Saturday, July 31, 2010

Swedish for Beginners by Susanne O'Leary

Maud, a young Irishwoman goes to Sweden to find out about her late mother, the beautiful Eleonore. She discovers not only a whole new family but also unearths some family skeletons and the shocking truth about her own identity. The mysterious Lukas is linked both to Eleonore and Maud's grandmother Julia. Set in Ireland, Sweden and Australia, this is a moving family saga that deals with identity, grief and loss
If you find yourself on an island in the Stockholm archipelago on a beautiful summer's morning and wander down the path to the rocks, well, who wouldn't slip out of ther pj's and swim in the cool, blue water, only accompanied by a fish or two and a couple of seagulls? And then to lie on a smooth, warm rock and dry off in the sun... Its the most delicious thing.
Imogen's Review
The sudden loss of her father signals the start of a journey of self-discovery for Maud, a 30-year-old woman from Ireland. She discovers her Swedish roots, when she realized that her mother, who passed when Maud was only four, was from Stockholm. Maud travels to Sweden to meet with the extended Swedish family that has been kept secret from her all these years by her father.
Susanne O'Leary unravels Maud's journey in a captivating way, with the reader immediately drawn into Maud. One feels her loneliness and struggles as she tries to deal with her new heritage and her new relationships. O'Leary's characters are fascinating and well fleshed. On a personal note, I was very touched by this story on several levels. I related to Eleonore (Maud's mother), in how she had uprooted from her family and moved to a new country, and also with Maud and her coming to terms with her mother's death and trying to getting to know her posthumously.
I would highly recommend this charming story to anyone who enjoys a light, relaxing read.
About the Author
Susanne O'Leary was born in Stockholm, Sweden. At the age of twenty, she married an Irish diplomat, which resulted in a globe- trotting life for many years. She has lived in a number of different countries, such as Sweden, Australia, Ireland, France, Belgium and Holland.
Susanne started writing in 1998, when she used her training as fitness teacher to write two fitness and health books for women. Then someone suggested she write a novel based on her experiences as the wife of a diplomat and her first novel, Diplomatic Incidents was published in 2001 by Blackstaff Press. A further 'diplomatic' novel followed in 2003, European Affairs, also published by Blackstaff Press.
While on a skiing holiday in the French Alps, Susanne had the idea to write Fresh Powder, which was published in 2006 by New Island, followed by Finding Margo, also published by New Island.
Susanne's husband left the diplomatic service a few years ago and they now live south of Dublin in a beautiful rural setting, very inspirational for writing.
All of Susanne's previous novels are set in France, one of her favourite countries and it wasn't until recently that she decided to set a story in her native Sweden. Writing Swedish for Beginners was a very emotional journey for her, as it deals with her own 'identity crisis'; living in one country but having my roots in another. Many of the heroine's feelings of confusion and rootlessness are Susanne's own but maybe a little less dramatic!

Q&A with Susanne O'Leary
Who/what was the inspiration for the story?
I got the idea for the story when I was on a visit to Stockholm. As I prepared to go back to Ireland, I felt leaving was such a huge wrench, which gets stronger each time I go back. So I asked myself the question: where is really 'home' for me? Where do I belong? Where are my roots? I decided to write a novel on this theme and, in a way, answer my own question. During this time, my mother gave me all the letters I had written to her when I was on a posting to Australia. The homesickness expressed in those letters really touched my heart and they added the element I needed for the story. The novel then took another turn, dealing with grief and death, which is harder to cope with when you live in another country. I also wanted to describe Sweden from the point of view of a stranger.
Who can you see playing Maud, Lukas, Barbara and Anders in a movie adaptation?
I think Gwyneth Paltrow would be wonderful as Maud and Alexander SkarsgÄrd (although he is a little young for the part) as Lukas. Maggie Gyllenhaal might be great as Barbara and Colin Farrel as Anders.
Will there be a sequel?
Many readers have asked me to write a sequel. But I don't see this happening as I feel the story is quite complete, despite leaving the ending kind of 'open'.
What kind of music do you enjoy?
I'm an omnivore when it comes to music. It all depends on my mood. I love Mozart, any of his piano concertos are fantastic to listen to while I write. But I also love opera (Cosi fan Tutte, The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute), country and western, jazz, blues, rock and pop. If I'm in the throes of writing a romantic scene, I often put on some Frank Sinatra.
What’s your favorite book? Your favorite movie?
There is not any one book or any one movie. But recently, I have read all of Stieg Larsson's (in Swedish) and a novel called 'American Wife' by Curtis Sittenfeld, which I really enjoyed. As for movies, the one that stick in my mind at the moment, is 'Mona Lisa Smile', which I saw quite recently. I also loved 'School of Rock' for the humor and music.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you choose to live?
Stockholm, I think. Paris would come a close second. I spent four years there and loved it. I love Ireland too but not all the time.
High heels or flats?
Flats for everyday, because I'm tall and walk a lot. Heels for dressing up (love them).
Team Edward, Team Jacob or Team Eric?
Eric! Because of Alexander...
What do you enjoy doing apart from writing?
I love horse riding and hillwalking. I live in the best counry for both. Also love skiing and swimming, reading and cooking.
Can you tell us about your current projects?
I have just completed a co-written detective story. It's been great fun working with another writer and I am keeping my fingers crossed publishers out there will like it. If they do, we'll defintively write a sequel to that one and maybe more. Those characters are still so alive in my mind.



Ronnell D. Porter said...

Great review, Imogen! I like how this one was a bit fleshed out :)

Imogen Rose said...

Thank you, Ronnell. I am trying to improve my review writing. :)

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