First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
The Christmas Oratorio is a grand fresco of human striving, ambition, and desire by Sweden’s contemporary novelist. Centering on three generations of Nordensson men, it unravels a saga as elaborately structured as a Bach cantata and as emotionally complex as a Bergman film.
The Christmas Oratorio begins in the 1930s, when Solveig Nordensson (wife of Aron and mother of Sidner) is accidentally killed. The grieving family abandons its home and moves to another town, hoping to start afresh, but finds that its emotional burdens have emigrated with it. Aron, bereft by the loss of his wife, starts “seeing” her in capricious hallucinations, and tragically seeks her reincarnation in a love-starved woman half a world away. The introverted Sidner begins a quest for emotional maturity that leads him into odd friendships with a remarkably self-reliant street boy and a free-spirited older woman. And grandson Victor, heir to the tortured legacy left by Solveig’s death, finds redemption for himself in a staging of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio – a performance begun by Solveig half a century earlier and interrupted by her tragic death.
More than a generational saga, however, The Christmas Oratorio is one of those rare works that encompasses the entirety of the human drama, in terms at once touching, comic, erotic, and surreal. This is a novel of phenomenal breadth and insight, and a stunning debut in English, by one of the most celebrated authors in Scandinavia today.
Yes, the workweek has finally come to an end! And woah, today is the last Friday of November! In about four more days, we will be welcoming the last month of 2021. Time flies, literally! It feels surreal how quick time is flowing by. While I want to keep a positive mindset, the latest development in South Africa is ominous and is certainly worrying. With the downtrend in cases, I thought that we are already past the worst stages of the pandemic but it seems that I am wrong. Nevertheless, I am still hopeful that the new variant of the virus will be contained. I am also fervently hoping and praying for the pandemic to come to an end soon. With this, I hope that you are all doing well, physically, emotionally, and mentally, despite these times fraught with challenges. I hope you are all safe.
Capping the last day of the week is another First Impression Friday update. In the past weeks, I have been focusing on ticking off books from my reading challenges. Historically, the trend is for me to rush reading the books in my reading challenges towards the end of the year. HAHA. Again, I find myself catching up on my four active reading challenges. While I am confident about hitting my Goodreads 2021 reading target of 85 books, my top priority is completing my 2021 Top 21 Reading List. Thankfully, I am nearly done as I am on my last three books. One of these three books is Göran Tunström’s The Christmas Oratorio; the other two are Richard Adams’ Watership Down and James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain. The Christmas Oratorio is also my 84th read of the year; I just need one more book to officially complete my 2021 Goodreads reading target.
It was in mid-2020 that I first came across Swedish writer Göran Tunström and his novel The Christmas Oratorio. I encountered it through a bookseller I’ve come to patronize during the pandemic. I was unfamiliar with the writer but the book immediately piqued my interest. When my research yielded that the book was listed as one of 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, I bought it without more ado and sans any iota on what it was about. Despite this, I added the book to my 2021 Top 21 Reading List. I am glad that before the year wraps up I finally get to read it.
The Christmas Oratorio introduces three generations of the Nordensson men. Their story commenced in the 1930s, when the matriarch, Solveig figured in an accident leading to her untimely demise. She was on her way to church to perform, along with the local choir, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio when she was trampled by cows. Her unfortunate death left the patriarch, Aron, to singly look after their children, son Sidner and daughter Eva-Liisa. To get over his grief, Aron moved his family and this move proved to be critical in the changes in their lives that will develop over time. Despite the change, Aron found himself unable to recover from his grief, hence, straining his relationship with his children, especially with Sidner. Sidner found his reprieve in his friend Splendid. Their friendship blossomed until Splendid had to move again.
I am two-thirds done with the book. It is noticeable how the heft of the story dealt with Sidner and his struggles. What left an impression on me was how several of the characters were (mentally) unhinged. Aron, for instance, started seeing Solveig and he even established a long-distance relationship with a young woman in New Zealand he thought was Solveig. Sidner, on the other hand, was also slowly falling into the same hole as his father after he learned that the mother of his son did not want him. He felt unloved. There was also a madman who fascinated Splendid and Sidner. He was driven mad by his religious devoutness. There was also a prevalence of estrangement between parents and children, not just in the case of Aron and Sidner. Suicide, heartbreaks, and death are also recurring themes.
By now, I have already figured out how the story is going to end. The story, after all, opened in the present, with Victor, Sidner’s estranged son, returning to his hometown. He was, from what I have surmised, a popular musician or perhaps a musical conductor. His return to his hometown was to make the story come full circle, that much was palpable. I hope that the story does tie up its loose ends for I find none of the characters likable or impressionable. I find them all weighed down by their burdens that they don’t flourish or even grow as individuals. Some even felt like caricatures. The lack of female voice echoes throughout the story. The writing is fine but I am still in want of something that will totally captivate me or move me. Perhaps it is in the last 70 pages of the story? I sure hope so.
And that’s it for my First Impression Friday update. How about you fellow reader? What book do you have on your hand right now? How are you enjoying it so far? I hope you could share it in the comment box. For now, have a great weekend ahead! And as always, happy reading!