Translated by Laurie Thompson
A Top-Ten BookSense 76 pick
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 Malm 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.