Book Title: Embers
Author: Josephine Greenland
Publication Date: 4th March 2021
Page Length: 336 pages
@Archaeolibrary, @maryanneyarde, @greenland_jm,
Two siblings, one crime. One long-buried secret.
17-year-old Ellen never wanted a holiday. What is there to do in a mining town in the northernmost corner of the country, with no one but her brother Simon – a boy with Asperger’s and obsessed with detective stories – for company?
Nothing, until they stumble upon a horrifying crime scene that brings them into a generations-long conflict between the townspeople and the native Sami. When the police dismiss Simon’s findings, he decides to track down the perpetrator himself. Ellen reluctantly helps, drawn in by a link between the crime and the siblings’ own past. What started off as a tedious holiday soon escalates into a dangerous journey through hatred, lies and self-discovery that makes Ellen question not only the relationship to her parents, but also her own identity.
Three weeks later, Dad drove them to the station in Kristinehamn where the Inlandsbana started. There was only one train a day, and it left at 8 a.m., so they had to set off at five. They witnessed the first few sunrays peek over the horizon, streaking the Stockholm skyline in peach and violet. Ellen watched the city she loved melt into the brightening clouds until it disappeared, swallowed by the black sea of trees.
In Svartjokk, that sea would be deeper and darker and wilder than any of the forests at home. The town would be an island, surrounded by an expanse of nothing.
And from that nothing came her grandfather.
‘I still don’t understand why we’re going there,’ she told her father on the platform. ‘You’ve never been, you never even talk about the place.’
‘I went last year.’
‘That was a funeral.’ Ellen dragged her foot over the flagstones. What a strange year it had been. First Granddad’s death, almost a year ago now, and only four months later, her great-grandmother. ‘You never visited the house. Why didn’t you ask to see it?’
‘Ellen…’ Niklas warned.
‘But it doesn’t make sense. You’re Great-Granny’s closest surviving family and you didn’t go to see her home?’
‘Enough!’ he snapped. ‘How many times do I have to tell you? I’m not having this conversation.’ Then he bit his lip and sighed through his teeth. ‘Sorry, Ellen, I didn’t mean…’ He turned to her. ‘I did speak to the other reindeer herders. Briefly. They told me the house was still there. Empty.’
‘But you didn’t go.’
‘I was busy clearing out Granny’s stuff in the care home. It was like a whole Christmas flea market stuffed up in her room. You know all about it.’
No, Ellen wanted to say, I don’t. But she resisted theurge to ask him more. Every time she mentioned her great-grandmother’s or granddad’s funeral, or anything Granddad-related at all, Dad got that shifty look in his eyes and quickly changed the topic. He’d always done it, but more so in the last year, leading up to and following Granddad’s death. There’d been quarrels over the phone, fewer visits. Judging by the way Niklas shut down after his father’s death, not even letting anyone mention his name, it seemed those quarrels had never been
‘Besides,’ he continued, ‘they had their reindeer to tend to. The day after Granny’s funeral they were back in the woods with their animals. October is when they gather the herd in preparation for winter. They wouldn’t have had time to speak to me. The Sami lead very busy lives.’
Sami. The word still felt foreign on Ellen’s tongue. Her research project had only scratched the surface. There was so much ignorance in southern Sweden about who the Sami were. They were never studied in school. Ellen’s classmates only associated them with reindeer and kåtor, the traditional Sami dwelling similar to a tepee, and were surprised at first when they learned about her grandfather being Sami, not realising that many of them lived down south now, with ‘ordinary’ jobs. Not Lars-Erik’s family, though. According to her dad, the Blinds had been reindeer herders for well over ten generations. Now, with Great-Grandmother Marit’s death, there were no Blinds left in Svartjokk.
‘It will be good for us to visit,’ she said. ‘We can visit her grave. Great-Granny’s.’
Niklas nodded, though his face showed no enthusiasm. He ran the fingers of his left hand up and down the palm of his right, a gesture he often made when lost in thought. Simon’s cry broke the tension. ‘The train! The train is here!’
He waved at them from the bench where he’d been sitting. He pointed with his Rubik’s cube towards a red-and-white train approaching the platform.
Niklas took a deep breath. ‘Here we go then.’ He put on a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. ‘Have fun.’ He pulled Ellen into a hug. It was clingy; his arm squeezed around her neck, pressing her awkwardly against his shoulder. ‘Take care,’ he muttered in her ear. ‘Keep an eye on Simon.’
‘Of course.’ She squirmed out of his grip and flashed him a smile. ‘See you later, Dad.’
He waved his hand slowly, struggling to keep the smile on his face. Ellen hurried on board.
‘I am going to draw a map,’ Simon announced as they’d taken their seats. He put his notebook on the seat’s foldable table and smoothed out a page. ‘This is going to be the best trip of my life.’
Wide-eyed, Ellen looked at him. The smiles, the chuckles, the talking to himself… as if he were five again. Where did all that come from?
It was as if she were sitting by a stranger. Waved off by a stranger, headed for a stranger land.
Somehow, she knew this had been a long time coming.
Josephine is a Swedish-British writer from Sweden, currently working as an English teacher in Edinburgh. She has a BA in English from the University of Exeter, and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Birmingham. She started writing novels at the age of nine, but only began writing seriously in English while at university, for her first creative writing course (2015). Since then, she’s had 14 short stories published, won two competitions and been shortlisted twice. Embers is her first novel, inspired by her travels in northern Sweden with her brother, and was her dissertation project for her MA. When not writing, she enjoys playing music, jogging, hiking, and discussing literature with her cat.
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