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Jagannath: Stories
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2012
Jagannath is a collection of 13 short stories of different lengths, all containing at least a hint of the imaginary, the unreal, and the weird, as allegories of alienation, otherness, and the taboo, but also as archetypal symbols in their own right.

The collection opens with Beatrice, a story about the many forms love can take, but how similar the pain is when that love goes unrequited. It's also a story about birth and the love between parents and children.

In Tidbeck's stories the process of birth and the love between parents and children is often difficult and painful, but always strong and touching, as in the sad Some Letters for Ove Lindström, the beautiful Cloudberry Jam, the darkly opulent Aunts, and the fantastic title story, Jagannath, about a living mothership/hive and its relationship to the offspring that is living inside their mother.

Another theme is the mysterious, the hidden, and the uncanny, arriving in the form of strange creatures or events, as in the stories of Miss Nyberg and I, Herr Cederberg, Who Is Arvid Pekon, and in particular, Pyret. The latter being an imaginary research article and report about a mysterious shapeshifting creature which seems to evolve into something increasingly human over time as it becomes more and more familiar with people and our way of life.

Other stories draw from themes encountered elsewhere in modern speculative literature, such as Rebecka, which is about life, ethics and religion in a world after the Second Coming, and Augusta Prima, which is set in a timeless and dream-like baroque world on the edge of ours.

Most of the stories in Jagannath are unmistakably Swedish and Scandinavian, the landscapes, the settings, the celebrations and holidays, the dishes that are served, the characters' daily habits, and the way they communicate with and relate to one another. Tidbeck also uses this to make sly observations about life in Scandinavia, and by extension, life in the Western world ("The arrival of rationalism changed the face of Scandinavian faith and superstition in a way Christianity had not." "Despite the well-known fact that it's the worst time possible, everyone who needs to speak to a governmental agency calls on Monday morning."), as well as questioning our identities and ways of interaction.

It is therefore only natural that Tidbeck's imaginary creatures seem to have been grown from the Swedish landscape and an ancient pedigree of Swedish mythology, folk tales and literature, reminding me of both the Scandinavian tales of the nisse, "the subterranean people", and the imaginary creatures of Swedish-Finnish writer Tove Jansson.

I enjoyed this collection a lot, in particular because of its the Swedish and Scandinavian flavor. It's great to see this part of the world communicated in English and with such imaginative fictions and creatures. This is particularly true for the longest and perhaps the most personal of all the stories, Reindeer Mountain, and the easily recognizable landscape in Brita's Holiday Village.

My three favorite stories are nevertheless not set in any place in our world, but in worlds adjacent to ours; the funny and melancholic Augusta Prima, the fantastically baroque Aunts and the organically futuristic Jagannath (not the same as, but perhaps inspired by, the Hindu/Buddhist Jagannath deity).
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2012
Some of these stories really clicked with me, while many other elicited only a 'meh'. The best fused Scandinavian folklore with the trials and tribulations of modernity, and evoked a haunting sense of lack-of-place and the need to belong. Most of these involved humans coming to terms with brushes (or relations) with the supernatural--familial connections to faeries (or other beings) and the like. But one of my favorites, Augusta Prima, turned the tables, and described the bizarre and sadistic faery court untouched by the conventional rules of time and space, where a brush with human knowledge (the knowledge of the existence of time) leads to isolation and ostracism. This one has hints of A Midsummer Night's Dream gone horribly awry, mixed with the biblical references to being cast out of the garden, along with a bit of the Lovecraft's perspective from The Call of Cthulu: "The most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents" etc.

Altogether certainly worth a read. Some of these stories will likely stick with you (and those that you find mediocre you'll rapidly forget, so no harm done).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2012
"Jagannath"--the first English collection from Swedish author Karin Tidbeck--is the most startlingly original and hauntingly beautiful book I've read in the last few years. It's tempting to describe Ms. Tidbeck's ideas and language in (no doubt clichéd) Nordic terms: long winter twilight and crisp clear lines, a no-nonsense modernism and a fey forest folklore. But these stories come from some realm far more strange and haunted.
It's difficult--and probably useless--to assign these stories to any particular genre or style. There are elements of Borges's academic literary fantasies and of García Márquez'a folkloric Magic Realism, of a darkly twisted Lewis Carroll and a wryly modest Kafka. And over all there is a timelessness, originality, and clarity of language that will appeal to readers of fantastic and literary fiction alike. It's the sort of book you will reread (I've been through it twice already) and lend to (or buy for) friends.
The book is getting rave reviews from sites like NPR and Publisher's Weekly and from authors like Ursula K. Le Guin, China Miéville, and Elizabeth Hand. I'm betting it will be in the running for a slew of awards in the coming year.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 30, 2012
Where do they keep coming from? Over the last handful of weeks I've read Near + Far by Cat Rambo, At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson, and Errantry: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand--three new collections of short stories, all from small presses, all by female authors, and all superb. And then, just when I think it can't get any better, along comes Karin Tidbeck's debut collection Jagannath, which may just be the best one of the bunch. If you take into account that this is Tidbeck's debut collection in English and that it was translated from Swedish to English by the author herself, it's hard not to be awed by the sheer level of talent on display here.

Karin Tidbeck had been writing and publishing short stories in Swedish for several years when, given the relatively small number of venues for short speculative fiction in her homeland, she decided to set her sights on the English language markets. She applied for and was accepted into the prestigious Clarion Writers Workshop, translated some of her own stories into English, and lo and behold, slowly her name started popping up in English language publications. The first time I spotted her was in last year's inaugural issue of Unstuck Annual (which I reviewed for Tor.com here) with the quirky, tender story "Cloudberry Jam", but I freely confess that, at that time, I had no idea yet of what she was really capable of. Thanks to Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's Cheeky Frawg imprint, we now have a lovely, slim volume of Karin Tidbeck's stunning short fiction.

In her introduction to this collection, Elizabeth Hand writes that it's "rare, almost unheard of, to encounter an author so extraordinarily gifted she appears to have sprung full-blown into the literary world, like Athena from the head of Zeus." That's absolutely spot-on: in the thirteen stories in her English language debut, Karin Tidbeck consistently displays staggering levels of originality, skill and confidence. Her range is amazing. I haven't been this excited about discovering a new short story author since a good friend practically forced me to read Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others.

Speaking of range: one of the most impressive qualities of Jagannath is its diversity. In terms of style, these stories range from gentle magical realism to somewhat terrifying Nordic-tinged mythical fantasy, from folk tale to mind-bending science fiction, from a faux non-fiction text about a mythological creature to something that reads like a collaboration between Franz Kafka and Philip K. Dick. Some of these stories operate in the realm of the deeply personal, focusing on melancholy, dreamy family memories, while others are so alien that even the concept of family as we know it is no longer recognizable.

Despite this diversity, there's a strong sense of unity and cohesiveness to this collection, thanks to the common thread of Karin Tidbeck's visionary imagination and subtle, incisive prose. Throughout this collection's wild spectrum of forms and ideas, Karin Tidbeck's writing simply shines. She has mastered the art of keeping things simple on the surface, letting the story speak for itself, and subtly goading the reader into investigating what's been left unsaid. She has the nifty ability to introduce something utterly bizarre early on so the reader takes it more or less for granted, and then build outwards from that point.

Given the emotional and conceptual richness of these stories, it would have been all too easy to overwrite them, but instead Tidbeck maintains an impressive discipline when it comes to writing economically. These stories are tight; not a word is wasted. Even more admirable is that the resulting clarity of expression never comes across as cold. Instead, Tidbeck's writing is frequently moving, tender, occasionally even funny. Her prose is an amazing balancing act that's all the more impressive coming from a debut author.

And again, let's not forget: Tidbeck isn't even writing in her first language here. In Jagannath's Afterword, she writes eloquently about how difficult it is to transmit the complete range of meanings and connotations of certain Swedish words and expressions into English. Her translation does occasionally result in a slightly awkward turn of phrase, but this just serves to emphasize the strangeness of these stories and the difficulty of contorting your mind and imagination into a new language. I once started learning Spanish because I wanted to be able to read Julio Cortázar's short stories in the original language, and as crazy as it may sound, Jagannath makes me itch to learn some Swedish.

This collection is full of characters and ideas that will remain with you for a long time, from the sad, confused man who falls in love with a miniature airship (at one point plaintively thinking "How he wanted to climb into her little gondola") to the poor, abused woman who will go to any length to draw the attention of the Lord and be relieved of her suffering; from the drab government employee running the most surreal switchboard ever to the elegant, otherworldly courtier who accidentally introduces time into the floating, timeless lands beyond the veil....

It's hard to pick favorites from this incredible lineup of stories, because new connections and shared themes reveal themselves upon re-reading. Just the way Tidbeck explores the idea of parenthood from story to story and from setting to setting is both wonderfully inventive and, at times, somewhat disturbing. The way these stories continue to reveal new layers and levels of impact makes up a lot for what I would consider the collection's only real weakness: it's too short. This is a masterful debut, and it's been a long time since I've been this impressed with a short story collection, but weighing in at just under 150 pages I simply wanted more. I wanted more to such an extent that I ended up reading Jagannath twice, back to back, and then almost swung right back around for a third read-through. I'll take quality over quantity any day, but still: please send more stories soon, Karin.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2014
Karin Tidbeck's got something crazy going on and I am just so glad that she exists. This book of 13 short stories is a quick, baffling, and exciting read. They were translated from Swedish to English and didn't manage to lose any of their Scandinavian weirdness. They're often dark, often whimsical, and always beautifully written and imagined. I still can't stop thinking about the unique plots and characters that inhabited Tidbeck's worlds, whether I fully understood them or not.

One of my favorites is "Brita's Holiday Village", which you can read here. Another is "Pyret" which is a fascinating story presented like a research essay. It's about a creature that shape shifts to hide among herd animals like cows and eventually, in the case of one village that's mentioned, people. It changes from historical to present-time when she visits the old mostly abandoned village to see if there are any pyrets still there. What she finds is disturbing, it almost feels like horror. The ending is so poignant, it took my breath away. All of her stories had that kind of effect on me.

A story that shows off just how bizarre these stories can get is "Aunts." It's one of, if I remember correctly, two stories that are set in a kind of antiquated, royal, Alice in Wonderland kind of world. There are a set of three women whose sole purpose in life is to eat. A lot. So much so that they can't move. They're brought food in this little dome in an orchard until they actually burst. Once that whole mess is cleaned up, typically a new tiny aunt is clinging to the old one's heart. The story explores what happens when there isn't a tiny aunt waiting inside. Going to be honest, I had no idea what was going on, but it was certainly interesting and disturbing.

This hardly scratches the surface of the stories. There are people who are in love with machines, human bodies run like air ships by tinier people inside (sort of), world changing telemarketing, alternate dimensions, creature creation, fights with god, and more. If you're willing to open your mind for some really fantastical, almost mythical stories, Karen Tidbeck is an incredible writer with amazingly original stories to tell. They're inspired by sci-fi, folklore, and Nordic tradition. I heard that she has a novel out in Swedish, and I'm devastated that it is not translated and in my hands right now. I was really impressed by this collection of stories and can't wait to read more of Tidbeck's.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2013
From Sweden comes an author writing original stories in English. The strangeness of the stories is accentuated by the plainness of her prose, in a way that makes you read the paragraph twice when you just can't believe what you just read. It may be a result of English not being her first language, but Tidbeck's style adds to the effect of strangeness. Some stories are variants of Nordic legends and folktales, but with a flair that is all her own. This author will be worth watching.
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on November 16, 2012
Strange. Disturbing. Unimaginable, but imagined. Weird. Karin Tidbeck's first collection of short stories, Jagganath: Stories, can be so described, but one must also include compelling. It is not usual for me to want to read story after story in a single-author collection in a single sitting, but here each story was better than the last, and I stayed up long into the night reading. This Swedish author, who translated her own work into English, has an odd mind that produces odd stories, stories that every lover of weird fiction needs to read.

My fascination with this collection started with the first story, "Beatrice." It is about a man who falls in love with an airship -- not in the way a man normally falls in love with a complicated piece of machinery, not as in, "He loves his 1964 Mustang," but actual passionate, physical and emotional love. He shares a warehouse for his love with a woman who has fallen in love with a steam engine. Somehow, Tidbeck makes this scenario work, even to the point of describing a sort of marriage between the machines and their human lovers, and beyond.

But "Beatrice" is Tidbeck's way of easing us into the weirdness she has on offer. The story that has most stayed with me the most is "Rebecka." Rebecka is a woman living in a time after God has returned to Earth and taken up an active role in the lives of His people, which often means frying them on the spot when they commit a transgression or saving them when another attempts to harm them. Karl was fried, but only after he had spent three days torturing Rebecka in every way he could imagine. Rebecka has been left horribly damaged in mind and body, and wants nothing more than to commit suicide; but God will neither allow her to do so nor mend her mind. She finally figures out how to solve her problem. The story left me with the same sort of chills I got when reading Ted Chiang's "Hell is the Absence of God," and I consider it equally deserving of the awards Chiang garnered. It's a brilliant story.

"Augusta Prima" is another especially fascinating story, which opens with Augusta engaged in an unusual game of croquet, one using balls carved from bone and requiring a violence not usually associated with the lawn game. Augusta unwittingly discovers the concept of time after discovering a watch when searching for her ball in the rough beyond the gardens. Her discovery leads her down strange paths not normally visible from her world, into philosophies of which she has never dreamt.

Anyone who has ever had to call a governmental agency for help will be amused by "Who is Arvid Pekon?" I've often thought that the real person who answers the phone when I finally get through a complicated and contradictory message system was really the only one I ever talked to, and was inventing answers on the spot as he or she put on different voices to represent the different people I'd called. I'd love to have Miss Sycorax's ability to speak directly to whomever I chose.

Finnish customs and folklore play a role in several of Tidbeck's stories. "Brita's Holiday Village," for instance, relies upon the use of a holiday village as the site for a writer's personal retreat to complete her novel. "Reindeer Mountain" concerns the vittra, a race of beings that lives in the mountains (and that's actually inside the mountains, not on them) and occasionally seduces a human female. The vittra are something like fairies, but not as cute, and the story dramatically illustrates how they might appeal to young women dissatisfied with what life has to offer them. "Pyret" takes on the mantle of a sociological piece describing the titular life form, complete with footnotes. This shapeshifter race appears to be benign, if not actually of positive benefit to humans, but it is difficult to study and hard to tell if it is sentient or not. The story describes a number of interactions between humans and Pyret; while it does not have a standard plot, it is fascinating on its own terms as a study of a species of whick little is known.

"Aunts" and "Jagannath" both deal, in their own ways, with the nature of the body as surreal object (one maintained by internal sentient creatures, for instance, or bodies growing to unfathomable sizes) in realities that are not our own. Each, in its odd way, also deals with the question of the body as one's home. They are marvelously peculiar stories.

The introduction by Elizabeth Hand, discussing the disturbing and yet funny nature of Tidbeck's writing and the afterword by Tidbeck shed some additional light on the stories and the milieu in which Tidbeck writes. They are both fascinating for one interested in knowing more about how stories work, but unnecessary to the enjoyment of the stories themselves.

Jagganath: Stories is one of the best books of 2012. It contains writing that it new, different, alien, work that makes the normal world look strangely different, as if one's eyes have taken in a landscape that alters our own. It is beautifully strange.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2012
This was a great collection of a few weird tales. Well written, captivating and all with a distinctly Nordic flair. Each story in it was a page turner. Karin Tidbeck is a great author, and I can't wait to read more of her work- she's a new favorite.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2012
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I don't normally read or review short story collections. But when I heard about JAGANNATH I had to take a look. In particular, my interest was piqued when I read this in the press release:

Ursula K. Le Guin read Jagannath and gave us this blurb: "I have never read anything like Jagannath. Karin Tidbeck's imagination is recognizably Nordic, but otherwise unclassifiable-quietly, intelligently, unutterably strange. And various. And ominous. And funny. And mysteriously tender. These are wonderful stories."

But what sealed the deal for me was learning that Tidbeck is Swedish and that one of the stories is titled "Cloudberry Jam" and opens with the line "I made you in a tin can." I've always been infatuated with all things Swedish: Swedish berry candies, Ikea, gold medal curling teams and bright, white home decor. I blame my 1/4 Finnish heritage and a lifelong suffering through Canadian winters. The Scandinavians seem able to celebrate the coldest season, when all I want to do is hibernate.

Thus, properly fascinated by the press release for JAGANNATH, I said yes.

The first story is a steampunk tale involving human characters who fall in love with machines. It was a bizarre little tale that was totally plausible-- I've known some people who deeply love their tech-- right up until the humans were able to procreate with the machines. That's when it got a little weird. I might have quit reading here-- I don't always like weird stories-- but I couldn't. I was hooked. Tidbeck's writing is like a swirling vortex that sucked me in.

My favourite stories were the ones rooted in Swedish folklore: the father waiting for his faerie bride to return, the girl whisked away to dance with mysterious folks from the mountains, and the little imp-like creature grown in a garden. Though the settings were modern, these stories were like reading old fairy tales, and I really appreciated that because I think the old tales are being forgotten. Or maybe it's just that modern readers are forgetting the value of old tales.

On reading this collection, I gained a deep respect for Tidbeck's imagination. In the title story, "Jagannath", we follow a character aboard a big ship. She travels all throughout the ship, until the ship breaks down, and finally we learn it's not really a big ship, but a creature. It's a tenderhearted tale about the circle of life with the etymology of 'Jagannath' giving the story a greater meaning.

JAGANNATH is for fantasy lovers looking for something different but wonderful.

Rating: A
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Yes this collection of stories can be called odd but they are also wonderful in their humanness and entertainment value. This is the first work I have read by Swedish writer Karin Tidbeck but it will certainly not be the last. I literally devoured the book and then went back and re-read the stories more slowly in order to closely examine and understand the text. There are lovely stories of a man who falls in love with an airship; a man who builds himself a suit which makes him fly like a bumblebee; a girl who writes letters to her dead father; a young girl who puts on an old wedding dress and her sister disappears into the mountains; babies made in tin cans; a species of human like beings who live in a place where time does not exist (one of my favorites); and the story of 3 aunts whose sole job it was to eat and get large as possible.

Although these stories sounds odd and peculiar they are packed full of human emotions, such as longing, heartbreak, dread and love. These are touching and beautiful stories that will stay with you long after you have read them. I love fantasy literature but I have never read another author who writes quite like Tidbeck. The closest I can think of in similar writing style would be Kelly Link, another author I adore. Therefore, if you like stories a little outside the mainstream with a wonderful writing style then this is the book for you.

Now I'm off to find more Tidbeck stories written in English to enjoy and linger over. Good reading to you!
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