Author: Asko Sahlberg
Original language: English
The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg is set at the end of The Finnish War, fought between Sweden and the Russian Empire (Feb’ 1808 – Sept’ 1809) the result of this war was that the eastern third of Sweden was established as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Empire. The book starts with the brothers, who have fought on opposing sides, returning to their family farmhouse. With their return old scars resurface, old conflicts born out of past tragedies. The elder brother, Henrik, is embittered, having long been alienated from his family after first being cheated by a neighbour and then his younger brother Erik. This book manages within it’s 122 pages to cover all those epic themes of treachery conflict, whether through sexual tensions or those family secrets that simmer below the surface or whether contrasting the politics of war with those of family.
As this tale unfolds, each character takes their turn in revealing more of the story in a series of dramatic monologues, that made me think of Alan Bennett’s TV show Talking Heads, (written for BBC television -1988) creating a multiple narrative that’s dark and full of a foreboding that is as dark and chilling as winter. In fact this whole book is as dark and dense as wading through deep snow, and like traipsing through this landscape, you feel you’ve been traipsing for ages and nothing has changed until you look up and find you’ve journeyed miles. This is a small book that portrays grand themes and yet does so by focusing it’s lens on this family and it’s brooding tale, where the passion burns bitter, another way it reminded me was in the similar themes of death, guilt and isolation.