cover image Collected Works

Collected Works

Lydia Sandgren, trans. from Swedish by Agnes Broomé. Astra House, $30 (608p) ISBN 978-1-66260-151-4

Sandgren debuts with a sweeping and complex drama of family, art, and sacrifice. Martin Berg and his two children live in contemporary Gothenburg, Sweden, haunted by the loss of Martin’s wife Cecilia, who disappeared after defending her PhD thesis in 1997. In the years since, Martin has worked at a niche publishing house, and his oldest child, Rakel, now 24, has grown up to resemble her mother and likewise to be serious, hyperdisciplined, and drawn to difficult academic work. Before the narrative locks in on the circumstances around Cecilia’s disappearance, Sandgren takes a long detour into Martin’s middle-class childhood, and how his life was changed after meeting the “fragile” and “unkempt” Gustav Becker. Their high school friendship, described in all its vagaries and nuance over the course of the book, is defined by their shared interest in creating art: Martin wants to write a novel, and Gustav wants to paint. When Martin meets Cecilia, Gustav is included in the relationship rather than left behind, and as Gustav’s star rises, his most successful paintings turn out to be portraits of Cecilia. Sandgren keeps up the intrigue as Rakel learns more about Gustav and Cecilia; and she brings a wry sense of humor to her portrayal of Martin, noting about his wistfulness that he’ll never be “remarkably young again.” Readers will be captivated. (Jan.)