Book Review: Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

It is odd to find a book like that echo inside you, which tells you, yes, it is. Amatka embodied the mood I have been feeling lately: grey, melancholic, disconnected, and stuck, all perfectly normal in this spectrum we call living. I loved the book enormously. Now read it. 

Okay, I might give you justifications for why this book clicked with me the way it did. But, oddly enough, it isn’t because of the dystopian setting. I haven’t been into such stories lately because I exhausted myself with them and think we live in a pretty dystopian world (and not even because of the current pandemic.) Instead, what moved me was the ascetic and disconnected prose, which gradually gave clarity on what was happening with the characters and setting. The mystery held until the last pages of the book. The prose kept the mood constant throughout, only breaking out of it when the personal cataclysm happened to the main character, Vanja. Then we got to feel and see behind the composed, restricted nature of the main character; that there’s a bleeding heart. And while it might alienate some readers to have such emotionless character, for me, it was a fitting embodiment of the strange controlled world of the book. A place where everything has to be labeled, no one can step out of line, where children are taken from their parents and brought up in communal dormitories. A scary and suffocating world met with acceptance and compliance. Just like I feel in ours except when escaping into nature and seeing all the insects and animals go about their business as if all was clear and just as it should be.

Vanja is the main character, as I told. She has been sent to the colony, Amatka, to gather information about the commune members’ hygiene. So back at her home commune, they can produce a new line of soaps and creams. But Vanja is sucked into the strangeness of the colony and the personal lives of her hosts: Nina, Ivar, and Ulla. She tries to guard herself against their friendliness and do her duty, but her isolation cracks, and some sort of hope and possibility for future and meaning steps in. But because of the world, the community, the lives they are meant to live, and the naming of things, she can’t fully believe in that hope and good. So again, darkness and desperation steps in, making this not a joyous, easy read. But the said darkness and desperation is meant to portray the alienation so many of us experience, yet we cannot name why. Funnily enough, the answer our psychological studies have shown to be most efficient against such feelings has been turned upside down in the book: community and doing meaningful things to others. Vanja’s isolation and unable to follow the maddening rules make it hard to find solace in the connections.

Let’s move on. Otherwise, we are here until I have named the studies and my pain for finding and being part of a community and accepting that if we, I, want to be part of a group, we, I, have to forgo the idea of perfection, the shape of others, and control. So, about the mystery. I would love to tell you the secret behind all the strangeness, but because it kept me reading, I don’t want to spoil the experience. This is a damn shame because I think there is so much I could speculate about why the dystopian future was created; why the writer chose labeling to be a critical aspect of creating a society. All I can say is that we name things even here and now. We give things, people, and occurrences their meaning and significance. It is how our brains are structured. But the order of things isn’t a must. We could change our priorities and question what is appropriate and what isn’t.

In conclusion, Karin Tidbeck beautifully ties characters, setting, and mystery together as a norm and starts breaking the lines as the story unfolds. I finished reading this last night before going to bed, and I think I need to process more to grasp fully the book. Still, beautiful.

Thank you for reading and have a great day ❤

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