Title: When the Snow Fell
Author: Henning Mankell
Translated: From Swedish by Laurie Thompson
ISBN: 9780385734974
Pages: 247 pages
Publisher/Date: Delacorte Press, c2007. (Originally published and copyright in 1996)

He jumped when the clock started striking twelve. It sounded much louder when he was there in the darkness, all alone.
Now it was time. The last stroke had died away.
Joel closed his eyes tightly. And concentrated hard on his resolutions:
I hereby promise faithfully to live to be a hundred. In order to do that, I must toughen up. I shall start on that this year. I shall learn how to tolerate both cold and heat.[…]
During the year to come I shall find a solution to Samuel’s big problem, which is also my big problem. The fact that we never move away from this place. That he doesn’t become a sailor again. Before this year is over, I shall have seen the sea for the first time. [..]
I shall see a naked woman. At some point this coming year. (32)

Thirteen year old Joel Gustafson lives in a tiny town in Sweeden whose population shrinks every year. Every year, not on New Year’s Eve but after the first snow fall, Joel makes resolutions, and this year he’s made three. His method of fulfilling them however isn’t working out very well. Instead of sleeping outside trying to strengthen himself up, he finds himself chasing after his alcoholic father who just got dumped by his girlfriend. Instead of seeing the sea, all he’s seeing is snow. And instead of seeing a naked woman, he’s getting laughed at by his classmates for getting caught trying to practice kissing. A heroic effort on his part during a snow storm changes everything, and allows him to accomplish at least one of his resolutions before the actual New Year.

The book is very slowly paced, and has an unusual rythym to it. Henning Makell grabs readers’ attentions with Joel’s resolutions (and I like the idea of making them during the first snow fall, when everything is crisp and clean). The action fades however, with the focus turning to Joel’s internal rage regarding his neighbors, teachers, and classmates. Joel leads a hard life, with an inattentive father, and absent mother, and no friends, and no real coping techniques. It is the ending that brings the book some action after all this internal dialogue, but it is hard to understand the reason events work out the way they eventually end. For action-driven plot fans like myself, the ending is unrealistic and disheartening as his heroic act (saving a man during a snow storm) ends with the man’s death and the inevitable “Life’s not fair”.

This book is a “companion novel” to A Bridge to the Stars and Shadows in the Twilight.

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