three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
27-Mar-Apr-2007
By: 
Vendela Vida
user_rating: 
0

A-Let the Northern Lights Erase Your NameThe death of Clarissa Iverton’s father is followed by her discovery that another man’s name is on her birth certificate—and then the revelation that her fiancé (whom she’s known since childhood) is in on the secret. Instead of her father’s name, she sees the words Eero Valkeap. Clarissa, 28, whose mother disappeared when she was a teenager, leaves New York and travels to Finnish Lapland, the land of the reindeer and the indigenous Sami people—where her mother lived in her 20s—to find her biological father, understand her origins, and reconcile her past with her present and future.
Ecco. 226 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0060828374

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[D]ark whimsy suffuses the whole book and accounts for much of its peculiarly biting charm. … The poignancy lingering behind the wit is in some ways reminiscent of Anne Tyler, so expert in probing the hedgehog heart of an eccentricity that looks charming from the outside." Madison Smartt Bell

Seattle Post-Intelligencer 4 of 5 Stars
"Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name has the grip and pace of a thriller, all but demanding to be read straight through in one sitting, but Vida’s second novel also manages to plumb a host of profound questions during its relentless drama. … The narrative races toward its startling climax and then its tad-too-neat denouement, one of Vida’s only missteps in her dark and unsettling novel that has the hallucinogenic quality of a remembered dream." John Marshall

Hartford Courant 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Although [And Now You Can Go and Let the Northern Lights] have similar characters and outlines, Let the Northern Lights is a sharper and more probing study of identity and obligation than Vida’s debut. It is also more heavily plotted, which leads to some too-easy coincidences." Andrea Walker

Miami Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Vida is a subtle, skilled writer, and much of what happens in her spare but emotionally vivid novels occurs just beyond the reader’s view. … This book is much darker than her first, but it is as alive and fascinating as the brilliant atmospheric phenomenon of its title." Connie Ogle

New York Observer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name is spare, linear and solemn. … Harsh, cold landscapes blanketed in snow and Laplanders speaking broken English are a perfect match for Ms. Vida’s economical, though not humorless, prose." Ruth Davis Konigsberg

New Yorker 3 of 5 Stars
"Vida gives the icy landscape an eerie, forbidding beauty, and her writing has moments of great emotional acuity. … The ending, which intimates that one’s problems may be easily shed, along with one’s past, [seems] both hurried and unearned."

Critical Summary

Vendela Vida, coeditor of The Believer magazine and author of 2003’s And Now You Can Go, has written a memorable—and powerful—novel. Bleak, spare, and intense, it wrestles with issues of identity, family, and obligation. Vida’s stripped-down prose earns her admiration and comparisons to Joan Didion (The New York Times, The Hartford Courant), and critics praise her vivid evocation of the harsh northern landscape. Clarissa’s quest is heartbreaking, but light touches of humor provide some relief. The novel’s ending will satisfy most readers, although two reviewers found it predictable.