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Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name – Book Review

Beneath a dried leaf, splitting at its stem, I found my birth certificate. I had never seen it before. I read it and read it again. I turned it over. With my forearm, I swept everything else on the desk into a far corner. Papers and a desk calendar dropped to the floor. I moved the certificate to the center of the desk and I read it again. -From Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name, page 8-

Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name is the story of Clarissa Iverson – a twenty-nine year old who discovers, upon her father’s death, that everything she thought was true about her family is not. The novel is narrated by Clarissa who is living with her fiance Pankaj when her father unexpectedly dies. The reader learns that Clarissa’s mother had abandoned her family, leaving her daughter stranded in a mall, 15 years earlier.

The funeral was the first day I envied my brother’s ignorance. Since birth, Jeremy has never spoken, so it was unclear whether he understood Dad had died. My family would never acknowledge that Jeremy was retarded; my mother used to say he was slow. She vanished when I was fourteen, Jeremy six. In the hollow months that followed her disappearance, I convinced myself our family was being punished for our silent shame about Jeremy. -From Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name, page 5-

Clarissa, echoing her mother’s abandonment, leaves Pankaj without telling him where she is going and flees to Lapland to locate her “real” father. Her journey introduces her to the mystical Samis, the indigenous people who inhabit the Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden, and Finland as well as the far northern parts of  Russia. As the story progresses, Clarissa begins to uncover not only her mother’s darkest secrets, but her own identity.

Vendela Vida has written a novel about betrayal, family secrets, shame and its aftermath, and the search for identity. Her prose is spare and injected with a sardonic humor which allows Vida to ironically explore the most devastating of human emotions.  The character of Clarissa is raw and honest – and despite her flaws and her final decision (which was not completely unexpected), I liked her. Clarissa’s voice is one to which anyone who has experienced loss can relate. She carries the reader through her story with an urgency that is haunting in its appeal.

Vida has created an evocative novel steeped in history and culture. She examines the tough subjects with an honesty which borders on ‘matter-of-fact’ but works for this story. There are not easy answers in this novel which would make it an excellent book to discuss with a reading group. I read Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name quickly – in the span of one day- because I simply had to know where it would take me. Clarissa is a hard character to forget…I expect I will be thinking of her for quite some time.

Highly recommended.

11 Comments

  1. October 2, 2008    

    I’ve been wanting to read this one – great review!

  2. October 2, 2008    

    Another one to add to my wish list. Sounds good. Thanks for the review.

  3. October 2, 2008    

    You had me with the excerpt! This looks like a great book, with Clarissa drawing you in, as you indicated. Thanks for the review.

  4. October 2, 2008    

    This sounds really good, and I’d never heard of it which I love. Thanks for the review.

  5. October 3, 2008    

    S. Krishna: Thanks – I hope you’ll enjoy it!

    Kathy: You’re welcome!

    Dawn: It is a very quick read – but has a lot of “meat” to it.

    Tara: You’re welcome – I also love to find books I’ve never heard about before.

  6. October 3, 2008    

    Hiya, I just wanted to let you know that I mentioned your review here.

  7. October 4, 2008    

    AvisAnn: Thank you 🙂

  8. Audrey Audrey
    October 6, 2008    

    Had picked this title up at the store but ended up putting it back (trying to be good and read books I already have). Hope it is still there when I go back. Thanks for the review.

  9. October 6, 2008    

    Audrey: I hope so too! It is really a great book 🙂

  10. October 7, 2008    

    Great review! I love family dramas, so you can bet I’ve added this one to my list!

  11. October 9, 2008    

    Anna: Thanks – it sounds like this is a book you’d love!!

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