Lisa Schwarzbaum
May 21, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Popular Music From Vittula

Current Status
In Season
Mikael Niemi

We gave it an A

This is the best crazy-teens-in-Sweden novel you’ve never heard of. Hell, it’s the natural successor to The Catcher in the Rye — assuming Holden Caulfield grew up just above the Arctic Circle on the dotted line where Swedes speak a rocky Finnish dialect and can describe the ritual of a blistering communal sauna with ribald gusto. It’s a singular anthropological dispatch from a permanently frozen Lake Wobegon, and a tribute to the power of international pop culture as sensitive to local home culture as Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. His senses busted open by a Beatles album (and the song ”Ollyu nidis lav”), the young hero of Niemi’s earthy story mixes up vignettes of childhood — a funeral, a wedding, sexual fever, fundamentalist religion — into a dazzling pop album all his own. We can only imagine the punch of the original Swedish text; Laurie Thompson’s zinging English translation is its own kind of rock & roll heaven.

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