Vendela Vida’s Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name has been on my to-read list for quite some time now. I’m not sure what took me so long to get to it, or what source recommended the novel in the first place. I think part of the reason it stuck with me was the lure of the title – I’ve always been drawn to the aurora borealis and the novel’s title, taken from a poem by Marry Ailoniedia Somby, conjured enticing images of the majestic natural phenomenon that I couldn’t resist. Once I finally delved in this book, I devoted an entire night to reading it, finishing the novel in the space of a few hours. Vida’s story drew me in with ease and effortlessly compelled me to reach the last page in a single sitting.
The northern lights play a large supporting role in this story primarily located in the Arctic Circle. Upon her father’s death, Clarissa Iverton discovers that the man she always called Dad was not, in fact, her biological father. Though her mother left the family when Clarissa was just fourteen years old, the man she believed was her father, Richard, raised her to adulthood as any true parent would have. When she reveals the truth about Richard to her fiance Pankaj, Clarissa grows even more bewildered to learn that Pankaj was privy to, and withheld, this secret for years. Fueled by a sense of betrayal and confusion, Clarissa journeys to Helsinki where the father listed on her birth certificate lives.
On her frigid northern quest, Clarissa comes to terms with the reality that Richard is dead, that her mother deserted the family, that she never knew her real father. Through cities that hold untold secrets of her mother’s past, the parallels between mother and daughter become increasingly apparent. Though she set out to uncover the identity of her father, during the course of her travels Clarissa learns more about her mother than anyone else. And with this newfound knowledge, a semblance of understanding takes hold. Befriending members of the Sami community, lying beneath the magnificent northern lights, living out days entirely devoid of sunlight, spending a night in the famed Ice Hotel, the rather vague personal intentions with which Clarissa originally sets out take more rigid form as she is welcomed to the Arctic Circle and narrows in on her origins.
Amidst an arresting frozen backdrop, Vida instills a refreshing sense of adventure into the somewhat tired story of uncovering tightly bound family secrets. Though this novel deals with some of the most painful discoveries that a daughter could possibly make, it is appropriately touched with levity and as miraculous and stunning as the northern lights from which it takes its name.