Book Review

Yesterday’s News by Kajsa Ingemarsson

B-

Title: Yesterday's News / Små citroner gula
Author: Kajsa Ingemarsson
Publication Info: Stockholm Text Publishing AB 2012
ISBN: 978-9187173196
Genre: Chick Lit

I'm going to do two things I rarely do. One, I'm going to write a review for a book a few hours after I finished it. Two, I'm going to post a review for a book that has been appearing in digital and paper format slowly – and I hope it is available at your preferred retailer when this review goes live. I also hope this review inspires a few libraries to add this author to their collection, as I really liked this book.

This book was originally published in Sweden (and thus, in Swedish)  in 2005 under the name Små citroner gula, which means “Small yellow lemon,” if Babelfish isn't steering me wrong. It was translated into several languages, and is now available (somewhat) in the US.

Let's start with the one sad thing about this book. The US cover is so horribly, terribly, no good, very bad awful.

Old US cover: A close up of a cupcake. I have no idea why.

 

There are no cupcakes in this book that I remember. Are cupcakes a waning fad in other countries the way they are here? Little overpriced cakes from specialty shops that individually cost as much as a dozen regular old still-delicious cupcakes from the grocery store (provided your grocery store bakery doesn't use shortening to make buttercream, which mine does not, thank GOD because it tastes like pink grease) (I love frosting, particularly buttercream)(real buttercream) (anyway)?

ETA: But look! New cover! YAY! 

Book Cover

Here are some of the covers for this book elsewhere in the world. Prepare to be a little amazed at the difference:

I believe this (above) is the Swedish cover. 

Oh, well, at least the cupcake is better than this Polish cover, which I found on Kajsa Ingemarsson's website

 

That's a jarring image, though I will say that there are nipples in the book. All the people in the story have them! 

So let's talk about what's inside this book.

One of the review quotes that I found as I hunted for this book in digital format read, “On a deeper level, Ingemarsson relates with finesse and humor the little things that make everyday people heroic in their own lives. Individual happiness can look very different from one person to another, as is revealed in each of her stories.”

That's exactly what I liked about this book. I'm honestly very surprised that I liked it. It wasn't a romance. When it was pitched to me, it was called 'chick lit' but if that name brings visions of shopping, high heels and wealthy dilettantes in urban places, the only thing that fits this book is the “urban place,” as the book takes place largely in Stockholm. It's not what I think of as 'chick lit,' though it is mostly and mainly about a young single woman in Stockholm approaching a big ol' series of turns and loops in her rollercoaster. Maybe that's “young women's fiction?” I think I just threw up in my mouth a little. Sorry about that.

The beginning:

Agnes is a young woman living in Stockholm working as a head waitress when the story opens. She's being groped by her disgusting boss, a French restaurant owner, and he's pinned her against the wall of the wine cellar.

If you're expecting Swedish Fiction = violence against women, fear not. This is about the only violent thing that happens to Agnes.

She fends off Gross Ogre Boss by grabbing a bottle of wine. A Chateau Petrus, specifically, which makes him back off in a hurry because if she hits him with it, it means many thousands of Kronor of wine could go down his shirt, to say nothing of the expensive concussion.

But because Agnes is panicked and her hands are sweaty, a few thousand Kronor of Petrus ends up shattered on the floor, and Agnes ends up unemployed, without a reference in a restaurant industry that is very tightly connected, and without a way of getting another job as head waitress in a restaurant as high calibre as the last one because Gross Ogre Boss is sure to ruin her name quickly.

The book follows Agnes as she takes a slow route to becoming more of herself, standing up for herself when she needs to (AND OMG FINALLY by the time she did that I was ready to hit her with a case of Petrus one bottle at a time) and taking risks to build something for herself, rather than being at the mercy of others.

What's surprising to me is that I really enjoyed this book – this isn't the sort of novel I usually gravitate towards AT ALL. There wasn't a romance, really. It barely flickered on the “how would I list this book, genre-wise” light up board (what, you don't have one of those?) There was a multi-layered breakup with a real douchetastic asshat. There were friends going to bars, and little problems that stayed little problems, and little problems that became big problems. But there wasn't the glossy slick fantasy set in a big city that “chick lit” often suggests (GOD DAMN DO I HATE THAT TERM). It's about a young woman in a city, but she's a waitress, she struggles with money, she has a very small apartment and a minimal budget for going out – and she's from a very small town where things are changing, much to her horror.

I was totally absorbed into the story. I stayed up late reading it, I got up early and started reading before I finished making breakfast (oops). I sat in an uncomfortable chair reading because I didn't want to stop reading long enough to move.

This book is not gripping OMGWHATNEXT style telling. It's an easy read, but it's sticky in that it shows you so much of the daily life in Stockholm with Agnes that I wanted to learn more. Every time I came to the end of a chapter, I started the next one. I told Hubby at one point when he was talking to me without my hearing him that I was very happily in Sweden at that moment.

Because it's Swedish (and was a huge hit in Sweden, selling over 800,000 copies (total population of Sweden: 9,415,295, according to Wikipedia, if you're curious)) it's bound to get comparisons to the Stieg Larsson books, which were the last hugely successful books most people remember which came over from Sweden into the US translated into English.

The meandering minutiae of life in Sweden is the only thing this book has in common with Larsson's books. That and being originally published in Swedish. It'll might be compared to the Larsson series because it's Swedish and popular there, but it doesn't have the same gripping tension as the Larsson series – and it shouldn't. It's light and happier where the Larsson series is about darkness and rage and death. It also shares a bit of wish fulfillment in the main character. As Blomqvist was desired by all women and everyone wanted to boink him, Agnes has moments of wish fulfillment and grandeur — she has some amazing dreams in this book, but it was charming instead of cloying.

It's a quiet and meandering (seriously, there are scenes about her train then running to catch another train and then the train is moving and there's very little time spentwhere you're not riding along on Agnes' shoulder, but I didn't mind) story that is mostly about Agnes learning to choose for herself and not having things chosen by default. She learns to quietly define limits and not take what is handed to her.

One of the things I liked about the Larsson series, with all it's minute detail and minuscule moments was the revelations about Swedish life, what it's like in various parts of the country, and how the people view their own world. I don't profess to be an expert about Sweden just because I read a Larsson book, but I was very happy to discover more of Stockholm and the small town where Agnes grew up.

This is very much a “visiting book,” a contemporary where you go and visit with the characters and nothing horrifically cataclysmic happens to everyone. There's moments of triumph and total disappointment, and yet I liked Agnes enough to keep reading, even at times when I was more interested in her world than in her as a character. She's not the strongest personality in the bunch, and there are times she's cruel and I want to kick her. Her behavior towards her neighbor makes me want to smack her, for example. And her dunce headedness in a few chapters made me want to beat her with something in the last third of the book – but even as I was saying, “Oh, honey, no,” I understood why she was doing what she did (can you tell I'm trying not to spoil things here?) and was waiting for her to realize what I and everyone else around her already knew. So much changes around Agnes that she tries to hold on to things that are the same, even if they're not good for her. It was frustrating to watch her take a huge leap backwards in her development after she'd done so much to move forward, but I understood and empathized with why she was doing it. In the end, Agnes has to decide if she wants to be blown where the wind pushes her, or stand against it and make something for herself, risky though it may be. Having her move forward, then back, then forward again made the final scenes more satisfying for me.

Because it's not a romance, and it's not really chick lit or women's fiction, nor is it YA, it's a little difficult to classify. And a giant pink cupcake on the cover does not help. I think of it as the “visiting Sweden” book – I wasn't reading it merely for Agnes' story. While I read, I visited her, and visited Sweden, and now I want to look up Kajsa Ingemarsson's other books to go visit some more. Even with the frustrations I had with Agnes as a character, this book was more charming than I expected, and I really enjoyed reading it. I wish it were more widely available digitally and at a lower price in print, but if you see a copy, I hope you'll try it and let me know what you think. It was different, and not a romance, but completely refreshing for its uniqueness.


This book can be found at: Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    ms bookjunkie says:

    Ha! My library has several copies, I’ll have to give it a try. :) (The Finnish title for it is “the restaurant of yellow lemons.” RLY, yellow lemons? I’ve never seen any other color.)

    Also, I before E in Stieg, and O in Blomkvist.

  2. 2
    ms bookjunkie says:

    Also, about cupcakes. I’ve never ever had a fancy shmancy one, nor have I seen one “live.” I think (fancy) cupcakes are still a new and rare thing in Finland, but what do I know?

  3. 3
    mamselli says:

    I don’t know if cupcakes were ever a specialty store fad in Finland, but the food blogging sphere definitely caught on (then came macaroons, and now it’s stuff on sticks).

    Er. Anyway! I will definitely look this up, since books in Swedish are delightfully cheap here.

  4. 4
    Tam B. says:

    It’s on Amazon for me.

    What I found disturbing – I just typed “Yesterday’s news” and clicked enter – didn’t choose a section.  I got a whole page of cat litter options and the book at the bottom of the page. 

  5. 5
    Sarina says:

    The second I saw the cover of this book, I fell in love with it (the US cover, that is). But after I read what you said about no cupcakes being involved in the actual story, I realized that what I loved about it was the soft pink hues, the clear, simple font. For the feeling that alone gives me, this book has just been added to my Kindle Wishlist.

  6. 6
    LauraN says:

    That Polish cover is, ah, unsettling.  I believe I prefer the Wangsword when it comes to inanimate-objects-as-genitalia.

  7. 7
    Anna says:

    The title comes from a poem which is by Birger Sjöberg..the phrase is
    “Jag längtar till Italien, till Italiens sköna land,
    där små citroner gula, de växa uppå strand,”
    (I long to go to Italy, the lovely land of Italy
    where small yellow lemons grow upon the beach)
    if that makes any sense.

  8. 8
    Joan says:

    Wow! I am amazed at what the readers of SBTB are able to contribute to the discussions.

  9. 9
    SonomaLass says:

    That was my first thought about the title—unfortunate that it’s the same as a well-known brand of cat litter (made from old newspapers). Cat litter and cupcakes, great way to sell a book?

  10. 10
    Sveta says:

    While the book doesn’t sound like it would be my style (not sure why) it does interesting.

    http://sveta-randomblog.blogsp…

  11. 11
    De says:

    It doesn’t seem to be available through Ingram.  That’s going to hurt it.

  12. 12
    SB Sarah says:

    Oh Jeez. I’m sorry. I’ll fix that now. Thank you!

  13. 13
    SB Sarah says:

    Can I ask a dumb question? Why are books in Swedish so cheap where you are?

  14. 14
    mamselli says:

    Swedish paperbacks cost about the same in Finnish bookstores as American ones do on Amazon etc, which is cheap in comparison to most other books, I think because the Swedish government subsidizes and/or doesn’t tax books? I may be wrong about this, but Swedish paperbacks are significantly cheaper than Finnish ones and especially English-language ones.

  15. 15
    ms bookjunkie says:

    Right, the blogosphere (food or other) is usually on top of things. I wouldn’t know because I don’t follow food or cake blogging. But I have seen cupcakes mentioned—and explained—in women’s magazines somewhat recently, so it’s safe to say there is knowledge, if not market penetration (haha!).

  16. 16
    ms bookjunkie says:

    No worries. :)

  17. 17
    ms bookjunkie says:

    @SB Sarah Also, Sweden has a population of 9M, so their publishing has a larger pool of readers to sell to than Finland’s population of 5M. Ergo, larger print runs and cheaper books. Not to mention that Finland is (supposedly) bilingual, so Swedish books can be sold here without translation to people who speak Swedish as their first, second or third language. (I’ll stop there because the language politics get murky.)

    @mamselli You know about the Book Depository (for English books), right? No delivery costs, great customer service, pre-orders are cheaper than after the books are released, sometimes there are coupon codes and you can get 2-3 BD books for the price of 1 paperback at SKK… Did I mention I love Book Depo? Love!

  18. 18
    Lizwadsworth65 says:

    I actually kind of like the Big Lemon Tits cover.  It resembles really bad Eighties New Wave album cover art.

  19. 19
    SB Sarah says:

    So typically (language politics aside) folks in Finland can read/speak Swedish as well, and thus buy books in Swedish cheaper than the same book in Finnish? Wow. I had no idea – that’s really interesting. Thank you for sharing that!

  20. 20
    ms bookjunkie says:

    Theoretically, yes. In practice, YMMV… A LOT. (When my Swedish second cousins come over for a visit, we communicate in English.)(And I only read English and Finnish.)(But now my sibling-in-law speaks Swedish to my nephew so I’m picking up a few words and familiarity.)

  21. 21
    SB Sarah says:

    That’s fascinating to me. Thank you for the info! Are Finnish and Swedish similar or are they very linguistically different? For example, I speak English and some Spanish, and they’re very different linguistically, but when I tried to learn French, I kept defaulting back to Spanish because they were structurally similar. Of course, with Spanish, you pronounce every single consonant and vowel, and with French, a word might have sixteen letters and you pronounce 3 of them. :) Sorry, language nerd geeking out.

  22. 22
    cleo says:

    Glad I’m not the first one to say that.  I like it because of the reference to early 20th C Constructivistism (why, yes, I’m a design geek), but I see the new wave thing too. 

  23. 23
    ms bookjunkie says:

    Finnish is a totally separate language group from Swedish, Danish and Norwegian, which can somewhat be mutually understood. (I wouldn’t know firsthand.) Of course, Finnish has lots and lots of words that originate from Swedish because of hundreds of years of mutual history. (As in, we got to be ruled by the Swedish king and pay taxes and fight in Sweden’s army and all that fun stuff, all the while being told what to do in Swedish. The educated (finer) folk spoke Swedish, only the commoners, the uneducated riffraff spoke Finnish. Then came the Russians to free us from Swedish oppression, replacing it with the heavy yoke of Russian oppression. That’s when we began seeing—and bolstering—the Finnish language as a part of our national identity… Then, bilingual independence with language squabbles!) Okay, I’m getting off the subject here. Opinionated language and history nerd getting on a roll…

    (My particular language interests mostly point to the Romance group—in a very dilettante manner. I think Romanian and Portuguese are the only ones I haven’t sampled.)

    (Also, as I found this with very little digging, here’s a comic that explains (or muddles further…) the Nordic languages: http://satwcomic.com/what-did-… and here’s a geography joke/clarifier: http://satwcomic.com/geography…

    And I need to stop commenting now… :D

  24. 24
    ms bookjunkie says:

    Here’s a working link to the geography joke: http://satwcomic.com/geography…

  25. 25
    Saturngrl says:

    My phone won’t show me replies, so I hope I am not duplicating effort, here.  What I learned reom a Finniah friend is that Finnish is not like…well, almost any other language on earth.  (It has one relative…Hungarian?)

     

  26. 26
    Saturngrl says:

    I found it much easier to read in Swedish than to speak it. Of course, that may be because I was in Sweden, and most TV and movies were in English with subtitles. 

  27. 27
    Mikaela Lind says:

    … Woot! A swedish book. And one I have read too.  Once. Oh, I enjoyed the story. I got a bit miffed when my brand new paperback lost the last 5 pages.  And since we were on holiday in the Mediterrean I couldn’t return it.

  28. 28
    Jenyfer says:

    I love books like this, but they are hard to classify in a genre short of “fiction”.

  29. 29
    Jenyfer says:

    I *write* books like this and find them difficult to classify, especially knowing that people find “chick lit” an off putting label

  30. 30
    Karol Anglik says:

    Zolte Cytrynki is one of the best titles I have ever read so maybe you will find it interesting too.

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