cover image Witches' Rings

Witches' Rings

Kerstin Ekman. Norvik Press, $21.95 (358pp) ISBN 978-1-870041-36-2

Set in the last quarter of the 19th century, this modern Swedish classic tells the tale of a poor soldier's wife, her ancestors and the townspeople with whom their lives intersect. Like Ingmar Bergman, the best-known chronicler of Swedish life to Americans, Ekman (known here for her thriller, Blackwater) paints brilliant, often somber portraits of her characters. Unlike Bergman's studies of the frigid upper class, however, this first volume in a tetralogy covering more than a century focuses on the passionate but seemingly insignificant members of a nondescript village as it is transformed by the railroad. Ekman reveals the hidden nobility of such characters as Sara Sabina Lans (""grey as a rat, poor as a louse, pouchy and lean as a vixen in summer""), whose story begins and ends the novel. Among the other stoically weary women in this panoramic story is Sara's granddaughter, Tora Lans, whose candid evaluation of desperate exiistence is leavened by bleak humor. Finally translated into English more than 20 years after it was published in Sweden, full of the flavor of village life, this Swedish Winesburg, Ohio offers the scope of human nature in microcosm and descriptions that engage all the senses--such as that of the paper boy, Ebon, who, in a moment of reflection, ""saw his disgusting cap so clearly that he had to put his hand on his head and touch it.... It was amazing: he had been seen and named."" That is a condition he shares with the rest of Ekman's gritty cast. (Dec.)