Review of The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by Nathanial Ian Miller
"I’d long since learned that if you plan to survive in the Arctic, you must choose one of two paths: emulate the bear...by holding fast to yourself as the last reliable chunk of ice.... Or choose the fox instead: ...learn fast. Dig a hole and cling tightly to those who can stand you."
"For now, take stock of yourself. This is the chance you waxed about so long ago. Listen for the voice that speaks when all others go silent. Be alone--be entirely alone. I am not saying you will find anything of worth there--certainly no cosmic truth--but maybe you will begin to feel as pared down, efficient and clean as a freshly whittled stick."
It's 1916, and Sven Ormson has left the bustle of his life in Stockholm for solitude and quiet in the Arctic. In his self-banishment in remote Svalbard, his only company is the haunting, beautiful Northern Lights.
“…Fate is empty. Any Arctic explorer or common sailor can tell you this. So you must make the best choices you can, knowing they may lead you astray, but proceeding boldly lest your life become one long monotonous drift between death and your last interesting choice.”
Letters from family and friends get him through multiple winters--until an unexpected visitor changes everything, opens up Sven's world, and shows him a life and a future he could never have imagined or hoped for.
The pacing of The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven is measured, as befits a story that is largely about daily life in the unforgiving, brutal cold and wild. There's a minor, secondhand, yet powerful focus on the brutality and destruction of war, but also significant attention to unspoken bonds, deep and unorthodox friendships, makeshift families, legendary dogs, and strong emotional ties to nature and the rhythms of the seasons.
“Dogs are like children." He gazed down at Skuhl. "Terrible beasts, universally reviled, until you find a good one. This is a good one. It has spirit.”
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The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven is Nathanial Ian Miller's first novel.
If you like books set in the unforgiving cold, you might also like the books on the Greedy Reading List Six Books with Cold, Wintry Settings to Read by the Fire.