Thursday, 3 August 2017

Book Review: The Iron Age by Arja Kajermo.

A young girl commences the story of her harsh childhood in 1950s Finland. Living in poverty, the girl and her family battle through extreme weather and with the bare essentials. They have no electricity, wear hand-me-down clothes and are on the receiving end of the sharp tongue and temper of their veteran father. Local folklore and legend add a new dimension to the children's lives and they hover halfway between fear and hope. The family are forced to leave their small holding, when they are disinherited.  "Mother and the baby and me were put on the train. Father went in the hired lorry from the village with Tuomas and Tapio, two cows and three piglets." The boys are bullied in school and a disastrous night sees their new life abruptly halted. Once again the family move, this time to Sweden, leaving one child behind. "a country that had been at peace for well over a hundred years, where nobody knew anyone who had been in a war, where people look prosperous and healthy, where people seemed at ease with themselves and at peace with the world". For a girl who is coming-of-age, this brings temporary hope. But it is short-lived: "But we brought our war with us. The shrapnel that had gone into Father's legs, in 1944 in the painful retreat when the war was lost, had somehow worked its way into his children. Each one of us carried a shard of that iron in our hearts."

As with all immigrants, school is problematic. Language; culture; attitudes. The girl soon tires of her incomprehensible surroundings. "We were now what Mother called ummikko. We were people who could only speak our own language and we could not understand the language around us. And the people around us could not understand us. It was a terrible fate to be ummikko. It was like being deaf and dumb Mother said." She misses the brother they have left behind and in an act of defiance, chooses to stop speaking, instead, escaping into the world of books. From fairytales to Enid Blyton; Pippi Longstocking to The Little Mermaid; Robinson Crusoe to Anna Karinina. "I did not just read the books. I lived the stories in the books."

This is a small, yet perfectly formed examination of a child with longing. Longing for love and respect; for equality and acceptance; for a brighter future. She is sharp and sassy beyond her years and despite her abusive upbringing, she continues to look toward the light. She uses her imagination to escape the realities of her situation and her story is inspiring, heartwarming and full of magical release. There are stunning illustrations (by Susanna Kajermo Torner) dotted throughout the book, depicting the thoughts of the un-named girl and they are a delightful bonus. An abrupt ending leaves the reader gasping for more but also signifies the reaching of age. The Iron Age is a captivating read. Short in length but loaded with depth. It is at times difficult, but the young narrator lifts the tale to its inspiring stature. A fine debut from a distinctive new literary voice.


ARJA KAJERMO has contributed cartoons to the feminist publisher Attic Press and occasionally to the Sunday Press, The Irish Times, Image magazine, Magill and others. Her strip Dublin Four ran in the Sunday Tribune. She now draws the strip Tuula in the Sunday edition of a Swedish daily newspaper. In 2014 she was shortlisted for the prestigious Davy Byrnes Award for her short story The Iron Age,upon which this novel is based. Arja lives in Dublin.

The Iron Age is published by Tramp Press and is available in PB and ebook format. You can order your copy, with Free Worldwide Postage, HERE. The ebook can be ordered via amazon link below:

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