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the Complete Review
the complete review - epic


Linnea Axelsson

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To purchase Ædnan

Title: Ædnan
Author: Linnea Axelsson
Genre: Epic
Written: 2018 (Eng. 2024)
Length: 426 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Ædnan - US
Ædnan - UK
Ædnan - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting, both in form and content

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 18/1/2024 Alice Jolly
Irish Times . 7/1/2024 Declan O'Driscoll
Swedish Book Rev. . (2020:1-2) Brad Harmon
The Washington Post . 18/1/2024 Kanishk Tharoor

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ædnan contains echoes of epic poems and Norse sagas but also feels contemporary and accessible. There are no gods or heroes but, instead, a polyphonic chorus of storytellers who jointly narrate the lineage and history of their people. (...) (E)very page offers expanses of white space, reminding the reader that this is a narrative of absence, fracture, silence, erasure. This sparse form mirrors the landscape itself: harsh, thinly populated, often snowbound. (...) Axelsson’s novel is a bold and original attempt to answer that question and to return the Sami to their rightful place in history." - Alice Jolly, The Guardian

  • "Throughout the novel, the narrative voices allude to details, more implied than directly stated. (...) This unique novel beautifully conjures these losses and transitions within the flickering shadows of language." - Declan O'Driscoll, Irish Times

  • "The poetry is unornamented yet rhythmic, sparse on the page yet dense in pages. The poem’s polyphonic structure requires the reader to follow the weaving of various voices. Long phrases of simple words blow like the wind across dozens of pages, or perhaps a slow brook over stones, across different lyrical subjects (.....) Though written in Swedish rather than one of the Sámi languages, the book is an event in terms of the history, recognition, and, perhaps most significantly, representation of the Sámi people and their discrimination and oppression caused by the Swedish state’s colonisation of Sápmi" - Brad Harmon, Swedish Book Review

  • "Generations unfold across the book’s often incantatory, alternating first-person sections, forming a chorus that unites Sámi herders living in tents in 1913 with their latter-day counterparts pulling into truck stops, making sandwiches on kitchen counters and petitioning at courthouses. Like the best epics, Aednan is a story not just of a people but also of people, full of sonorous power yet shot through with an undeniable intimacy. (...) But what is extraordinary about Aednan is not so much its beauty as its restraint. Lesser writers might have indulged more in the dramatic sweep of this story, but Axelsson is content to let its particulars speak for themselves" - Kanishk Tharoor, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Ædnan is a three-part, multi-generational and -voice verse epic focusing on the Sámi(-Swedish) experience from 1913 to the twenty-first-century Girjas trial (though the sequence of chapters is not entirely chronological). The three parts are titled: 'Ædnan', 'Ædno', 'Ædni', with a Note explaining that in Northern Sámi: "Ædnan means the land, the earth, and my mother", while ædno is "the river" and ædni "the mother".
       The epic begins with the 1913 birth of two sons to Ber-Joná and Ristin, Aslat and Nila. The locale is: "Lake Gobmejávri, near to where Sweden, Finland, and Norway meet" -- and the fact that the Sámi lived and moved -- with their reindeer herds -- separately from these nations and across the artificial nation-state borders is a significant issue in their story -- with Sandra, narrating then in 2015, wondering about the jurors in the Girjas trial:

Do they even know
how we have been
removed between
four nations

Even though our land

this ground right
here that we named
long ago

Has always stretched
right across northern
Scandinavia and into the
Kola Peninsula
       (The fourth nation in question is, of course, Russia.)
       With the 'Lapp Administration' (with 'Lapp' being a: "hateful word") -- here reaching them in 1920 --, the Sámi were no longer able to move as freely as they were used to:
We now had to force
our herds to graze on
unfamiliar grounds

We were to be driven
from the forests fells
and lakes

Migration paths and songs
had to be stifled
stricken from memory

The memory of the herd

the calves' legs
that had always
guided us home
       Though one might expect an epic that begins with the birth of two sons to be their story across changing times, Axelsson subverts expectations. Nila is developmentally disabled -- with Ber-Joná admitting:
Nila's weakness
gnawed me
down to the marrow
you said the boy belonged
to a more sensitive kind
which had but assumed
human traits
       And clearly:
Never will he
be of use

in the reindeer forest
       Aslat, then, is his great hope -- but tragedy strikes, rendering the boy unable to fulfil his father's hopes. Nila is the one who survives -- though even he can't escape the baneful paternalistic influence of the authorities, down to:
He was taught to
use a Swedish name

       The chapters jump ahead in time towards the end of the first section, and then to 1977 at the start of the second, chapters narrated by Lise also then jumping back, to, for example, 1956, and then ahead, to 2013, when her daughter Sandra has married a reindeer keeper:
And fights for
every Sámi

as she puts it
       The Girjas trial victory is one Sandra celebrates -- while Lise wonders whether with it:
Will a new
trust in the State
now begin to grow.
       (Sandra does note: "Now we wait / for the State / to appeal", and the final ruling of the Swedish Supreme Court on the Girjas case only came in 2020, after the publication of Ædnan; the court did then affirm the Sámi rights -- cementing the victory spoken of here.)
       Sandra also encourages her mother:
You have to write
your story down

write your history
       Lise's chapters -- just like the others -- are a patchwork of Sámi history and experience over this time -- including the sad stories of her and her brother's time at the Nomad School, the residential school where they were meant to be educated, but taken away from their families and their way of life. Language is part of that as well, as they are forced to speak Swedish, while the Sámi is neglected, with the adult Lise lamenting:
Am I that dumb

that I can't manage
to keep my own
language alive

I just let it slip away

be driven from my children

So now Sandra
sounds like a book
no dialect at all

as a grown woman
to learn Sámi
with her children
       So also, while at school, Lise learnt all about Swedish history:
But of our own
history not a word
was written

As if our
parents and we
had never existed

had never shaped
       Ædnan means, of course, to be a corrective to this (or at least a step towards one).
       Sandra notes that at the Girjas trial the State's attorneys:
jeer at Girjas
when they assert
their rights

Because they aren't
based on
written documents

like those that make up
Swedish culture

But on oral sources
archaeological sources and
the ground's sources
       Ædnan is not a traditional written historical chronicle either, Axelsson adapting a very free poetic-epic form to tell a part of the Sámi story, and to give a broad sense of the Sámi(-Swedish) experience over the past century. Her slices of life only give bits of biography as well; like the verses themselves, almost everything here is spare, cutting to the essence. Axelsson is quite successful with this technique: Ædnan is deeper and broader than it's small word-count might suggest.
       Loose, and with several narrators and leaping across time -- both forwards and back -- as it does, Ædnan is spread thin; one wishes at times that more of the gaps were filled, more background -- both familial and historical -- presented. Nevertheless, one does get a good sense, at least in general terms, of what the Sámi have had to deal with, and how they have been treated by the state (the Swedish state here, mainly), and the cost and effect, both on an individual and broader level.
       The poetry is fairly effective as well -- especially in focusing attention on everything that is mentioned, the separation of lines and verses making for an effective halting kind of reading whereas some detail might be lost in longer-running sequences of lines as in prose.
       Readers may well want more -- about the characters as well as Sámi history and life more generally --, as Ædnan is an epic in only some of its proportions, but it's certainly an interesting and often moving work, and also presents a good picture of the difficulties faced by indigenous life and culture in the world of modern nation-states.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 January 2024

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Ædnan: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Linnea Axelsson was born in 1980.

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© 2024 the complete review

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