Let me see. What do I want to tell you about this novel?
I bought it in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, at a Barnes & Nobles. Lots of great shopping in Mt. Pleasant. I was getting some reprieve from the heat and my sister-in-law needed a companion while she looked for a new bathing suit, as her bikini top hook had busted on the beach. I also got a new pair of Birkies.
And how, you ask, did the book come to pieces like that? Well, that's another story. With pictures. You see, it was one hundred and some flippin' degrees in S.C. while we were there. And on one of those blistering days, we decided to go to Fort Sumter, because there were no better days to come in the forecast. On the way, I read. When we arrived to board the ferry that would take us to Fort Sumter, I placed Astrid & Veronika on the dashboard, open flat to the page I left off. Then I went on the hottest ride and site-seeing tour of my life. Where do you go when it's so incredibly hot and humid outside that you can hardly stand it? Why, you take a ferry ride with hundreds of other people and their bodies to an island with no shade, high brick walls, black metal structures and cannons and giant granite rocks.
What amazing things happened at Fort Sumter hundreds of years ago? I don't know, do you really think I was standing there in the dizzying heat, with those bodies and walls, listening to that tour guide who glibly recited a rote at a hundred miles a minute with a southern twang that I could hardly follow? No. I was running for the air-conditioned museum. There I saw a gigantic American flag with 32 or 34 stars on it (couldn't seem to get a final count) and another gigantic flag with a palmetto tree on it, half deteriorated, and little dioramas of battles, pictures of black soldiers and pictures of white soldiers and one 600 lb man lumbering around, looking a lot like I felt. Then we returned to the ferry and this is how Sean felt:
When we got back to the car, after funneling in to cool off in the gift shop with those same people and their now soaking wet bodies, I picked up my book and it fell into many pieces, coming completely out of its binding. The heat had cooked the glue useless.
Astrid & Veronika is the story of a young author who returns to her homeland Sweden, after heartbreak in New Zealand, and inhabits a home that is next to the home of an older reclusive woman. They become friends, have each other over for pancakes, wild strawberry liquor and dried fish, share painful secrets, go swimming. Perhaps I could say my trip out to Fort Sumter is a little like Astrid & Veronika. Somewhat predictable, pleasant enough, not extraordinary, narrated by people attempting to be clever, but coming off as rather stale...and I didn't really come out of either of them with much more than when I went in. I don't have much to say about either. Good or bad. They just are.
Surely, Fort Sumter is an important place with a meaningful history, I know that. The first shots of the Civil War were shot there. Being from the north, it would have been edifying, responsible even, to sit in that place and marinate in all that it had to teach me. (I was marinating, just not in American History.) And if it were a nice cool autumn day and I was taking the trip as an adventure and was alone, without 7 children who might at any moment fall off its walls into the harbor, climb illegally on the cannons or get captured by a criminal posing as a sightseer planning to smuggle them back to the ferry in his overcoat, I would probably have been touched and amazed by the experience. Likewise, if I actually lived the story of Astrid & Veronika, if I were the young writer who befriended an older woman who had a lot to share and even more to discover, it would be a wonderful life experience. Plus, I've always wanted to see Sweden. But reading about it was only okay. It was a good read for the beach and sharing a house with 10 other people. I could concentrate on it easily and I didn't miss much if I happened to lose my place yelling at the kids not to swim out so far or when the random appearance of giant palmetto bugs (um, roaches) on the porch caused another disturbance.
One tiny thing that bugged me about the book was that the author, more than once, used the phrase, she didn't even attempt to wipe the tears from her face, or some likeness to that. Wiping tears isn't something you attempt. You do it or you don't do it. Unless you have a palsy, there isn't any attempt about it. Things like that stood out in the book, things like: We must remember that our love is inside us. Always. Sometimes it sounded too cliche-ish, too evoking. Sometimes I found myself thinking, I could write a novel. And when that happens I know something is awry.
The last few chapters were a bit better. These were good words to sum up the book's message:
Love comes to us with no forewarning, and once given to us it can never be taken
away. We must remember that. It can never be lost. Love is not
measurable. It cannot be counted in years, minutes or seconds, kilos or
grams. It cannot be quantified in any way. Nor can it be
compared, one with the other. It simply is. The briefest brush with
real love can sustain you for a lifetime.
So Astrid & Veronika served the purpose. I really liked the front cover. I found it an interesting challenge to keep all the pages in the right order while trying to flip through it on a windy beach. Sort of like a puzzle/book. It is now on my bookshelf secured tightly with a rubber band and snuggled in amongst the other books.