The Last Book I Loved: Inner China

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Picture 7Eva 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.


Leni Zumas’s national best-selling novel Red Clocks won the 2019 Oregon Book Award and was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. She is also the author of the story collection Farewell Navigator and the novel The Listeners. She directs the MFA program in creative writing at Portland State University. More from this author →