Book Review: Hash by Torgny Lindgren

Hash by Torgny Lindgren

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!

Rating: 4/5

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

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at bookhelpline.com. In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

21 Responses to Book Review: Hash by Torgny Lindgren

  1. parrish says:

    This sounds like it would appeal, the book, not the hash that is, which may it may not taste pleasant but sounds revolving

  2. parrish says:

    Ps. Mean revolting, that’s what you get trying to comment by phone on a fast moving train.:o\

  3. As it happens this is high on my tbr pile, as I received a copy from the Dutch translator recently. I enjoyed Light,/i>, too.
    I have never tasted
    balkenbrij, by the way. Apparently it was not part of my mother’s culinary repertoire when I was small😉

    • Leeswammes says:

      Anna, I’m pretty sure you will love this book. I thought this book had been around in the Netherlands for a while now, or did you get a new edition?

      My mother wouldn’t make anything like that either, what are you suggesting?🙂 She bought it from the butcher – I can even imagine that it was my father who was behind the idea – he liked some things that the rest of the family weren’t keen on.

      • I received a remaindered edition, because the Dutch translation was not selling well unfortunately.

        As for the balkenbrij of your childhood: we really must discuss that during our upcoming bloggers’ meeting!

      • Leeswammes says:

        Ah, maybe I should be so kind as to put a review of the book on my Dutch blog as well then. I might do. or at least prepare one for a back-up if I haven’t got anything new to post.

        Let’s *not* talk about that horrible dish please!🙂

  4. Cindy says:

    My interpretation of hash is a stew. I wonder if your balkenbrij is similar to what we know here as brawn, what I knew in Germany as Sülze, Schwartenmagen, ‘Fleischkäse’, or Presskopf?

  5. This sounds kooky enough that I might enjoy it. I’ll have to see if I can find it here.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Chris, it’s literary enough for the literary minded, but a fun and easy read for those who don’t care about that sort of thing. You might well like it. Not sure how available it is in English (it has been translated for sure).

  6. Uniflame says:

    I am not sure this would be for me. I love magical realism. But the food makes me sick, thinking about it😉

  7. Nadine Nys says:

    I love magical realism so I should try this book, but the food does sound revolting. (luckily I do not know any of these dishes).

    • Leeswammes says:

      Nadine, the magical realism aspect isn’t too strong so that shouldn’t be the main reason to read the book. It’s a fun story, though, even with the food.

  8. Trisha says:

    Magical realism is a new-to-me genre (I’m more of a magical magickity magic type) but the few books I’ve read so far have me really intrigued. Thanks for the recommendation.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Trisha, I wouldn’t say that the magical realism aspect in this book is very large, so don’t read it for that reason if you’re planning to.

  9. Tes says:

    Sound like a nice story🙂 I think I will enjoy reading this during the weekend🙂

    • Leeswammes says:

      Tes, it’s very much a Scandinavian story. I’ve read other books by Swedish and Norwegian authors, and some of them are just like this. People speak not a word too much and sometimes you have to guess what people think of each other because they are far from direct in their communication. I love that.

  10. Pingback: Het ultieme recept (vervolg) « Kophieps

  11. Pingback: Het ultieme recept (vervolg) « Falstaff & Fakir – blog

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