EXCERPTS FROM THE BOOK ABOUT THE GIRL

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They climbed the stone steps to the station waiting room and opened the small glazed door. Ebba went up to the ticket window to inquire whether the Herrljunga train was on time. The woman in the cramped booking office nodded without looking up, and continued sorting tickets by class and destination into the pigeonholes mounted on the wall: Brebacken, Borgstena, Borås …

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Hilja was sitting on the bed, clutching the crumpled photograph of her family. She carefully wiped away a tear that trickled onto the knee of her mother, sitting there outside their home in Finland. Hilja wondered if she would ever sit there again, if she would ever feel the warmth of her mother’s embrace again.

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 The mission hall was an unassuming building, but its high ceiling reminded Hilja of her first day in the gymnasium. It felt like entering the cathedral back home, but instead of rows of pews, some sixty iron beds borrowed from the Älvsborg Regiment lined the outer walls. In the center of the hall stood a table that looked as if it was set for a party, and the scent of raisins hung in the air.

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Hilja remembered that warm summer’s day in 1937. They had been to a service in the cathedral on the hill overlooking the village before the photographer came by. She was almost five years old and times were peaceful. Antti had not yet been born, nor had Sirkka.

 

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Hilja lifted her suitcase onto the bed and unpacked her possessions. She took off her stockings and stepped onto the soft rosepath woven rug. Then she changed into her nightshirt from the gymnasium and put her things away in the dresser, hiding the piece of bread under a chemise in the top drawer.

English translation by Tom Ellett