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Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name: A Novel Hardcover – January 2, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Believer co-editor Vida again explores violence, its aftermath and the curative powers of travel in her bleak second novel. (Her debut, 2003's And Now You Can Go, sent a young woman to the Philippines after a traumatic event.) But this time readers are nearly a hundred pages in before the long-ago physical violence is revealed. Clarissa, home after her father's funeral, finds herself deeply alone. Her developmentally disabled brother has never spoken, and her mother walked out on them 14 years before. Digging through family papers, she finds her birth certificate, which lists a stranger as her father. The hunt for him—and the resumption of a search for her mother—lead Clarissa to far northern Europe, where the days are short, the reindeer are plentiful and her mother had once felt "connected." Clarissa's travels in her mother's steps—seeking that connection, stumbling, finding it and finally severing it—are bleak. Vida's fan base will welcome this novel, and the twin questions of what Clarissa's amateur sleuthing will turn up and how each discovery will affect her might draw a few new readers through this slim, austere work. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Vida, coeditor of Believer magazine, follows her canny debut, And Now You Can Go (2003), with a taut, darkly witty, and galvanizing tale of one woman's search for the truth about her parentage. Clarissa's enigmatic mother left her family, including her retarded son, when Clarissa was 14, and vanished without a trace. A dozen years later, Clarissa is languishing in a stale relationship and going nowhere with her work editing movie subtitles when her father abruptly dies, and a gaping hole opens in her past. Now it's Clarissa's turn to disappear as she journeys to Lapland and the world of the Sami, an indigenous people who still herd reindeer. With skilled distillation, Vida evokes a culture on the brink of extinction and a legacy of loss as her anxious yet adventurous protagonist throws herself on the mercy of strangers in an otherworldly realm of deep cold, hard drinking, a hotel constructed of snow and ice, the northern lights, and long memories. Brilliantly distilled, blade-sharp, and as dangerously exhilarating as skating in the dark. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (January 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060828374
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060828370
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #301,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Miranda on January 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Vendela Vida's second novel, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, tells the haunting story of Clarissa Iverton's discovery that her recently-deceased father was not the man whose name appears on her birth certificate, and her subsequent search for her biological father in Lapland. It is here that she becomes acquainted with indigenous people known as the Sami, and comes to term with the past of her mother, who abandons her when she is fourteen. When Clarissa plans to meet her mother at the store and is fifteen minutes late, she is informed by the woman at the counter that her mother has left because she "got tired of waiting." Vida's prose is simple and matter-of-fact as her narrator grapples with issues of identity, writing that "When you believe anyone could be your mother, you begin to believe anyone could be your brother, your lover, your son." Her distanced perspective captures perfectly the sense of loss and anger plaguing the narrator, and her detachment not only to her home but also to the people around her. She writes, "Disappearing is nothing. I learned this from my mother," a line which not only echoes her willingness to take this journey without so much as notifying anyone of where she will be, but also reflects the narrator's eventual coming to terms with her mother's disappearance. Sprinkled throughout this novel are also vivid descriptions ("Outside my window, dusk was already settling in like a bruise") and dry wit to offset the darker moments. Toward the beginning of the novel when Clarissa is in New York and in a fight with her fiancée, she blocks her bedroom door with her hamper and when he asks her about it, she responds, "To hamper you." What is perhaps most remarkable about this novel is Vida's ability to fully immerse her readers in the mystical world of Lapland as she shows us everything from reindeer herding to a hotel made entirely of ice. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name is a moving page-turner that I enthusiastically recommend.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Andy Orrock VINE VOICE on March 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read an excellent review of Vendela Vida's latest novel in People Magazine and decided straight away to give it try. I was not disappointed. I fairly blitzed through this book - others here mention going cover-to-cover in one sitting. It took me two, but it's the type of work that encourages you to read 'just one more chapter' before putting the book down. And, in fact, you never do put it down. Though only 226 clean (almost spartan, in fact) pages, you won't feel cheated. Vida makes every single word count. You never have to amble through overstuffed, toss-away passages.

In the process, I learned quite a bit about Lapland and its people. Vida did some excellent first-hand info-gathering there. Her legwork really manifests itself in a knowledgeable fashion. The map - courtesy of Paul J. Pugliese - provides clarity and is a touchstone for readers throughout the text. I highly recommend this book.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By E. Whittemore on March 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Vendela Vida has a way with words, a veritable gift, and she bestows this sometimes snappily ironic, sometimes woe-is-me sardonic, gift upon Clarissa Iverton, the young narrator of Vida's beautifully written--but oh so consciously written--novel Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name. The book is spare, deliberate, cold. Clarissa is supposed to be (I think) impulsive, lost, and not-to-be-blamed-for-being cold. As the story unfolds there are hints that Clarissa might be able to achieve some balance between unwavering froideur and emotional dynamism. And as the story opens, and Clarissa feeds us her back-story, the odd and unexamined behavior of family and friends keeps us just enough off-balance that it's easy to read just for plot. We can accept Clarissa's genetically endowed, inalienable right to constitutional coldness because, on that point, the plot is persuasive--an egoistically sadistic, abandoning mom; an overly attentive boyfriend who has consistently lied to Clarissa about her true origins; a dad who dies without revealing that he's not her biological dad. Betrayed by every person she ought to be able to trust, Clarissa makes a credible victim. Plot-wise, that is. We automatically hand her our sympathy; it shouldn't take very much to keep it.

But accepting the character's status as entitled victim is not the same thing as feeling transported by a tale that examines human suffering, human hatred--there are some terrible people here--and human carelessness. This novel settles for the depiction of Clarissa's cramped consciousness, suggesting that the cramping is the result of other people's lies and failures; it does not aim to carry us beyond the trap.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Myra Clarke on November 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This intriguing novel features largely unsympathetic characters, a bleak, cold environment, and spare, brisk storytelling. The plot is set in motion by a biological identity crisis, as Clarissa, the protagonist, sets off from New York on a journey to unearth her roots north of the Arctic Circle. Later, the novel reveals her earlier experience with sexual violence, as well as her mother's. The novel's two main themes are intertwined. The first is the inherent challenge in severing one's circumstances from one's identity. It raises the question: does what happens to us necessarily define us? The second, related theme of escaping the past and reinventing the self is revealed at the novel's very end as the main character makes a drastic life change. The novel is told in first-person, with a strained emotional urgency that seems part cry for help, part outburst of rage. I read the book in one sitting. The novel is compelling for its brutal tone and theme, its depiction of the Sami people of Lapland, and its sad, strong heroine Clarissa, who is both abandoned by, and abandons, love.
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