Book Review: Hash by Torgny Lindgren
May 17, 2011 21 Comments
I read Light by the Swedish writer Torgny Lindgren last year, which I enjoyed a lot. So, when I saw this book in a book swap last year, I was keen to pick it up and try it.
Hash: What it is about
The story is a story inside another story. The outer story is a contemporary story of an 107 year old man who writes about events that happened over 50 years ago. Unless… he’s making it all up. He’s living in an old people’s home and has to accept whatever whim the management comes up with to save money. Only in his story writing he can be in control.
He writes about a village in North Sweden in the 1950s which gets two new inhabitants within a few weeks. One is a teacher, who is there to replace the previous teacher who died of tuberculosis. Many people in the village are infected too, but the new teacher, Högström, is immune because he had the illness years ago.
Also new is a man who might be German, Maser, who the 107 year writer hints could well be the missing nazi and war criminal Martin Bormann. Maser travels around with his van full of textiles and also settles in the village for a while.
Both newcomers soon find out they share two passions. One is for singing, which they do together many a night. The other is hash. Hash (in my Dutch copy: balkenbrij) is a meat dish made by cooking the head of a pig, or lamb, or even reindeer, and add intestines and all kinds of other things that I, as a vegetarian, try not to think of too hard. It’s a bit like haggis, according to wikipedia.
The men enjoy the hash that their landlady makes, but eventually go around the villages to find the best hash ever. Meanwhile, another character, Bertil, the homeless village idiot (although not stupid) keeps a good eye on what is going on and reports back to the landlady.
Hash: What I thought
I liked the background of why the 107 year old man started to write the story at his age (which I won’t reveal). There was a bit of magic realism in the book, as the man considered himself to have “survived old age” and he actually was getting younger again: more healthy, more and thicker hair, fewer aches and pains, etc. I thought it was a very interesting notion.
Also, his carer in the old people’s home wants to find back the place (a mountain) that he describes in his story. She comes back several times saying she must have been close, but somehow missed it. This made the story a little magical, which was interesting too.
The story was fun to read and quite original. I could not imagine anyone wanting to eat hash, and it seems that on some occasions, the men were actually quite repulsed by the meal they were getting (but wouldn’t show it to each other or their host, of course).
If you liked Light by the same author, then this will be for you, too. And if this author is new to you, give him a try. The writing is not overly difficult and the story is original and uplifting.
Confession: as a girl in the Netherlands, I did eat hash (balkenbrij) on several occasions. I remember it as a greyish slab that we’d eat on our bread. Moderately edible – but I wasn’t told what was in it!
I got this book: from a book swap
I read this in: Dutch (Het ultieme recept), the original language is Swedish (Pölsan)
Number of pages: 223
First published: 2002
Genre: contemporary fiction, magic realism