Magazine article World Literature Today

Vera

Magazine article World Literature Today

Vera

Article excerpt

Anne Swärd. Vera. Stockholm. Albert Bonniers. 2017. 344 pages.

Vera is a strange book: the darkly glittering wrapping of high romance conceals a bitter core, a compound of the collaborator's secret shame and guilt, and the hypnotic effect of power. Sandrine, the storyteller, knows that she might have been a postwar femme tondue-a "horizontal collaborator"-paraded in front of jeering crowds with her head shaved and a swastika painted on her forehead.

When she arrives in Sweden in 1945, Sandrine is only seventeen, a blond and lovely waif, mysteriously healthy looking compared with the other refugees-but pregnant. Eventually, we learn that she had lived in occupied Poland, and a German officer (Sascha) chose her to be his live-in companion while his men set about eliminating local Jews and partisans, including Sandrine's family. Sascha slept with his trophy, fed her, showed her off, and trusted her. Knowing that she was damned anyway, Sandrine stayed trustworthy until the German collapse, when she walked out and, through luck and courage, snuck on board a refugee transport.

She is soon picked up by a Swedish man: Ivan, a gay aristocrat who decides to marry her as a cover for his illegal sexual exploits. …

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