Simon's Family

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Overview


In her #1 international bestseller Hanna's Daughters, Marianne Fredriksson brilliantly evoked three generations of mothers, daughters, and the men in their lives. Now, in her haunting new novel, she traces the extraordinary relationship between a mother and son and the remarkable family they inhabit. The search for who we are and where we came from . . . the yearning for reconciliation between parent and child . . . the ever-shifting nature of what makes a family—Marianne Fredriksson weaves these elements into a...
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1999 Hardcover First American Edition; First Printing New in New dust jacket 0345434595. Book and DJ are New, First American Edition, first printing, In Mylar Wrap, S-19, ; 9.40 ... X 6.10 X 1.20 inches; 347 pages. Read more Show Less

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Overview


In her #1 international bestseller Hanna's Daughters, Marianne Fredriksson brilliantly evoked three generations of mothers, daughters, and the men in their lives. Now, in her haunting new novel, she traces the extraordinary relationship between a mother and son and the remarkable family they inhabit. The search for who we are and where we came from . . . the yearning for reconciliation between parent and child . . . the ever-shifting nature of what makes a family—Marianne Fredriksson weaves these elements into a powerful story of survival and transcendence, sacrifice and forgiveness, showing how even the most damaged heart can heal in the most unexpected ways. . . .
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Swedish novelist Fredriksson follows her international bestseller, Hanna's Daughters, with a chronicle, set before and during WWII, of two families and the schoolboy friendship that links them. When 11-year-old Simon Larsson visits the home of his Jewish classmate Isak Lentov, he discovers how the wealthy live. When Isak visits Simon, he finds nurturing love in the care of Simon's mother, Karin; soon he moves in with the Larssons. As the boys grow up together, Simon emulates the intellectual pursuits of Isak's father, Ruben, while Isak strives to gain the craftsmanship and manual strength of Simon's father, Erik. At first, the evil in Germany seems far away; then as Erik goes off to the army, news of atrocities abroad reach home, and Norwegian ships that cannot return to their Nazi-occupied land seek harbor in the boys' seaside town. Each member of the blended family confronts painful memories that surface in their fears and dreams. Karin and Erik remember bitter manipulative parents. Isak recalls his family's years in Berlin, when he suffered physical abuse, first from his authoritarian grandfather, and then from the new Nazi state; Ruben worries about his mad wife, now confined to an asylum. Roaming the coast in dissatisfied reveries, Simon imagines alternate origins for himself, even after his parents tell him the secret truth about his birth. Fredriksson depicts the psychological aftermath of cruelty through the ebb and flow of interior monologues, adhering to time-honored parallels between the characters' harsh longings and the stark beauty of the remote Swedish seascape. The second half of the lengthy tale follows the boys and their families to adulthood: Simon is involved in an army scandal, Karin falls ill and Isak becomes a father. Fredriksson's prose has, at its best, the clarity of a child's-eye view. At worst, it's distractingly awkward and overliteral: the lathe-worker who trains Isak "could feel a quiet happiness when he occasionally had a boy with intelligence in his hands as well as the passion for being exact." Already a bestseller in Germany, the novel contrasts the human capacity for suffering with a heartfelt optimism: these sentiments, along with the Swedish setting, enhance the story's appeal. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Simon's Family ( Oct.; 336 pp.; 0-345-43459-5). Another highly readable saga from the Swedish author of the popular Hanna's Daughters (1998), this literate romance traces with warm empathy the friendship between the eponymous Simon (Larsson), the son of a family threatened by its own secrets, as well as by the approaching (Second World) War, and Isak Lentov, whose German-Jewish family finds both sanctuary and psychic disintegration in its adopted country. At her best (that is, when not gently lecturing the reader), Fredriksson seems almost a Scandinavian R.F. Delderfield: a chronicler of ordinary lives whose judicious mingling of sentimentality and realism makes for absorbing and satisfying reading.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345434593
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/5/1999
  • Pages: 347
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.57 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Marianne Fredriksson's novels have sold more than two million copies in her native Sweden. Hanna's Daughters was her first U.S. publication.
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Read an Excerpt

"An ordinary bloody oak," the boy said to the tree. "Hardly fifteen meters high. That's nothing much to boast about.

"And nor are you a hundred thousand," he said, thinking of his grandmother, now nearly ninety and nothing but an ordinary shrill old woman.

Named, measured, and compared, the tree retreated from the boy.

But he could still hear the singing in the great treetops, melancholy and reproachful. So he resorted to violence and crashed the stone he had kept for so long in his pocket straight into the trunk.

"That'll shut you up," he said.

The great tree instantly fell silent, and the boy knew something important had happened. He swallowed the lump in his throat, disowning his grief.

That was the day he said farewell to his childhood. He did so at a definite moment and in a definite place; thus he would always remember it. For many years, he pondered over what he had relinquished on that day far back in his childhood. At twenty, he would have some idea, and then would spend his life trying to recapture it.

But at this moment, he was on the hillside above Appelgren's garden, looking out over the sea, the fog gathering around the skerries before rolling in toward the coast. In the land of his childhood, the fog had many voices, the fog singing from Vinga to Alvsborg on a day like this.

Behind him was the mountain and the meadow. At the end of the meadows, where the ground opened up, were the oak woods, the trees that had spoken to him over the years.

In their shade, he had met the little man with the strange round hat. No, he thought, that wasn't true. He had always known the man, but it was in the shade of thosegreat trees that he had actually seen him.

It no longer mattered.

"Just a load of shit," the boy said aloud as he crawled under the barbed wire of Appelgren's fence.

He managed to avoid the old woman, Edit Appelgren, who used to tear out the couch grass in her dead-straight flower beds on early spring days like this. The foghorns had frightened her indoors. She couldn't stand fog.

The boy understood that. Fog was the grief of the sea, as infinite as the sea, almost unbearable--

"Oh, shit," he said, for he knew better, and had just resolved to look on the world as other people saw it. The fog was the warmth of the Gulf Stream rising when the air grew cold.

Nothing more than that.

But he couldn't really deny the sorrow in the long drawn-out wail of foghorns over the harbor entrance as he slanted across Appelgren's lawn and slipped into his kitchen, where he was given hot cocoa.

His name was Simon Larsson. He was eleven, small, thin, dark complexioned. His hair was coarse, brown, almost black, his eyes so dark sometimes it was hard to distinguish the pupils.

What was strange about his appearance had hitherto evaded him, for up to that day, he hadn't been given to comparisons and had escaped a great many torments. He thought about Edit Appelgren and her difficulties with the fog. But he mostly thought about Aron, her husband. Simon had always liked Aron.

Simon had been a frequent runaway--one of those children, like cheerful puppies, who follow the temptations of the road. It could begin with a colorful toffee paper in the ditch outside the gate, continue with an empty box of Tiger Brand and a little farther away a bottle, then another, a red flower, and farther on a white stone, then perhaps a glimpse of a cat.

In that way he ended up farther and farther away from home, and he remembered very clearly one time when he had realized he was lost. That was when he saw the tram, large and blue as it rattled out of town. It frightened him terribly, but just as he was opening his mouth to bawl, Aron was there.

Aron bent his tall figure over the boy, and as he spoke, his voice seemed to come from up in the sky.

"Good gracious, boy, running away again, eh?"

He heaved the boy up onto the carrier of his back bicycle and started walking home, all the time talking about the birds, the fat chaffinches and cheeky great tits, the gray sparrows hopping around them in the dust on the road.

He said he had nothing but contempt for them, those flying rats.

It was spring, so they cut across the field and the boy learned to distinguish the song of the lark. Then, in his tremendous voice, Aron sang a song that went rolling down the slopes and echoed against the cliffs.

"When in spri-i-i-ing among the mountai-ai-ains--"

Best was when Aron whistled. He could imitate any bird, and the boy almost burst with excitement when Aron got the female blackbird to respond to him, lustily and willingly. Then Aron grinned his good big grin.

The birdsong that surpassed all others in the hills at the mouth of the river was actually the shrieking of gulls. Aron could imitate them, too, and could tease them into such rage, they would dive-bomb down onto the boy and the man.

Then Simon laughed so much he almost wet himself, and the neighbors on their errands hastened past along the road, but would stop and smile at the tall man who was enjoying himself as much as the little boy.

"Aron will never grow up," they said.

But Simon didn't hear that. Right up to this very day, Aron had been king in his world.

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Reading Group Guide

1. This novel is so richly textured with various themes and ideas about life, spirituality and art. What, in particular, touched or interested you the most? Why?

2. What do you think is the most significant, overt theme of this novel?

3. Simon is an extraordinarily complex character. If you had to describe the essence of him, how would you do this? If Simon's Family were to become a movie, which actor could you envision playing the role of Simon?

4. Why do you think Simon had such a drive for self-punishment in relation to women?

5. What are your feelings about Karin? Is she authentic in your eyes? Or was she, like Klara, simply forcing an image of herself as the good mother?

6. How did the mystical aspects of the novel--the personified oak trees, the visions, the uncanny intuitions--affect your reading experience? Have you read other novels of this style before?

7. We might call Simon's experience listening to music an "out-of-body" one. Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt that you transcended your conventional perception or state of reality?

8. Simon talks about a desire for evil to "make him real." Do you understand--or can you relate to--this notion?

9. The novel touches on various psychological terms related to the Holocaust--persecution mania, survivor guilt. Have you ever heard of these conditions or do you know of people who have dealt with them?

10. Ms. Fredriksson states that most people do not "dare to open up the magic/mythical dimension that is part of our legacy." Do you agree with that statement? In your opinion, what does opening up to magic and myth entail?

11. Karin's memory of thewaxwings helps her through difficult times in her life. Is there a particular memory or symbol that you turn to for solace?

12. If you had to choose just one passage from this novel to entice a friend to read it, which would it be?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2004

    What is family?

    This was a well written novel on the aspects of what it means to be a family...families come in many forms, such as, biological, extended family, imaginative, and those we choose to be part of our family. The story deals with mothers and sons, three generations of women, and how they affect their sons, both emotionally and physically. It also deals with assimilation into society, the way we choose to fit in, and it deals with the issues of stability and fear, and how fear plays a factor in our lives, how it can imprison us. I would recommend this to everyone who is interested in societal and cultural boundaries and differences.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2001

    Introspective

    I absolutely loved Hannah's Daughters written by this same author. This book examines a mother and son's relationship in a very introspective way with depth and insight. Fredriksson can be a little wordy at times but the way this author can tell a story is breathtaking.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 1999

    Review excerpt from Curled Up With a Good Book

    The author of the sleeper hit HANNA'S DAUGHTERS, Marianne Fredriksson scores again across the Atlantic with another story of family, history, elision and lies. The story of two families brought together by the unlikely friendship between two young boys during World War II, SIMON'S FAMILY revisits Fredriksson's familiar themes of strained family ties and the possibilities of reconciliation. At times painfully straightforward about the love and hate that can exist simultaneously in a child for his parents, SIMON'S FAMILY is sure to ring true with most readers. Both happy and unhappy in their own particular ways, the characters in Fredriksson's latest novel take us another few steps in our journey to understand, or at least know, the human condition.

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