Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Vägen mot Bålberget (The Road Towards Bålberget) by Therése Söderlind

The English title is my own, direct translation of the Swedish title. This is a historical fiction about a witch hunt which took place in Sweden in the 17th century. It is somewhat a scary book on how these kind of matters were dealt with in the old days.

The book starts in the 1970s when Veronicas grandmother is dying. She tells her stories of older generations and that among their family, there was Malin who was accused of witch craft. Veronica and her father starts looking into the family tree and discover new things about their past. Veronica is not like other girls of her generation and she thinks that there must be something in the past that can give an explanation.

Here we leave Veronica to get the story of what happened in the 17th century. It is a miserable story of poverty, the way priests acted in those days, rules to follow and not being able to take control of your life. Sometimes the story was so miserable I could hardly read on. Just imaging the life that these people were living, it was a matter of life and death every season, every day. On top of this two young boys starts going around in the village, saying they can look at people, or women in this case, if they are witches or not. They somehow manage to collaborate with the priest and the next thing you know, around thirty women are accused of being witches and are locked in. Their own children are persuaded to testify against them and in the end most of them are burned.

Back to our days, but thirty years later and a disillusioned Veronica is coming home for a holiday, to take care of her sister's children while she is away. She starts looking into her family past again and finds out new information. Even what is written in the books might not be true.

The book ends with a testimony from a 90 year old man, whose mother was burned as a witch. He looks back on the events now almost 80 years earlier and from him we get the last bit of the puzzle to what really happened during these two years of the witch hunt and how it affected people and the coming generations.

Although a little bit slow in the beginning, the book really grabbed me when the story started evolving. Although the two stories are connected they are told separately. It gives us the impression that we know what happened, but Veronica does not, even if she knows there was a witch in the family. Therése Söderlind, is from the area in the northeast of Sweden where Bålberget ('berget' means a hill or small mountain) is situated. It was during a visit to Bålberget, she learned about the events that took place there 300 years ago. After some research she decided to write a book about it. And good that she did. It is a well written account on the lives of people in those days and the circumstances for living.

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