Cover image for Simon's family
Simon's family
Fredriksson, Marianne.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Simon och ekarna. English
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ballantine Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
347 pages ; 25 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 6.4 18.0 70084.
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



They meet on a spring day in the local garden center: Inge, a native Swede, lovely and refined, is a woman ruled by reason and her own deeply held moral beliefs; and Mira, a Chilean immigrant who still feels out of place in the cold Scandinavian north, and has spent far too much of her life searching for meaning.Intrigued by one another, the two women are nevertheless wary of the great cultural differences that seem to separate their lives. Yet both are single mothers devoted to their children, and both find joy and comfort in cultivating plants and flowers -- and so together, they begin to develop a close bond. Through many afternoons spent amid the beauty of Inge's garden, Mira slowly reveals the horrors of a shadowed past and the heartbreak involving her beloved daughter.As Mira and her family begin a wrenching journey of discovery, Inge unwittingly uncovers secrets in her own life that make her question the very order of her world . . . and wonder whether the truth is really what anyof them needs to find -- or if, in fact, it is the truth that will destroy them.An elegant and moving novel of time and memory, love and distance, and the wounds they create and conceal, "Two Women" is Marianne Fredriksson's most affecting work of fiction to date.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

This quietly moving story of family, friendship, and love, by the author of Hanna's Daughters [BKL Jl 98], has already become an international best-seller and will no doubt capture the hearts of American readers as well. Simon Larsson is a pensive and thoughtful boy growing up in Sweden during World War II, fortunate to be safe within a remarkably loving and cohesive community. Half Jewish, he is being raised by his Scandinavian aunt and uncle, who adopted him as their own at birth. In a novel rich in mystical overtones, his adoptive parents take on truly archetypal dimensions. Karin's deep love and compassion is matched by Erik's understated strength and stoicism, and together they create a firm family base from which 11 year-old Simon can grow and dream. But Simon, who doesn't know the story of his birth and adoption, seems set apart from his Scandinavian world by his dark hair and olive complexion, and he often retreats into fantasies to alleviate his feelings of disconnection. When he befriends Isak Lentov, a young Jewish boy from Germany, their families become close in spite of the contrast between Isak's father's religious faith and the Larssons' strictly secular Swedish socialism. These two opposing viewpoints help form a unique framework for Simon and Isak as they come of age and work toward finding meaning in their lives, and as Fredriksson explores relations between fantasy, myth, and reality. --Catherine Sias

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



"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 those great 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. From the Trade Paperback edition. Excerpted from Simon's Family: A Novel of Two Families by Marianne Fredriksson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.