“And the forest will burn under our feet” by Jens Liljestrand: the last carefree summer

And the forest will burn under our feet

by Jens Liljestrand

Translated from Swedish by Anna Postel

Otherwise, 530 p., €24.90

What a fantastic time ours is to draw material from a dystopia. Jens Liljestrand pushes the cursor only a little further than our uncertain times. Shortly after the pandemic, Didrik spent the summer with his family in Dalarna, central Sweden, in a house by a lake. He and his wife have decided to treat themselves to a six-month stay in a luxury villa in Thailand at the start of the school year. One way to make this period that follows the birth of Becka, their third and last child, after Vilja, 14, and Zack, 10, exceptional.

When a forest fire starts, the authorities ask the inhabitants to evacuate the surroundings. It is for Didrik, consultant for the media, the opportunity to give an interview by telephone in which he admonishes the lack of foresight of the politicians while organizing the departure of his family, which gives an effective dramatic tension to his remarks. He also takes the opportunity to post a selfie of his son and him on social networks, with these words: “Behind us, the forest is burning. It’s time to go – now we too are climate refugees. » Didrik’s satisfaction with the emotional reactions and the secretly thrilling feeling of having an adventure vanishes when the electric car the whole family has been riding in fails to start.

Contradictions that often resemble ours

Jens Liljestrand’s novel runs over a week in late August. Seven life-changing days for its four central characters – and for all Swedes. With Didrik, the writer picks up, not without humour, contradictions that often resemble our own: an ecological conscience with an intact appetite for meat, the extravagant abundance of shopping centers and trips to the ends of the earth. A vigilant father, Didrik dreams of being a hero protecting his family in a crisis of which he does not measure the extent.

Jens Liljestrand then gives the reins to three other protagonists. They take a different look at the stagnation that is spreading in a domino effect that is as impressive as it is believable. One successfully launched the slogan on social networks “Choose Joy”another turns out to be fascinated by the dizzying sum of human and animal suffering, the last, transfixed with love, almost forgets the troubles.

Admirable sense of storytelling

Jens Liljestrand draws this possible future while remaining at the level of his characters molded by their affects and their relationships with others. It is through their eyes that the chain of malfunctions caused by the fires emerges. By making this chaos probable and close to everyone’s feelings, the writer masterfully manages to awaken in his reader the sting of a lived experience.

The bonds are disintegrating or strengthening, adults sometimes turn out to be more immature than adolescents in a game where the cards of courage, cynicism and indifference seem to be reshuffled randomly. At a time when Germany fears supply disruptions for next winter, the liveliness of the interior speeches of the four characters facing a maddening gear finds an intimate echo in us. Jens Liljestrand’s admirable sense of storytelling runs right up to the last sentence, a nice metaphor for the concerns of younger generations.

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