The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting and Paul Russell Grant (Translator)
|The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting and Paul Russell Grant (Translator)|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A beautiful coming of age tale combining diverse historical moments with a deep poignancy and delicious flashes of humour.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 480||Date: October 2017|
|Publisher: MacLehose Press|
|External links: Author's website|
While his grandfather lived the past was an area of certainty for Edvard. At aged 4 he'd been taken to live with his grandparents, having survived the accident that killed his parents. Now his grandfather has died revelations are coming to light showing Edvard his family history is different from what he'd believed… his mother's birthplace, his mother's name, the whereabouts of late Great-Uncle Einar… and that's without looking more deeply into the fatal accident itself. Edvard is determined to solve the puzzle, a determination that will take him away from his native Norway to an area of France synonymous with devastation and a remote Scottish island loaded with secrets.
This is Lars Mytting's first novel; not something you'd realise if you didn't know. The reason being that this is a consummate tale packed with such a variety of moods, events and peri-war history that it makes our journey as revelationary and ultimately satisfying as young Edvard's.
The sixteen trees in the title are walnut trees growing in a village within the area geographically described as The Somme. Despite Edvard's Norwegian origins, these trees resonate through his family's line cropping up both as living plants and by-products.
We're treated to historical facts and vignettes from both World Wars. Some, like the tragedy of the Somme itself, Ravensbruck and forced marches will be known. Yet even here Lars adds a layer of renewed shock and sadness since they happen to a family we've grown to love. Other moments evoked from the past aren't as frequently translated into literary memories so come as a bolt from the blue as well as a welcome education.
For instance, I hadn’t heard of the Norwegian Legion. I'll leave Lars to tell their story, as well as showing the lingering legacy on Edvard's family and post-war Norway. Despite being a post-war baby, it's a battle that Edvard continues to fight due to his grandfather's misunderstood connections. Then there's the story of the Black Watch's contribution to the WWI French front and the WWII refugee runs between mainland Europe and the Shetland Isles.
Edvard's personal story is inter-woven with his family history so we see his coming of age in many ways, including romantically. Will he chose the familiarity of the comfort back home or the turbulence of someone with a past as complicated as his?
Every page adds more intrigue as everything Edvard has accepted is blown away. We expect the sadness (especially when dealing with cruel and bitter global inhumanities) but not Lars' lyrical beauty that led me to re-read passages in order to wallow in his words.
We're also ambushed by a wonderfully dry sense of humour. For instance, when Edvard mentions that his small Norwegian town isn't exactly a tourist mecca, the short shrift response is Bethlehem was no metropolis either!
Lars has gifted us a book containing a selection box of fiction and historical-fiction goodies. We definitely look forward to his next novel and, while we wait, Edvard's adventure and its lingering memories will keep us company.
(Thank you MacLehose Press for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you'd like to read more about the Somme, we recommend Her Privates We by Frederic Manning, a novel based on the author's own experiences. If you prefer non-fiction, 24 Hours at the Somme by Robert Kershaw is a stunning, hour-by-hour account from both sides of the lines.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting and Paul Russell Grant (Translator) at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting and Paul Russell Grant (Translator) at Amazon.com.
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