A Conversation with Marianne Fredriksson
Q: The novel begins: "This is the story about two women who became friends." While Inge and Mira's friendship is the foundation of this book, the plot involves so much more. Do your novels spring from the characters, or are the settings and plot the taking off point?
MF: My intention was to write about friendship because I think in the
future friendship will be more important than love. For me, it is always
the characters that create the stories in my novels.
Q: Inge and Mira meet in a garden center and are immediately drawn to each other. These are two women who outwardly have nothing in common, yet beneath the surface are very similar. What do you think drew the two women to one another? Their differences or their similarities?
MF: There are impulses that we are unaware of which create strong
feelings when people meet. Sometimes it turns out well, sometimes it
hurts--spontaneous sympathy or hate. This is what happens between
the two women--an immediate mutual feeling of being recognized.
Q: Throughout the novel, the friendship between Inge and Mira can be likened to a dance; they move forward a bit and then step back. Their interaction is often tenuous and cautious. In the end, Inge is able to put her arm around Mira to comfort her, something she did not feel comfortable doing their first meeting. Do you think it takes longer to find a comfort zone in a female friendship? Is this especially true for women later in life?
MF: I think women in general have less prestige than men, therefore
they are not so concentrated on competing.
Q: Much of this novel is about the search for truth, the ability to really see, accept, and ultimately forgive, events and people in our lives. Both Mira and Inge have different methods of searching for truth--Mira talks to God, but doesn't know if she believes in Him. Inge talks to her journal and searches in the mirror for answers, but wonders: Why do I feel this need to create a reflected image of such an unremarkable life? Why do both women question their methods of reflection? Is it a way for them to not face the truth?
MF: Wow, that's a hard one. I think that it reflects their different cultures,
and yes, I think that it is a defense mechanism. Mira is fighting
against the truth when it starts to come up, and Inge struggles in her
western way. Both do the best they can because "only the truth can set
Q: In telling this story, you change from Inge's voice to Mira's and back again. Why did you choose to do this? Did you feel more at home in one of their voices? And if so, why?
MF: You have to let light flow from two directions if you want two
perspectives. Of course I feel more at home with Inge, but Mira concerns
Q: With the exception of Mira's sons, Nesto and Jose, the males in this book are often less than likeable characters. Throughout the book, Sweden is referred to as a place where women gain power in contrast with the male dominated Chilean society. Has the empowerment of women caused conflicts between men and women in this culture? Not just for the Chilean men who left a macho culture, but also for the Swedish men? Is this why you choose to make your male characters as they are?
MF: Sure, it probably created conflicts but I don't agree. I think that
my men are portrayed with deep sympathy.
Q: All of your books have a political vein running through them. In Hanna's Daughters, it is women's struggle to find their place in changing society, in Simon's Family, it is the Holocaust, and in Two Women, you address Pinochet's regime in Chile. What draws you to these topics? How do you do your research?
MF: My whole growth was characterized by politics and the Second
World War. Pinochet became another reminder of my childhood horror
of Hitler. I collect my facts through reading a lot and also by interviewing
Q: You write of the awful torture and humiliation that Chileans suffered under Pinochet. It is often hard to read. Was it difficult to write?
MF: Yes, it was unbearable.
Q: Mira and Inge resemble their cultural heritage in appearance and temperament. Mira is warm, vivacious, and full of anger, while Inge is cool, removed, and practical. Do you personally identify more with one of the women? And if so, what is it about her that you are especially able to relate?
MF: I identify more with the reasonable Inge, but I am therefore more
attracted to the temperamental Mira.
Q: There is much mention of nature, of the beautiful Swedish landscape and of Mira and Inge's joint love of the garden. What does nature represent to you? Does it give you solace as it does Inge, and do you hungrily soak it all in like Mira?
MF: Nature means an enormous amount to me--it often gives me
peace and quiet.
Q: Mira says, "No one can live on earth without casting a shadow" when she bids Matilde farewell after the ill-fated Midsummer weekend. What did she mean by this? What does it mean to you?
MF: A simple truth that is a matter of course.
Q: The book closes with the announcement of Pinochet's arrest in England, yet it isn't a happy ending. Why did you decide to end on this somber note?
MF: Very simple. My book was to be handed over the same week this
happened. Besides, I think unfortunately, life doesn't often offer happy
Q: Do you have another book under way?
MF: I have just published a new novel in Sweden which will be available
in English soon. It is a story about the relationship between a
mother and her daughter. Other than that, I have many projects in my
head. What is born from these ideas we have to wait and see . . .