I just finished reading some other people’s comments about Hanna’s Daughters. Seeing the star ratings I felt to be very generous, I began thinking about the book, its subject, setting, and readership. The comments I read on goodreads.com were mostly praise for the story of three generations of women-grandmother, mother, and daughter. One other comment, was more honest-this woman said she didn’t really understand some of the characters. Good for her for putting that out there. I am certain she was not alone on that one.
Reading Hanna’s Daughters is not a completely horrible experience in that it elicits thoughts in the readers about some universal topics. The author has certainly come up with themes involving ancestry, the connections of mothers and daughters, the disconnections which occur between different generations, the heartbreak of guilt and loss. Still, none of these are anything new. In order for a story such as this to hold its weight for readers it must be exceedingly well written, or contain some new structure or elements of plot. I have found that some writers have really great ideas in novels, yet are not able to compose prose that can compare to the beauty of the thought.
One thing that Hanna’s Daughters does have going for it is its status as a Swedish novel. For an American reader, this makes it and its characters unique. Swedish culture and history heavily line this family saga. As a former student of Scandinavian studies, it immediately becomes obvious that much of the women’s ways of thinking about themselves and others can be attributed to something called Jante’s Law. Jante’s Law is an unwritten code of ethics in the Scandinavian region which can be easily attributed to ways of thinking and acting in Scandinavian culture and literature. The code is as follows:
- Don’t think you’re anything special.
- Don’t think you’re as good as us.
- Don’t think you’re smarter than us.
- Don’t convince yourself that you’re better than us.
- Don’t think you know more than us.
- Don’t think you are more important than us.
- Don’t think you are good at anything.
- Don’t laugh at us.
- Don’t think anyone cares about you.
10. Don’t think you can teach us anything.
An eleventh rule recognized in the novel is:
- Don’t think that there aren’t a few things we know about you
Basically, Scandinavian culture may look down upon individuality and anyone unwilling to admit their subservience to the “group.” Any American unaware of these ideas may find the thought patterns of the women in the book a bit confusing. I can’t deny that reading and viewing the world from alternate perspectives can be a positive experience.
Still the outline of the story; three women, three different generations struggling to make it through lives plagued by childbirth, work, marriage, love, death…sigh. I feel bad admitting that I didn’t make it past page 150. There were just not enough redeeming qualities for me.
For more information: Some amazing novels by Scandinavian authors are:
Borderliners by Peter Hoeg (think Scandinavian Catcher in the Rye)
about the author: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marianne_Fredriksson