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Jag har letat efter dig review

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Issue number: 2013 Special Issue

Book cover

Jag har letat efter dig

(I've Searched For You)

by Sara Razai
reviewed by Nichola Smalley

Jag har letat efter dig is Sara Razai’s first novel. It focuses on the ill-fated relationship between Annika, a shy accountant from a small town on the west coast of Finland, and Samim, a distracted young man fleeing a war-torn Middle Eastern country. They meet and fall in love in the southern Finnish city of Åbo, two outsiders finding solace and escape in each other.

Through Annika’s narration, the author explores the enchantments and the difficulties of communicating across boundaries – boundaries of gender, cultural understanding and of expectation. As Annika discovers, these exist not only within the couple’s relationship, but also between them and the outside world: friends, family and institutions - no one seems to understand Annika’s and Samim’s relationship.

In this way, Razai explores issues familiar in many multicultural societies, such as racism, prejudice and apparently incompatible customs. Certainly, literature is a valid and valuable way of exploring these complex questions. Fiction can bring freedom and richness to the debate precisely because it is an imaginative and personal medium. However, I didn’t feel enriched after sharing Annika’s take on the world around her, nor did it seem that Razai had liberated herself from the clichés common to debates on cultural encounters and multiculturalism. Her
novel trades in the same tropes as many tales dealing with relationships with the ‘Other’, especially the male Other. Samim is as mysterious and unpredictable as Annika is naïve. Communication between them is poor and hampered by the language barrier. While their lack of verbal communication is initially smoothed over by their attraction to one another, an insurmountable wall of incomprehension is all too soon revealed. In the end I couldn’t help thinking this was a ‘new’ location for the same concerns – as though the issues raised in ‘multicultural literature’ elsewhere had simply been imported into a Finland-Swedish context.

However, while the novel could have been both more incisive and better crafted, many things about it were enjoyable. The insights into Annika’s
world-view and way of thinking are at times touchingly personal. Furthermore, the mixing of Swedish, English and Finnish, for instance, is a distinctive feature of the Finnish-Swedish fringes of Finland, and is deployed effectively here to create a real sense of place. If you’re looking for a book discussing love and multiculturalism in Finland in the early twenty-first century, you could do worse than to read Sara Razai’s book.    

Author photograph
Sara Razai. Photograph: Cata Portin
About the book

Jag har letat efter dig

Schildts & Söderströms, 2012. 160 pages.