Swedish Tango: A Novel

Swedish Tango - Alyson Richman BEFORE READING: I am drawn to read this because the characters come from different cultures: Chilean, French and Finnish . They live in Sweden as foreign exiles, so Swedish customs will also be part of the picture. The status of foreign exiles in Sweden is sure to be an interesting subject. Furthermore it concerns the overthrow of Allende in Chile, and Pinochet's subsequent rule. Finally, I simply very much liked that style of writing found in the sample.


Who might be interested in reading this book? What is its central theme? What side issues does it cover? The prime theme is how people relate to each other in a family. How do we achieve happiness? Is it through chasing our own individual dreams or is it through the consideration of others in the family? How do you balance these sometimes conflicting goals? Of course there is no rule that fits all situations, but these are the topics central to this book. I believe each reader will have different responses to these central questions and will agree and disagree with the different choices made by the various characters. I believe the purpose of the book is not to show you, the reader, the right answer but to consider these questions. The ending clearly shows the author's point of view. The reader need not agree. The enjoyment is in the observation of how people react differently and in realizing that there is not set answer that is right for all. And that we all make mistakes……

The above central theme is delivered through a story focusing upon four characters with completely different backgrounds and countries of origin. That is what originally drew me to the book. I like books that show how individuals are changed by the historical events of turbulent times. It is my belief that people are influenced by both their "genes" and the events of their lives. People respond to a given "event" so differently. It is this mix of these two forces that I find fascinating to observe. Why does one child growing up with the same parents turn out so very different from his or her sibling? How can one person live through a war and come out whole and able to appreciate life while another can never smile again? Why does one person laugh at another's divergent opinion while another individual is saddened?

How do you love a person? I am referring to both the physical, sexual and psychological aspects. How does our love toward our spouse change with time? I absolutely adored the beginning scenes described in this book of how Octavio courted Salomé. She lived in a convent. It was her "job" to collect the oranges from the orchard. Well, Octavio he caught sight of her, and it was love at first sight. So what does he do? He collects oranges and in the navel of each one he inserts a poem. And eventually they meet……. When you read of this fairy tale courting it is beautiful. However, do not expect a fairy tale story. Love is not all sweet words.

But, should a man make love differently to a woman after she had been abused? Should he hold her differently – more gently – to keep her from breaking? (page 273)

Every reader will immediately respond: "Well, it depends on this or that or…." But you do not read these lines unmoved!

Other themes upon which this book focuses are the appropriate guidelines for psychological therapy including the relationship between psychologist and patient, the status of political refugees and the difficulties of assimilation into a foreign culture, survivors' guilt, physical abuse inflicted by corrupt regimes and the resultant psychological problems that arise, Finnish War Children and the psychological problems that arise for those orphans who never regained contact with their biological parents, the need to come to peace with our past, how parents respond differently to each of their children, what is kept secret and what is revealed in a relationship and the courage needed to relive horrible events of our past to ensure that the cruel events of history are brought to light. All of these various themes are beautifully interwoven and each one draws you in.

When Kaja at two years of age travels alone from Finland to Sweden, alone with numerous other scared and frightened Finnish children, the writing puts you there on that boat with her and the others. When no one claims her, when one person is kind and another indifferent to her feelings, you empathize. The book grabs your emotions and it makes you think. It has beautiful episodes and horrific episodes. I like the mix.

My intention is that this review will help you decide if YOU want to read this book. Do these themes interest you? If the answer is yes, the writing skills of the author will certainly draw you in.
I will read more by the author. This alone shows the degree to which I enjoyed the book! There are so many different authors to test, so I rarely read more than one book by the same author no matter how good the book proved to be. Her other books do not cover the same themes. That is a plus too! :0)

P.S. I know this is trivial, but it annoyed me immensely. A large part of the story takes place in Västerås, Sweden. This city is on the western tip of Lake Mälaren. Stockholm is located on the eastern tip of this same lake. The book spells this city Vesterås. It must be possible to put the two dots over the a; thy managed to put the circle over the a! They managed to spell Göteborg correctly; why not Västerås?