The Colonel’s Wife

Written by Rosa Liksom
Review by Sherry Jones

Rosa Liksom’s novel is amazing, powerful, and remarkable, and everyone should read it, including, again, me. The Finnish author delves deeply into the inner life of her protagonist, an elderly woman telling the story of her life as a fascist activist and wife to a cruel Nazi colonel during World War II. She evokes horror and beauty in her descriptions of her character’s life, first as a schoolgirl smitten with German fascist culture and then as secretary, fiancée, and wife to the much-older Colonel. The Colonel is a sadist whose charms Liksom enumerates in such detail that, even while we watch her fall ever more deeply into his terrible clutches, we understand why she loves him.

Liksom’s love for Finland, particularly Lapland, where she grew up, shines through in her lingering descriptions of the landscape, which is as much a character in this book as any human she renders. Liksom has accomplished an intense and thorough psychological study that is astonishingly dense—the book is very short—but far from a quick read, as you’ll want to linger over every word translated from Finnish into sheer poetry by Lola Rogers of Seattle. “The Colonel’s mother, Desiree, was past ninety,” Liksom writes. “She was a bent old burnt-out matchstick of a woman with a bald, bony head.” Also: “Our few days in paradise were over, and life turned ordinary again, like the bottom of an empty sack a person tries in vain to scrape a little joy out of.”

I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and now intend to read everything Rosa Liksom has ever written and will ever write.