I just found this book review in my notes, having written it in January 2008.
Let the Northern Lights Erase your Name
I read a short description about this book in the Seattle Times a day before I left for Oregon, where my first stop was at Powell’s Books in Portland, and this was the one new book I ended up buying there. Normally I don’t buy new books at full price from a used bookstore filled with fantastic bargains, but this was the one exception. And all because I knew that the book’s heroine, Clarissa, would travel to Lapland which is one of my favourite places on earth. I think mostly I was curious to see how an American writer living in California would describe this part of the world. After about twenty minutes into the book, I realized that I may as well make myself comfortable on the sofa with a big cup of coffee because I would be there until the book was finished. This was only a couple of hours, since it’s a very slim volume (226 pages)
When Clarissa’s father dies, she finds out that he wasn’t her biological father after all, and in her rage and confusion, she sets off for Finnish and Norwegian Lapland to find her family – her real father, and then her mother who had abandoned the family when Clarissa was a teenager.
For me it was a story about a search for a sense of belonging when you feel that you don’t have anybody anymore. She’s very perseverant in her search, and it’s heartbreaking to see her get her hopes up over and over, only to have nothing be as it first seems. The story is ensnaring but the writing is spare, which, is fitting. Lapland is spare too. There is nothing extraneous there. No loud, bright details to distract.
At the end I found myself both irritated yet satisfied. Irritated with Clarissa’s decisions at the end of the book, yet satisfied, because this was an aspect of human behaviour that is probably very common and I could understand why she would do what she did. As an egoistical reader, who is looking out for her own reading pleasure and viewing Clarissa’s life as a combination of letters on a page, I wish she would be more adventurous. But that’s ok – sometimes I like it when a book doesn’t do what I want it to because it made me think about it, to see another option.
However, somebody should have spell-checked the Finnish words...Rovaniemi was spelled incorrectly each and every time, except on the map at the front of the book!