Astrid and Veronika
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With extraordinary emotional power, Linda Olsson’s stunningly well-crafted debut novel recounts the unusual and unexpected friendship that develops between two women. Veronika, a young writer from New Zealand, rents a house in a small Swedish village as she tries to come to terms with a recent tragedy while also finishing a novel. Her arrival is silently observed by Astrid, an older, reclusive neighbor who slowly becomes a presence in Veronika’s life, offering comfort in the form of companionship and lovingly prepared home-cooked meals. Set against a haunting Swedish landscape, Astrid & Veronika is a lyrical and meditative novel of love and loss, and a story that will remain with readers long after the characters’ secrets are revealed.
weighed it in her hand for a moment, hesitating. Then she stood and went downstairs again. She found a pen in the kitchen and opened the book on the table. ‘To Astrid, my neighbour,’ she wrote, then underneath, her signature. She turned the page and looked at the first paragraph. The small rowing boat tipped to the side as he pushed it afloat and stepped inside. We were on our way. She remembered the awe at the undertaking. Moving from the small streams and ponds of poetry and short stories into
pillars, there were now mysterious, dimly lit alleys with paper lanterns swaying lightly in front of half-open doors. The air smelled of cooking; we passed laughing young couples. At the main crossing in Shibuya we stopped and allowed the throng of people to flow past. Bodies drifted by, seamlessly, nobody bumping into anybody else, nobody even brushing against us. We walked on, surrounded on all sides by moving people. Faces, mouths that talked, laughed, exhaled cigarette smoke. Hands
me,’ Veronika said, and Astrid did as she was told. ‘Now, lean on my arm. I will hold my arm under your shoulders while you stretch out your legs.’ The old woman slowly leaned back until she was resting on Veronika’s arm. ‘Spread your arms, look at the sky. Let the water carry you. And breathe.’ And slowly, through the surface in front of Astrid, the tip of her toes emerged, like pale mushrooms growing on the still surface. ‘Ah,’ she said, nothing more. When the old woman seemed comfortable and
four candles glowed on the snow. ‘There was love. I think there must have been love,’ she said. ‘I think it’s when you become convinced that it’s been lost that sometimes it turns into its opposite. We must remember that our love is inside us. Always.’ She felt in her pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. She blew her nose. Veronika couldn’t tell whether she was crying, or whether it was just the chilly air that brought tears to the old woman’s eyes. They turned and walked over to the wall.
I have chosen the space, and it is paid for. I needed to make sure I would have my own space there, you see,’ Astrid had said when they passed the church one day. And here it was, Astrid’s space. A small granite plaque lying flat on the ground, no proper headstone. Just her name, and the words: . . . nu vill jag sjunga dig milda sånger. Beside it lay another plaque, the same size and colour, but aged, and with the name Sara only just legible underneath moss and lichen. Veronika reached into