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Popular Music from Vittulaby Mikael Niemi
Synopses & Reviews
Popular Music from Vittula tells the fantastical story of a young boy's unordinary existence, peopled by a visiting African priest, a witch in the heart of the forest, cousins from Missouri, an old Nazi, a beautiful girl with a black Volvo, silent men and tough women, a champion-bicyclist music teacher with a thumb in the middle of his hand — and, not least, on a shiny vinyl disk, the Beatles. The story unfolds in sweltering wood saunas; amidst chain thrashings and gang warfare; learning to play the guitar in the garage; over a traditional wedding meal; on the way to China; during drinking competitions; while learning secret languages, playing ice hockey surrounded by snow drifts, outsmarting mice, discovering girls, staging a first rock concert, peeing in the snow, skiing under a sparkling midnight sky.
More generally, Popular Music from Vittula offers a tender glimpse into a less trendy Sweden: Miles away from the urbane Stockholm or fashionable Malmö in the south, Vittula is almost another universe, surrounded by tundra and taiga, forest and potato field. In Vittula, one is as likely to speak Finnish as Swedish, and young boys and old folk alike may distill homemade alcohol from yeast and sugar.
Laurie Thompson's brilliant translation from the Swedish allows us to enjoy the silent, surprising beauty of Mikael Niemi's prose. Here is language that is humorous and lively and sad, an imaginative and a truly original fiction.
"Niemi writes with real poetry....Niemi also seasons the book well with the mysticism of childhood....An exquisitely beautiful novel, artfully translated." Booklist
"Haunting and glorious. Niemi's finest achievement is to have created a world poised between an adult's fantastic memories of childhood and a child's naïve dreams of his future." Los Angeles Times
"[An] entrancing first novel....In Laurie Thompson's deft translation, the novel is shot through with vivid and often funny depictions of daily life in an exotic corner of the world." New York Times Book Review
"A sentimental tale saved from pure nostalgia by the unfamiliarity of its setting and a nicely understated narration." Kirkus Reviews
"Niemi's great talent is as a storyteller in the oral tradition....The book is filled with eccentric, grotesque, even unsavory characters, but Niemi shows large tolerance, kindly spirit and even clear pleasure in these odd neighbors." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"An extraordinary novel: hilarious, ribald, obscene....I've never read anything like it." Nicci Gerrard, Observer (London)
"In British translator Laurie Thompson's hands, Niemi's language is a constant, fresh poetic surprise....Even the alphabet — 'a scary army of sticks and halfmoons' — comes strangely alive in this marvelous book.? Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times
"A blissfully eccentric, fiction-enhanced memoir....His prose buzzes with wonder, fearlessness and ecstatic ignorance: the sensations of youth. Each chapter is an epic in miniature." Hugo Lindgren, The New York Times Magazine
Now in paperback comes Niemi's riveting and magical portrait of coming-of-age in the Arctic north of Sweden, the single bestselling book in Swedish history.
Mikael Niemi's rivetting and magical portrait of coming-of-age in the near-arctic north of Sweden.
Popular Music from Vittula tells the fantastical story of a young boy's unordinary existence, peopled by a visiting African priest, a witch in the heart of the forest, cousins from Missouri, an old Nazi, a beautiful girl with a black Volvo, silent men and tough women, a champion-bicyclist music teacher with a thumb in the middle of his hand—and, not least, on a shiny vinyl disk, the Beatles.
The story unfolds in sweltering wood saunas, amidst chain thrashings and gang warfare, learning to play the guitar in the garage, over a traditional wedding meal, on the way to China, during drinking competitions, while learning secret languages, playing ice hockey surrounded by snow drifts, outsmarting mice, discovering girls, staging a first rock concert, peeing in the snow, skiing under a sparkling midnight sky. In the manner of David Mitchells Black Swan Green, Mikael Niemi tells a story of a rural Sweden at once foreign and familiar, as a magical childhood slowly fades with the seasons into adult reality.
About the Author
Mikael Niemi was born in 1959 and grew up in Pajala in the northernmost part of Sweden, near the Finnish border, where he still lives. Among his published books are two collections of poetry — Näsblod under högmässan("Nosebleed during Morning Service") (1998) and Änglar med mausergevär ("Angels with Mausers") (1989) — and a young adult novel, Kyrkdjävulen ("The Church Devil") (1994). This is his first adult novel.
Laurie Thompson has translated some fifteen novels from the Swedish, including books by Stig Dagerman, Peter Pohl, and Kjell-Olof Bornemark. He was editor of Swedish Book Review from its launch in 1983 to 2002. He lives in West Wales.
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