FORTY DAYS WITHOUT SHADOW: OLIVIER TRUC trans LOUISE ROGERS LALAURIE

Posted: June 29, 2014 in Book Awards, Finland, Norway, review, Scandinavia, Sweden

51eK2UHfulL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_We have been away for a week touring the beautiful houses and countryside of Kent and East Sussex in wonderful summer weather [possibly some 09-22-~1 (2)photos later] so that I have only just finished the Arctic set Forty Days Without Shadow by Olivier Truc. 

Olivier Truc was born in France but has worked as a journalist based in Stockholm since 1994. He has produced television documentaries including one about the work of the Norwegian Reindeer Police in Lapland. Forty Days, his debut novel draws on that documentary and blends in his journalistic interest concerning social issues such as the treatment of minorities.

The story begins with a short prologue set in Central Lapland in the year 1693, showing the persecution of the Sami by Christian pastors. The reader is taken forward to the present day in January when the polar night will end and the sun will return. At Kautokeino in Norway we are introduced to the main protagonists who are two members of the Reindeer Police. Klemet Nango, a veteran Sami officer, who at one time was working in Stockholm on the Olaf Palme investigation; and the young blonde stunningly beautiful Nina Nansen, a new recruit. They have to investigate the theft of a sacred Sami drum from a local museum, apparently one of only a limited number to survive the drum burning carried out by Christian pastors in a campaign against Sami religion and culture. As they investigate the theft and question reindeer breeders in the harsh Arctic environment Nina moves into unknown territory.

How could people live like this here in Norway, in her own country? The scene reminded her of a TV documentary she had seen once, about a Roma encampment in Romania.

When Mattis one the reindeer breeders is murdered the investigation becomes far more complex. With a UN conference being held shortly in Kautokeino the mismatched pair of police officers must look into a 1939 expedition that included anthropologists from Sweden’s State Institute for Racial Biology, hunt down the Sami drum, and search for Andre Racagnal, a villainous French geologist with a liking for adolescent girls. Racagnal is plotting with local figures to exploit the mineral wealth of the region. When Nina travels to Paris to interview Henri Mons, who donated the Sami drum to the museum and was on the 1939, she learns some shocking facts as she studies photos taken by the Swedish anthropologists.

It did not take Nina long to realise that they were clearly intended to illustrate the racial superiority of the Scandinavians, and the inferiority of not only the Sami, but also the Tartars, Jews, Finns, Balts and Russians.

Forty Days is an excellent read, rather dark and perhaps a little longwinded at times as Klemet and Nina travel hundreds of kilometres back and forth across the Arctic wastelands on their snowmobiles, but it would certainly be a worthy winner of the CWA International Dagger.

The characters are interesting, while the information about Sami culture and the problems that affect their society reminded me of Tony Hillerman’s wonderful books about the Navajo. And I took one of the messages of the book to be that indigenous peoples in many many countries are exploited, and their way of life and their culture threatened in some way by incomers. 

‘The Swedes recruited the Sami by force,’ Nils Ante went on, ‘to work in the mines. And they used reindeer to transport the ores to the rivers. There’s your story. Any Sami who refused was beaten and imprisoned.

Behold the foundations of the wealth of your splendid Nordic kingdoms.   

[the photo shows the nearest we have been to the Arctic…having left the train somewhere north of Helsinki into the freezing wilderness]

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Comments
  1. Norman – It sounds as though this book has a strong sense of setting and culture, and that has real appeal to me. Thanks for sharing. And on another note, I hope you enjoyed your holday.

  2. Jose Ignacio says:

    Thanks for bringing this book to my attention Norman.

  3. kathy d. says:

    This book sounds like it’s right up my alley and that of a friend who is about to go on an archaelogical trip to Copenhagen, then Greenland, after having been in northern Alaska.
    Will try to find it or one of us will buy it.

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