it does apparently have echoes of the Finnish national poem...we'll have to see how people embrace it.

Lotus Reads said...

@booklogged ~ awww, you always say the nicest things! No, don't give up on any of your challenges...while this book is a nice read, it's not a "must-read"...you can get to it any time you have a break between challenges!

@ml ~ I am looking forward to your thoughts on Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth" with bated breath! I hope you liked it!

@Olivia ~ I buy most of my books. I used to borrow a lot from the library but when I found I was struggling with returning them ( when I liked a book it was so hard for me to let it go back to where it belonged) I decided I needed to buy my own books! ;)

Vendela Vida is an American. She is married to author Dave Eggars and I think she lives in Boston, but I could be wrong. Her name is Swedish I believe (her mom is of Swedish descent).

I so appreciate you stopping by Olivia!

Optimistic Guard said...

Another excellent review, Must say I haven't heard of the author before but I will definitely get this book and read it, it sounds quite intriguing.

monideepa said...

Welcome back :-)

More than the intriguing title, more than any other recommendation you've made, I will rely most on your following comment:

"This book is full of characters you will despise, and yet you are going to want to read more about them. "

This author must be truly extradoirdinary to be able to do that.

hellomelissa said...

with spring here and summer just around the corner, i'm not quite ready to return to the cold quite yet! :)

great review as always, dear lotus.

Saaleha said...

Hi Lotus,

Just popped in after an age and I see you're as busy as ever expanding people's horizons and plumping up their book lists. I still haven't gotten through half of what you recommended. Keep up the excellent job

Bookfool said...

This sounds like my kind of book! I particularly like the idea that you can almost feel the cold, as I'm often longing for cooler weather. Love the title, too. Wonderful review, as always, Lotus!

In case you missed the reply at my blog, thanks so much for dropping by to let me know you're back and


to you, too!!!! I missed you!!!

Sai said...

Wow that sounds like a good read. I will definitely try and get it.

Lotus Reads said...

@Optimistic Guard ~

Oh yes, the cold described in this book will be very welcome on a long, hot day in the Emirates. Hope you can find the book in Dubai...when I lived there it was frustrating sometimes because the stores didn't always have the books I wanted.

@Monideepa ~

Helloooo! Lovely to see you after such a long time! Well, yes, I always marvel at books where I don't like the characters and yet, at the end of the book, I say to myself, "hey, that was a really nice read"! With the exception of a couple, these characters hoarde too many secrets and that is why they came across as dislikable to me.

@Melissa ~

And in Canada we're lamenting about the short winter...anyway, woke up to a little snow this morning so I guess winter hasn't said its fond goodbyes yet! ;)

Lotus Reads said...

@Saaleha ~

So glad to see you here! I've been thinking about you and wondering if you have your book published yet. It's been ages since we visited each other...going to come and see you soon, I miss your stories and poems!

@bookfool ~

Yes, this is your kind of story indeed. Like you, I, too, prefer the cooler, colder weather over the heat...so this was the perfect read for me. I'm so glad to be back in circulation and your blog is terrific as always! Thank you for your truly nice comment!

@Sai ~

Yes, pick it up if you can or better still, borrow it from the library. Thanks for visiting, Sai.

Lotus Reads said...

@diya ~ I'm to blame...I haven't updated my anthropologist blog in a while...sorry...I will have something up there soon! Thanks so much for visiting both places...really appreciate it!

@Angela ~ Haven't seen you in such a long while...tks for visiting today!

Susan in Italy said...

How cool. This review reminds me a little of a few Sami-descended people in Minnesota (home to a lot of Scandinavian immigration). They felt more at home with "non-white" people that with other Scandinavians since they have been descriminated against for a long time.

Anali said...

Great post! I thought I left a comment, but I guess it didn't take. This book has piqued my interest and I emailed this post to a friend of mine who might be interested in it too!

Sugarlips said...

Lotus your reviews are superb :)
I love coming on your blog and the reviews make me wanna grab the book right away :)
Sorry couldn't catch up on your blog I was on vacations ;) I hope you are doing great :)

Stay Beautiful..!

Shashikiran Mullur said...

We holidayed in Lapland a few years ago, and stayed by Lake Inari (Finland). Then we drove further north, went into Norway, to Nordkap. As it happens, we got only touristic insights to the Sami people. Thanks for introducing what appears to be a very interesting book.

gautami tripathy said...

Angel, it seems I am late in welcoming you back. Better late than never. I have missed you and you your posts. Not to mention your comments to my posts.

This review is as good as always. I have not done any review for a long time but that does not mean I am not reading. Infact, I am reading too much but writing reviews, I have not much time!


david santos said...

Thanks for you work and have a good weekend.

iliana said...

What a great review Lotus. I know I've seen the book at the bookstore but hadn't really been tempted by it. Know that I know a bit about it, it's going on my TBR list!

Lotus Reads said...

@Susan ~ I had heard that a lot of people of Scandanvian origin live in Minnesota, but I hadn't thought about there being Samis among them, how interesting. Do they relate more to the people of Native American origin, I wonder?

@Anali ~ Thank you for spreading the word! :)

@Sugarlips ~ I missed you! Where did you go on vacation? I hope you had a good time?

@Shashikiran ~ How lucky you got to visit Lapland...the only place I have visited in Scandanavia is Denmark, but I hope to change that soon.

@Gautami ~ Lovely to see you here, thanks very much for stopping by! I was on hiatus for a while and that is why I have been absent from your blog. Hope to make amends soon! The only reason I write reviews is to have something to refer to when I can no longer remember details of a book..I read too much and don't remember a lot! lol

@David Santos ~ Thank you for visiting...hope your weekend was good too!

@Iliana ~ Hello!!! I so hope you like it Iliana...I love Vida's writing but not everyone is a fan.

Beloved Dreamer said...

Lotus my dear, I think I like the sound of this book. It was a great review as always. I will give it a try and see.
Oh it's great to be reading your reviews again!


A Reader from India said...

Your review of this book reminded me of a school lesson on a woman traveller's voyage in Lapland, and her description of the joiks in the air as the reindeers pull her sledge.

I am definitely going to try this one, thanks for a lovely review!

Lotus Reads said...

@Beloved ~

So grateful to you for stopping by despite being sick. I hope you are feeling a little better?

@ A Reader ~

That sounds like such a beautiful school lesson and obviously it left such an impression on you. I hope you can read the book!