Schildts & Söderströms (2012), 389 p.
Rights: Elina Ahlbäck Agency, www.ahlbackagency.com
This novel for young adults is set in the land of Accadia, located in the same mythical universe as Turtschaninoff’s earlier novel Arra. The Accadians are nomads – with traits of the ancient indigenous peoples of Mongolia and North America – who live close to nature, in intimate contact with the spirit world. Maria Turtschaninoff cleverly uses this exotic milieu to reflect current concerns such as gender stereotypes and the relation of human beings to nature. Against an evocative backdrop of life under harsh natural conditions, she depicts the childhood and adolescence of a young girl, Anaché, in a restricted society where men have all the power and abuse it. As a child – and as the daughter of the tribal chief – Anaché is allowed to be wild and free. She is permitted to romp around on the steppe, forever on the heels of her admired brother Huor, who secretly teaches her to hunt and ride. But when she has passed the Accadians’ initiation into womanhood, her freedom is abruptly taken away from her and she is suddenly left to live in the shadow of her tyrannical father and the husband he has chosen for her. Anaché refuses to acquiesce in her fate and becomes embroiled in a struggle for power that involves not only herself but also her entire people.
Turtschaninoff’s fantasy books are utopian and emancipatory. Their main characters are vulnerable girls who are also strong, eccentrics with a special talent that makes them indomitable survivors. Thanks to her ability to conduct shamanic journeys, something that only men are supposed to be able to do, Anaché fulfils her own prophecy: to go where she is not allowed to go and to do what is considered impossible for a woman in her world. The task involves nothing less than uniting her people in mutual respect for women and men, and restoring the balance of nature that has been upset by the tribe’s ambitious holy man through their contempt for women. But the road is long and hard, and it has its price. The author maintains the book’s high voltage by means of subtle twists in the plot, which readers should be allowed to discover for themselves in order to reach the point where the pieces of the prophecy’s puzzle fall elegantly into place.
In her writing Maria Turtschaninoff moves freely among the fantasy genre’s many sub-categories. Some of her books build on the contact between our own world and an exotic, magical one, as in De ännu inte valda (‘The not yet chosen’), where two children travel to the land of the Muses, and in Underfors, an urban fantasy portrayal of the Finnish capital, where the main character literally stumbles into a strange, parallel Helsinki. But Turtschaninoff also writes narratives like Arra and Anaché, where richly detailed mythical worlds, with their own geography, social structure and history, are able to expand.
The novel’s surging epic flow entices the reader to empathize with Anaché’s setbacks and triumphs. Its tone is completely in tune with the surroundings it portrays: both serious and slightly old-fashioned. Turtschaninoff is at ease with her own style. Like any good storyteller, she imparts credibility to her characters and her fantasy world. The descriptions of everyday life in a world to which the reader is so unaccustomed have an enjoyably sensuous quality: the heat of a “sweat-gerr” (an impromptu sauna) or the taste of sweet telogel berries and salty brick tea remain long after reading.
Maria Lassén-Seger, translated by David McDuff