Eva Sjödin’s poem-novel maps in swift, uncanny sentences the dark marvels of being little. I am a sucker for tales of sisters, especially when an older must defend a younger from threats. Left by a stupefied mother to their own devices, two girls roam the cold of Sweden, gathering remnants: a broken cracker, a petrified fish, a dying dog’s tongue.
No matter how badly her little sister irritates her, the narrator is ferociously devoted. She says, after getting kicked in the shin: “But really I love her. In the pain in the leg, there. Where ring upon ring of glowing expands.” Sjödin’s language, in a luminous translation by Jennifer Hayashida, is harsh and delicate and (impressively) never falls prey to the sentimental. Childhood in Inner China is a scuffed, grubby business. Dirt, snow, forest, skin—it’s an arresting world, stark and radiant, heavy with half-magic. I recommend spending some time in it.