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The American Girl Paperback – February 16, 2010

2.9 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This third, unusual novel from Fagerholm (Wonderful Women by the Sea) is a hypnotic coming-of-age story that hinges on a dark but powerful bond between two Finnish girls growing up in the swamplands of outer Helsinki. Born to jet-setter parents, timid young Sandra finds strength by clinging to obstinate, wild-eyed Doris, who is no stranger to dysfunction herself: her mother has a hundred thousand excuses for beating her daughter. The two begin to obsess over an unsolved death that haunts the town. Making up games in abandoned pools, basements, and the muddy marshlands, the girls dress alike and begin to form solipsistic creeds, such as the belief that suffering has developed a hidden power in us that makes it so that we can see what no one else sees. The fractured work can by trying—there's no straight chronology, and sentences are frequently appealingly off-balance (kudos to Tucker for the slick translation)—but Fagerholm's esoteric prose and her omnipotent narrator's eye bring to life a world of ambient longings, cryptic memories, and ethereal figures. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

The author, a Finn who writes in Swedish, has won a clutch of important Scandinavian literary prizes; been hailed as a “genius” by at least one French critic; and compared with filmmaker David Lynch, which may give American readers some idea of what to expect from this sometimes creepy, sometimes baffling literary mystery that explores the death of an American girl near a coastal village in Finland. Was it a murder? An accidental death? Did it really happen? But the crux of the novel is the impact all this uncertainty will have on two story-hungry teenage girls who are the central figures in this landscape of loss, adolescent anomie, and occasional longueurs. Readers may be frustrated by the author’s oddly circular style of storytelling. Throughout her epically long novel, Fagerholm repeatedly and almost obsessively returns to the same character or incident, each time revealing a sliver of new information. Some will experience this as a kind of aesthetic accretion; others will feel nibbled to death by ducks. Still others, though, will find it fascinating, and oftentimes it is. And a good thing, too, since a second volume awaits publication. --Michael Cart
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press; 1St Edition edition (February 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590513045
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590513040
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,648,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By B. Case TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 9, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Personally, I found "The American Girl," by Monika Fagerholm, to be an absolutely brilliant and mesmerizing work of contemporary literature. But be forewarned: this book is definitely not for everyone! With this review, I strive to reach out and communicate only with that small percentage of readers who would be sorely disappointed if they missed discovering this author and this work. At best, Fagerholm is capable of showing us a whole new way to use language in the service of literature. That is the strength of this book, and if that statement stirs your interest, then this book may be for you.

Although the true gift of this book is the author's inventive use of language, I must agree with a number of reviews here that this American translation is flawed. In particular, the lyrics to popular American songs from the 60s and 70s play an important role in the book, but the translator translated the Swedish lyrics into English rather than doing the research necessary to discover the original English versions. As a result, much of the musical magic of those lyrics used within the contex of the story is abrasively lost on the American ear. If I were Monika Fagerholm, I'd sue the translator over these significant errors! But despite this specific type of error, the originality of Monika Fagerholm's prose style does shine through in this translation -- one might only guess if this work would have been even better with another translator.

So what is this book about? Actually, it is best if you know very little about the plot. It might be easy to spoil the story with too much information...so beware of reviews that reveal too much about the storyline. All that I will say is that this is a dark, moody, twisted tale with potent mythical overtones.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Brief summary and review, no spoilers.

This is a difficult book to summarize, and in many ways an even harder one to read. Monika Fagerholm is a Finnish author writing in Swedish, and the book definitely had the disorienting feel of a translation. This was not a smooth, consistent reading experience for me.

The book starts out in 1969 in Coney Island where we are introduced to a young girl named Eddie de Wire. She goes to visit some relative somewhere on the coast near Helsinki. We know that Eddie has disappeared from there, and presumed drowned. Her death has become a mystery and almost mythologized by those who live nearby.

Other key characters are a young abused child named Doris, who commits suicide at age 16. (We know this almost from the outset, so no spoiler.) We also meet a young, lonely girl named Sandra, who's been primarily raised by her father, after her mother goes missing. Sandra and Doris become best friends and soul mates, and their relationship was one of the high points of the book for me.

There are plenty of other characters, including a young man named Bjorn who may have been involved with Eddie, who we also know very early on has killed himself after finding out Eddie died. His body is discovered by his troubled younger brother Bencku, who has made maps of the region's houses and yards. (Again, no spoiler, we are told this at the start.)

This is a long book - over 500 pages. It starts out by telling us about all these teenage deaths and by going back and forth through time. It's a bit confusing and have to say that there were times when I was a bit discombobulated and when I felt like I wanted to throw in the towel and stop reading.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Before writing this review, I did something I've never done before. I read other reviews of the book. Not because I wanted to get an idea of what to say in my review...but because this book left me so confused that I was hoping for some insight as to what happened. Even who I had been reading about, for that matter.

I'm not a reader who requires closure, or an ending all tied up with a pretty bow. Give me an unreliable narrator and I'm good. Most of the time. I love guessing, and not knowing EXACTLY what happened. But I have to have some idea that SOMETHING happened.

The other reviews that I read didn't give me any big clues, but they did confirm something I suspected...that something was lost in the translation. Some of the confusion in the narrative and certainly some of the repetitive phrases ("so to speak") must come from the translation that was done.

That said, "The American Girl" is not for the faint of heart. The character names, actions, realities are more than a bit ambiguous. Much of the work is left for the reader to do as s/he experiences life in "The District". The author has a neat trick of turning the lens as well as turning the hands of the clock either backwards or forwards so that without breaking stride, the reader learns what another character felt or did in conjunction with an event. Which can be illuminating...or confusing.

I think this is a story about human emotion, at its core. There is a mystery surrounding the American girl that came to The District years ago...but that may be just the center point around which all the other characters lives pivot. It's about the feelings involved in trying to find one's way in the world, especially when one is emotionally damaged.
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