Book: Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name

The book: Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, by Vendela Vida

The edition: Atlantic Books paperback, 228 pages

The story: after her father’s sudden death, Clarissa discovers that he wasn’t her biological father after all — and embarks on a trip to Finnmark to search for her roots among the Sami people.

My experience with the book & my thoughts: I tend to have high expectations from books. This one here came with high praise, and going back to check on several reviews now I’m afraid I cannot agree with one word of them.
Clarissa is the typical character that grates on my nerves. OK, so you’ve been abandoned by your mother, your father has died and you feel betrayed by your fiancé — fine, go on and cry your eyes out, but then it’s time to grow up and take your own responsibilities. But no, apparently the fact of her mother having abandoned her is the perfect excuse to make right whatever mistake she makes, and it means that she can avoid to take responsibility for her action, even though she’s not 14 any longer. (More on her in the part with spoilers, #1)
The second thing that I disliked is the way the issue of Sami people is treated. I admit I knew nothing about them before traveling to Norway, and still I know very little, but the whole book felt like the author telling the world “look how good I am, I care about native people, I am their champion against stereotypes” when in reality the whole book said basically nothing about them. (More on this side of the story in the part with spoilers, #2)
Finally, I may be too sensitive, but there were several details here that were extremely US-centric. Among other thing, there is an assumption that Clarissa gets to drive a rental car with automatic transmission — which is not the norm in Europe. Even if the author only visited Finland once, she should have noticed. (And one more example in the part with spoilers, #3)

The part with spoilers: (1) So because she feels betrayed by her fiancé, she is excused in going away and having the worst sex scene ever with the first man she meets, right? So because her mother has abandoned her she cannot avoid the experience of rape, right? Come on! It’s not like she’s weak, because she isn’t, it’s more like she likes to feel sorry for herself!
(2) Sami may not be too many, but still, how on earth is it possible that she tracks her supposed father so easily, and how is it possible that she ends up in her grandmother’s house, and how is it possible that the woman who gives her a lift knows to say precisely what she needs to know to put the puzzle together? Is this some kind of 19th-century novel?
(3) When Clarissa lands in Finland, she meets her shuttle driver and he hits on her immediately, and of course they end the night with the scene I mentioned in #1 — as if people living in Europe were only here to wait for an American to drop into our lives! I’m offended by the whole premise. I’m happy that the Northern Lights never actually appear in such a book!

Read this if: if you liked The Mermaid Chair — I found the same faults in both (even US-centrism, although that one is set in the US). Otherwise, just don’t bother.

Counts as: Travel with books project – Norway; What’s in a Name Challenge – Something in the sky


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