The author of the sleeper hit Hanna's Daughters, Marianne Fredriksson scores again across the Atlantic with another story of family, history, elision and lies. The story of two families brought together by the unlikely friendship between two young boys during World War II, Simon's Family revisits Fredriksson's familiar themes of strained family ties and the possibilities of reconciliation.
The bookish only child of a Swedish laborer and his wife, Simon Larsson loves his mother and father. When he becomes the first in their family to continue his education past primary school, he meets a lonely, picked-on Jewish boy named Isak Lentov. He defends the boy against cruel classmates, and the two quickly develop a lasting friendship despite their differing backgrounds. Simon's father may be a common laborer, and Isak's father may be a well-to-do businessman, but the two harbor a common fear and loathing of Hitler and his Nazis. When Simon's father is called to war and Isak's distant mother has a mental breakdown, the boys seek solace with the other's remaining parent.
The war ends, but the family remains. The tug-of-war between children and their parents continues to play out among the Larssons and the Lentovs. An identity-leveling revelation will strain Simon's bond with his parents, a bond that will be either strengthened or severed as the young man comes to terms with the truth of who he is.
At times painfully straightforward about the love and hate that can exist simultaneously in a child for his parents, Simon's Family is sure to ring true with most readers. Both happy and unhappy in their own particular ways, the characters in Fredriksson's latest novel take us another few steps in our journey to understand, or at least know, the human condition.