The Brothers

Published: 2012
Author: Asko Sahlberg
Translators: Emily Jeremiah & Fleur Jeremiah

An impressive miniature epic

As most people who keep up to date with reading trends know, Scandinavian crime fiction is the fashion of the moment. I’m not immune – I’ve read the Stieg Larsson books, enjoyed The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo and have novels by Anne Holt, Camilla Lackberg, Asa Larsson and Henning Mankell on my to-be-read pile. But while crime fiction from Sweden, Denmark and Norway is being highlighted by every bookshop on the High Street, there’s not quite so much recognition for other forms of fiction from the region.  Peirene Press, a boutique publishing house based in London, is hoping to change this with their latest offering The Brothers, a Finnish family drama from acclaimed author Asko Sahlberg.

Each year Peirene chooses a theme for its publications and 2012’s is “the small epic”.  The Brothers starts this year with an absolute bang, the novel is only 122 pages long and easily readable in an afternoon but don’t imagine that it has little content. I’ve read 800 page novels with less action, emotion and punch than this book.

Henrik and Erik are brothers who have ended up on opposing sides in the Swedish Russian War of 1808/09 and Henrik’s return to the family farm opens up old wounds and exposes sexual tensions, family secrets and financial worries.

There is a small cast of characters, and each has the opportunity to tell the story from their own point of view. Despite the brevity of the narrative, each voice is unique and offers a different vantage point on the action. I often find that the use of multiple narrators doesn’t work well but in this case it really does help to flesh out the story and move the action on at an exciting pace. The input of every character is needed for the story’s full development. The narrow setting (almost every piece of action takes place on the family farm) helps to keep the reader focused on the action rather than wasting precious time on continually describing new places and settings.

Like all good historical novels The Brothers has left me wanting to know more about the time and place in which it is set. I have absolutely no knowledge of the Swedish Russian War but the fact that brothers, family members and neighbours could so easily end up on opposing sides of the battlefield intrigues me and I’ll definitely be looking for more information on this period of European history.

The last Peirene book I read (Maybe this Time by Alois Hotsching) wasn’t really my cup of tea but I thoroughly enjoyed The Brothers and it has confirmed my initial thought that Peirene is one of the most exciting small publishers in the UK today.  The team are going out and finding the best in European literary fiction and bringing it to the attention of an audience which is too reliant on the display tables of the local chain bookstore. I very much look forward to the next installment in this year’s series – I might love it, I might hate it but I’m sure I won’t be bored by it.

The Brothers will be released in a beautiful paperback edition on 2nd February 2012.

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