Originally written in Swedish and translated to English by Alice Menzies
The elderly Doris is nearing the end of her life in her native Stockholm, Sweden. Her only close relative is her great-niece, Jenny who is a busy young mother in San Francisco, California. Increasingly frail, Doris has a carer who visits daily to help her with dressing and meals. Doris is very lonely and the highlight of her life is when she uses her laptop computer to Skype with Jenny once a week.
Doris has an old leather address book which she has had since she was a child. Now, at her advanced age, most of the people in it are deceased. She has so many memories. Memories that she does not want to disappear when she is dead. So… she writes them down for Jenny.
“I’ll give you my memories. They’re the most beautiful thing I have.”
Doris’s life has been very eventful. At the age of thirteen her father died tragically and she was sent to work as a maid for a wealthy woman. Before she left her childhood home her mother said:
“I wish you enough. Enough sun to light up your days, enough rain that you appreciate the sun. Enough joy to strengthen your soul, enough pain that you can appreciate life’s small moments of happiness. Enough friends that you can manage a farewell now and then.”
She has lived in Stockholm, Paris, Cornwall, and New York. She has lived through many events that have shaped her world, and many traumas that might have felled a lesser person. Doris had one great love – but that was very short lived.
“Being separated from a person you hold dear always feels like a wound to the soul.”
Doris was a grand old lady. A person I would love to have met in person. What more praise can you give a fictional character? I felt privileged to share her reflections on a life lived to the fullest.
Jenny’s character was also well rendered. She was extremely fond of her great-aunt Doris (whom she calls Dossi) and is torn between wanted to be in Stockholm and tending to her husband and three children in San Francisco.
Doris’s love, Allan Smith, and her best friend, the artist Gosta, added to the interest of her life story. The flow between time periods depicted was flawless and easy to discern.
A grand debut literary novel, “The Red Address Book” explores the themes of adversity, hardship, friendship, and love. It reminds us that everyone should have the right to living and dying with dignity. And also, it makes us realize the great treasure of memories held by elderly people should be passed down to future generations in order that they might benefit from the lessons learned through a life rife with experience.
A beautiful and heartbreaking story. Nostalgic, sentimental, yet all too believable, this debut novel is highly recommended to all lovers of thoughtful, well-written literary fiction and/or lovers of old ladies.
I received a complimentary digital copy of “The Red Address Book” from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley.
This book was recommended to me by fellow blogger Cleo Pullen.
Read Cleo’s review of “The Red Address Book”.
Sofia Lundberg (b. 1974), a journalist and former magazine editor, made her debut with the word-of-mouth sensation The Red Address Book. Lauded by critics for her ability to sweep readers off their feet and take them on journeys through time and space, love and loss, Lundberg is the shining new star of heartwarming – and heart-wrenching – Scandinavian fiction.