Astrid & Veronika
Linda Olsson (Adult Fiction)
“’And who will you dream of, Veronika?’ Astrid said, without taking her eyes off the water. ‘With the flowers under your pillow. Who?’ Veronika didn’t answer. She sat with her legs pulled up and her arms clasped around them, her chin resting on her knees. ‘I came here to escape my dreams,’ she said eventually.”
Author Veronika Bergman arrived in Stockholm, Sweden with just a few bags and her personal belongings. Her rental home was next door to Astrid Mattson, the village witch—at least that’s what the people in town call her. Astrid is nearly eighty years old and keeps to herself. She doesn’t like people and has left the village only once in her life. She likes her secrets and her solitude, but when she meets Veronika, something remarkable happens. Something quite unexpected. Astrid begins to care and slowly these two women discover that although loss and heartbreak connect them, friendship would forever bind them.
Astrid & Veronika is Linda Olsson’s first novel and was originally published in New Zealand under the title Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs. Her writing is fluid and the storytelling is effortless and captivating. Olsson gives readers Veronika and Astrid—two women tormented by their past, haunted by their memories, and brought together by fate. These two restless souls form a committed bond that becomes instinctive—each aptly anticipating the other’s needs and providing comfort, support, and understanding.
I truly enjoyed this book, but found that there were too many unanswered questions that kept me from wholly appreciating Olsson’s extraordinary debut work. In particular, Astrid’s story had one pivotal plot point that left me confused and frankly horrified at the choice she made. Her backstory lacked sufficient detail that might have allowed me to be more sympathetic to her and the action she took. Instead, Olsson put the burden on me to draw my own conclusions, which is seldom a sufficient or satisfying solution.
Olsson’s original book title came from a poem by Karin Boye called “Min stackars unge, My poor little child”, which she includes in her book. It accurately describes our heroines and reads in part,
“My poor child, so afraid of the dark,
who have met ghosts and another kind,
who always among those clad in white
glimpses those with evil faces,
now let me sing you gentle songs,
from fright they free, from force and cramp.”
Astrid and Veronika are two women separated by age and circumstance but connected through the ghosts of their pasts. Both lost mothers and loves, but through patience and understanding, they formed their own gentle song and found the strength and courage to live and to love again.
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com