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Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name (P.S.)by Vendela Vida
Let me say first that I read this book because of the title. Much like buying a book for its cover, I was drawn in by the possibility that this poetic directive would yield a satisfying story. I was not disappointed; there's a lot to appreciate here. Vida's style is spare, but graceful and evocative, almost cinematic. The narrator is a wry observer of herself who often does exactly what she ought not do. The sometimes surreal depictions of Lapland lend the story the feel of a fairy tale — a grim, dark, snowy fairy tale. It's a beautiful, haunting story.
Vendela Vida's writing surprised me. I hadn't read anything by her before, and though her earlier books have garnered blurbs from writers I admire, being married to Dave Eggers is not a plus in my opinion. That said, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name was a moving story. After her dad's sudden death, twenty-eight-year-old Clarissa is faced with the shocking news that he wasn't really her biological father. That topped with the fact that she was abadoned by her mother at the age of fourteen, sets her off on a spur-of-the-moment trip to Lapland in search of herself and her roots. Of course, things don't unfold as she expects, and the impractical trip turns occasionally ridiculous. Though important insights and information fall into Clarissa's lap rather easily, I still enjoyed Vida's writing and her character's determination to find out where she came from and why her mother left, and the ending was a fitting way to wrap up the story without seeming trite.
Synopses & Reviews
On the day of her father's funeral, twenty-eight-year-old Clarissa Iverton discovers that he wasn't her biological father after all. Her mother disappeared fourteen years earlier, and now Clarissa is alone and adrift. The one person she feels she can trust, her fiancé, Pankaj, has just revealed a terrible and life-changing secret to her. In the cycle of a day, all the truths in Clarissa's world become myths and rumors, and she is catapulted out of the life she knew.
She finds her birth certificate, which leads her from New York to Helsinki, and then north of the Arctic Circle, to mystical Lapland, where she believes she'll meet her real father. There, under the northern lights of a sunless winter, Clarissa comes to know the Sami, the indigenous population, and seeks out a local priest, the one man who may hold the key to her origins. Along her travels she meets an elderly Sami healer named Anna Kristine, who has her own secrets, and a handsome young reindeer herder named Henrik, who accompanies Clarissa to a hotel made of ice. There she is confronted with the truth about her mother's past and finally must make a decision about how — and where — to live the rest of her life.
Joan Didion said of Vendela Vida's last book: "And Now You Can Go is so fast, so mesmerizing to read, and so accomplished that it's hard to think of it as a first novel, which it is. Vendela Vida has promise to spare." With Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, Vida more than lives up to that promise as she gives us a remarkable protagonist who is both fierce and funny, and an unforgettable literary thriller that questions whether we can ever truly know where we've come from — and if it is possible to escape our pasts.
"Believer co-editor Vida again explores violence, its aftermath and the curative powers of travel in her bleak second novel. (Her debut, 2003's And Now You Can Go, sent a young woman to the Philippines after a traumatic event.) But this time readers are nearly a hundred pages in before the long-ago physical violence is revealed. Clarissa, home after her father's funeral, finds herself deeply alone. Her developmentally disabled brother has never spoken, and her mother walked out on them 14 years before. Digging through family papers, she finds her birth certificate, which lists a stranger as her father. The hunt for him — and the resumption of a search for her mother — lead Clarissa to far northern Europe, where the days are short, the reindeer are plentiful and her mother had once felt 'connected.' Clarissa's travels in her mother's steps — seeking that connection, stumbling, finding it and finally severing it — are bleak. Vida's fan base will welcome this novel, and the twin questions of what Clarissa's amateur sleuthing will turn up and how each discovery will affect her might draw a few new readers through this slim, austere work." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] dark whimsy suffuses the whole book and accounts for much of its peculiarly biting charm. You've seen it before, in movies like Little Miss Sunshine or The Royal Tenenbaums and in books like — well, maybe there aren't any other books that walk this very fine line between high-camp comedy and the lyrical seriousness that Vida's title portends." New York Times
"Vida gives the icy landscape an eerie, forbidding beauty, and her writing has moments of great emotional acuity." New Yorker
"Novels about unhappy young people who seek to escape their dysfunctional families and find a new identity are almost a genre to themselves, but the vivid scenes of Lapland, with its reindeer, northern lights, and Ice Hotel, give this novel a unique twist." Library Journal
"A luminescent and evocative tale of grief, free of the standard cliches." Kirkus Reviews
"Searing and beautiful...[Clarissa] is funny and fearless and absolutely unforgettable — just like this marvelous book." Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen's Pier
On the day of her fathers funeral, 28-year-old Clarissa Iverton discovers that he wasn't her biological father. On a mission to find her real father, she is confronted with the truth about her mothers past and finally must make a decision about how — and where — to live the rest of her life.
On the day of her father's funeral, twenty-eight-year-old Clarissa Iverton discovers that he wasn't her biological father after all. Her mother disappeared fourteen years earlier, and her fiancé has just revealed a life-changing secret to her. Alone and adrift, Clarissa travels to mystical Lapland, where she believes she'll meet her real father. There, at a hotel made of ice, Clarissa is confronted with the truth about her mother's history, and must make a decision about how — and where — to live the rest of her life.
About the Author
Vendela Vida is the author of the critically acclaimed novel And Now You Can Go and of Girls on the Verge, a journalistic exploration of female coming-of-age rituals. A founding coeditor of the Believermagazine, she lives with her husband and daughter in northern California.
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