The Way of a Serpent
Torgny Lindgren. Panther Press (TN), $10 (112pp) ISBN 978-1-86046-261-0
""Unto him that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him who hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath."" As the narrator suggests, that is the inescapable conclusion of this slim, moving parable about a Swedish peasant family at the end of the 19th century. With sly humor, poor farmhand Johan Johansson (Bragging Johnny to his friends) relates the story of his family and the villainous father and son who own their land. Whenever the Johanssons can't pay their rent, the landlords possess themselves of their women; the debt is then temporarily canceled and credit extended. Along with his scripture-citing family and neighbors, Johan struggles to find the hand of Providence in this oppressive, ultimately incestuous arrangement, which ends with a mysterious (though equally arbitrary) ""act of God."" Although the characters in this parable are simply drawn, the women in Johnny's family make a powerful impression on both narrator and reader. Considering the example of his outwardly compromised mother, Johan says: ""There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him, but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man."" Geddes's translation is remarkable for its sensitivity to the characters' Bible-tinged speech. (Jan.) FYI: One of Sweden's most eminent writers, Lindgren has published stories, poems and novels, of which Light and In Praise of Truth are available in English from Harvill.
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997