Johanna Holmström


“Asphalt angels”

Schildts & Söderströms (2013), 293 p.

Rights: Salomonsson Agency

Johanna Holmström: Asphalt angelsA dramatic young adult novel with Helsinki street cred: two sisters in the midst of the multicultural reality which after the 1980s has also reached Finland. Johanna Holmström’s novel Asphalt angels follows the sisters Samira and Leila during a few crucial years that are marked by their parents’ separation. An alternative title for one side of the story could be My Mom the fanatic: the conversion of the girls’ ethnically Finnish mother to Islam and her increasingly strict interpretation of the doctrine has a paradoxical effect, driving their father, a bus driver of North African background, to take to his heels, and bringing the family to the point of break-up. Despite the mother’s religious zeal her daughters refuse to accept the hijab and “medieval” female submission. The book raises the question of  who poses the greater danger to a young, dark-skinned woman: the racist skinheads on the street or the members of the Islamic religious community, who want to watch the girls’ every step, lock them up in arranged marriages, and possibly even kill a daughter who brings “shame” on the family?

But also the sisters’ secular reality – the world of school, shopping, Britney Spears fans – is a jungle, of conflicting demands, rife with bullying. Their designer clothes must not be last season’s, and racist epithets like “nig-nog” are as common a term of abuse in the school corridors as the word “whore”. There “nig-nog whores” easily qualify as the lowest of the low.

With dramatic nerve, drastic realism and sharply detailed expert knowledge – which doesn’t exclude a finely-tuned sense of humour – Johanna Holmström’s novel describes this complex teenage world located amidst the cross-pressure between two different cultures. Friendship and love are not easy to find on these terms, yet Asphalt angels is very much about friendship, confidence, maturity and love.

Trygve Söderling, translated by David McDuff