What I (Was) Reading: Jagannath, by Karin Tidbeck


I promised I would blog about Jagannath, by Karin Tidbeck.

I read it a while ago — May, I guess. Other people have written about the individual stories, and well. Go seek out those reviews if you’re interested.

I’ve forgotten many of the details, although only a quick skim and I’m nearly sucked under the surface into the sense-memory and mood of the stories. As all the reviews say, they are authentically weird.

I think the stories I like best, though, are the ones which are mostly about Sweden and family (“Some Letters for Ove Lindström,” “Reindeer Mountain,” “Brita’s Holiday Village”). Somewhat because Scandinavian — Swedish or Norwegian, I guess — is the closest I came to growing up with an ethnic identity, while living among people who had other, strongly-held ethnic identities, and some of the iconography resonates. (My piano teacher had a book about the secret lives of gnomes — yes, the little red-capped guys you see in garden statuary — which I reread obsessively.)

I like that, while the stories are in many ways fantastic, they’re still about a recognizable version of everyday life, and the people in them are recognizably people I might know. A lot of the fiction I aspire to write is like that.

I don’t know if anyone who didn’t grow up in the Midwest would have the same experience, reading it, and I worry, when I’m trying to write along similar lines, that they’re not universal enough. Then again there are certain themes which are if not universal then at least very common, and although I’m not Japanese, the family stories in The Love We Share Without Knowing (#10 on that list) were really identifiable. Even then, those are very tied to small-town life — if you grew up in a liberal family in a big city, do they even make sense? I don’t know.