Hanna’s Daughters by Marianne Fredriksson is a Swedish book about three generations of women in one family. The story starts with Anna in more or less the present day and then tells the story of her grandmother Hanna and her mother Johanna. The story is clear about how the lives of all the women are affected by what happens to Hanna.
Hanna is born in rural Sweden, raped by her employer and bears a child at the age of 13. She becomes an outcast and is rescued socially by an older man who marries her and is father to her first born and subsequent children. Her life is harsh and the book illustrates the ups and downs of society and culture into the twentieth century. By contrast, her daughter Johanna lives in a more urban setting and her life reflects the differences in experience of people born later in the century.
By the time of Anna, whose story starts and ends the book, Hanna is dead and is remembered only as an unsmiling and dour woman. Johanna is afflicted with dementia and is also approaching the end of her life. Anna is also at a time of transition in her life and she is trying to come to terms with the history of her family.
This is a pretty straightforward book but I found it absorbing. The lives of the three women are interlinked but each shaped very much by the times they live in so I learned quite a lot about Swedish history which was all interesting and accessible. The different times and culture shaped their lives differently but so too did their past and the lives lived by their predecessors. Each woman has different interactions with the workplace, different experiences of childbirth and differing amounts of leisure time. Society expects them to behave in different ways too. All of this is portrayed as part of the story and you are continually making comparisons between the lives of the women.
The author resists the temptation to make the men in this book as all evil and they do play an important part in the story but the book is very much about the women and their lives. Through all the stories comes a large sofa which Hanna regards as luxury, Johanna as out of date and Anna starts to use again – it symbolises how things change and are seen differently by the successive generations. There are plenty of minor characters who play an important role in the book too and I liked the way that we saw the main characters in different ways through their eyes too.
I have absolutely no idea where I got this book; I am assuming that it was one I picked up on a book table or in a charity shop because it looked interesting. I have never previously heard of the author. I do recommend, however, that you seek it out.