I’ve just finished reading Olivier Truc‘s astonishing Nordic thriller, Forty Days Without Shadow. This novel, which has won 17 international awards, is set in the Arctic region of Sápmi, formerly (and sometimes derogatorily) known as Lapland. The Sami are an ancient people with their own language, religion, myths and culture. They were oppressed mightily by Christian Swedes, Norwegians, and Finnish colonizers, who wanted their land for its rich mineral reserves, but also wanted to tear the Sami away from their own culture and turn them into Scandinavians.
The title of the book refers to the forty days of the year above the Arctic circle where the sun doesn’t rise at all – instead, the land is in perpetual darkness. The events of the novel begin on the first day after this time period, where the sun rises for about twenty minutes in the day. It’s a great image and an important symbol of the police thriller’s theme of good against bad, light against dark. In this way the novel rises above the usual examples of the genre and establishes itself as literature that recognizes the importance of beauty, nature, and morality as central to all life on this planet.
The novel itself is about Klemet Nango and Nina Nansen of the Reindeer Police (it’s a real thing), who investigate the brutal murder of a reindeer herder, and uncover the dark side of a country that is normally seen as the pinnacle of human society. Not only is the story compelling, but you can see the infinite amounts of research that went into the book. Truc went into Sápmi many times for his work as a journalist and also made a documentary film about the Reindeer Police. He went out on patrol with them, slept in their cabins with them, suffered the extreme cold and was entranced by the Northern Lights. His respect and love for this land and its indigenous people shines through on every page.
We were lucky enough to have Olivier with us in Karachi back in February. He completed a six week residency, researching the history of the Dutch traders who came to Sindh in the 17th century for a new novel he’s working on. He also attended the Karachi Literature Festival, although in my opinion the organizers didn’t really know what a fantastic opportunity they had to talk to Truc about his work, and wasted him by putting him on Urdu-language panels. More than once he looked as though he didn’t know what to make of being on a stage with writers who he couldn’t understand. (If you ever needed to know what “WTF” looked like as a facial expression…) But I would love to see a panel with him and Omar Shahid, our own renowned author of police thrillers (The Prisoner, The Spinner’s Tale, and the upcoming The Party Worker).
Truc has published another novel in the Nordic series, called Le Détroit du Loup (The Strait of the Wolf) and his new novel La Montagne Rouge (The Red Mountain) comes out in October. I highly recommend 40 Days without Shadow not just as a thriller, but as a fascinating insight into a land that couldn’t be more opposite than my own. Here’s a short video about the Sami, to entice you into finding out more.