Come clean – Romanian –

Swedish author Alex Schulman works on his last book, which is also his first true novel, during his childhood. Biographical elements in Survivors are imaginatively enriched, which indeed played an important role in Schulman’s earlier books and contributions. The novel tells the story of an increasingly disintegrating family. Parents are alcoholics, the three brothers are torn. After so many years of apartheid, one mission brings them together once again: to scatter their mothers’ ashes.

It is not uncommon for horror to be hidden behind an apparent poetess. Looking at it from the outside, one often hears that everything looked so perfect. Relationships, family history, the sole culprits. Ideologies have always thrown a pure mantle over the growing dung heap they produce. Today we are faced with products that seem to have fallen from the sky, soft and pure as they appeared behind a shop window. No dirt, no production, no cobalt, no human rights violations.

Survivors by Swedish author Alex Schulman also begins with a poetic figure. Wooden house on a wide meadow with a lake surrounded by a forest. The couple sits at the table, enjoying the last rays of the sun, while the three sons, encouraged by their father, swim in a race on the lake. This is the perfect world that is sold to us every day. And sellers are glad that we often don’t read any further, nor look closely, because we get it and go for it. Fortunately, we overlook the fact that the last rays of the sun are disappearing, darkness falls, the parents come home and the three brothers, frightened and lost, fear for their lives like three little dots in the middle of a great body. from water. We will not be able to say: they survived only with the combined forces. Nobody: They survive to die almost countless times.

We follow the events from the perspective of the middle brother, Benjamin. He was nine years old in the summer he almost drowned. Pierre is two years younger and Nils four years older than him. The three compete for the attention of their alcoholic parents, albeit in different ways. The love that can be expected from there is scattered, the more stubborn the brothers compete with each other. They only stick together in those moments when it comes to survival.

two stories

Alex Shulman shows us the wrong ways of the family. He created two narrative paths that converge chronologically, opposing chronologically. The background story begins with the arrival of a police car at the parents’ summer home. Two of the brothers beat each other bloodily, almost killing each other. From there begins the review, wondering how this could happen, where the hatred, the unbridled anger come from. From the bloody brothers we go through to the death of the mother, which was the catalyst for this meeting in the summer house. In a letter, she wrote, the children should scatter their ashes on the lake: “II don’t want you to do that for me. (…) I want you to do it for your own good.”

The second thread begins where the boys swim against each other. This summer is full of dark, shocking and life-threatening adventures. It ends with Benjamin’s therapy sessions, shortly after he attempts suicide.

Natural is the threat

Shulman shows the disembodied poet, as a place of inner and outer prison, without becoming pathetic or even lazy. On the contrary, he writes with persuasive clarity, with the clarity necessary to sort out and decipher the accumulated fatigue of his childhood, to tame the screams and thunder in one’s brain.

The absence of parental care – the main theme of the novel – is illustrated as nature appears as a threat. The vastness of the forest, for example, is always a danger. The advent of darkness threatens life. Then there’s the childish curiosity – also natural – that leads Benjamin to the Transformers Little House – entry is strictly prohibited! – to explore. The hum and hum of the river enchants him. He reaches out, and the sound gets louder the closer he gets to the thick tubes. He could die. When he wakes up, the family dog ​​Molly, whom his mother has always nurtured, lies dead next to his charred body. a A heavy loss eventually leads to the collapse of the already fragile building.

For hundreds of pages we were led by the two brothers’ phrases, our existential boredom felt well, but we didn’t even remotely think of leaving the book. In the end, the present and the past meet, fraternal blood follows fraternal tears, and in the end the three of them are left with what Alex Shulman also left behind: language.

Alex Shulman (translation: Hanna Granz): “Survivors”; dtv, 2021, 304 pages, €22

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