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Inga-Britt Wik: Vilken drom hon har: Fyra berattelser.

Helsinki. Schildt. 2001. 182 pages ISBN 951-50-1224-9

BORN IN VASA in 1930, Inga-Britt Wik has had a long and disciplined career as a lyricist. Her first book of verse, Profil, came out in 1952, her most recent, Loksommar, in 1998; her selected poems, Ett hav, ett vatten (1993), will give a good idea of her thematically varied but, in quality, consistent production. As a prose writer, her breakthrough came with the two autobiographical novels about her marriage to the hyperactive Jorn Donner, books in which she was surprisingly fair; in fact, emotional fairness is one of her hallmarks. Like Solveig von Schoultz, Whose "letter-biography" she put together out of von Schoultz's correspondence, she has never been a doctrinaire feminist -- far from it -- but rather an explorer of the human condition. Also, although not a regional writer, she has remained quite true to Ostrobothnia.

The four stories of Vilken drom hon har all have women at their centers, but do not exclude men or debase them. "Monologer for Miro" tells, in seventeen brief sections, about an affair between Mona, divorced and with an almost grown son, and Paul, a married teacher; a mutual interest in the surrealist painter Joan Miro (whose Women in the Night is reproduced on the binding) draws them together. The romance turns out to be hole-in-the-corner, excursions with Paul turn sour, Mona learns that Paul still sleeps with his wife. After some pointed exchanges, Mona gives the indecisive Paul his walking papers, not altogether willingly. The story may sound banal in the retelling, but Wik sees to it that the reader pays close attention, by means of repeated looks into Mona's lonely and intelligent mind. A contrastive sidelight is cast by the references to Runar Schildt's excruciating story of another kind of adultery, Den svagare (1918).

In "Exil" a sister and brother, Irina and Eli, were displaced as children by the loss of their home after the Winter War of 1939-40: Finland had perforce to cede Hango to the Russians. It was retaken in 1941, but, for the siblings, things were never the same again; their widowed father cared little about them, and they were brought up by good-natured relatives. Irina becomes a nurse, is married and divorced; Eli is unstable (because of his father's fecklessness?), moves to Stockholm, returns, and is fleetingly reunited with his sister -- against the televised background of the Gulf War. The narrator, Irina, says, "Once evacuated, always evacuated." Another author would have turned this miniature family novel into a whole saga; but Wik gives only hints. What about cousin Olga and her marriage to Frank (to which Olga's mother violently objects)? What about the sleazy father himself? What about the mother, a champion swimmer, dead early of a heart attack? And blond Christoffer, who may have begotten Eli?

The remaining stories again cover generations. In italicized inserts, "Kore" takes up a mythical pattern Wik has pursued in her recent lyric, while the narrative proper belongs to a grandmother, still quite hale and hearty in 1994. Her grandfather, Jakob Isak, vanished to the mines of America sometime early in the century, and her son has migrated to Sweden; this Demeter, wishing for the daughter she has never had, still gladly receives her little grandson on a visit to Finland, "a grandchild's grandchild with a happy face and a knapsack and a Teddy bear." The eponymous heroine of "Anna" died in 1946, but she lingers on in a spare room at the Vora cottage, as her godchild types her story in the next room. Anna (whose narrative voice we mostly hear) has not had much of a life; after a brief love affair somewhere in Finland's south, she was forced to return home to care for her mother (who out-lived her), amid the other, deserted women on the village hill. The men long since went to America. In 1993, the goddaughter travels to Park City, Utah, to look for descendants of Anna's brother Alfred, and finds Arlene Nyman, the widow of Alfred's second son, as well as Alfred's daughter Barbara, "large and sturdy, widow of a man who worked in the mines." Now Park City is an expensive ski resort, and "Now it is almost 2000 and, born in 1907, I would have been 103 had I lived."

In a review in Hufvudstadsbladet, Tuva Korsstrom -- an admirer of Wik's art -- says that, in "Anna," Wik has "found prose material which is worthwhile to write about and to develop further," which seems a little hard on the other and more conventional items in the volume.
George C. Schoolfield
Yale University
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Author:Schoolfield, George C.
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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