A bold, dark-hued novel by a writer who “conjures beauty from the ugliest of things” (The Wall Street Journal)
In the final twilit moments of her life, an elderly woman looks back on her years in the thrall of fascism and Nazism. Both her authoritarian tendencies and her ecstatic engagement with the natural world are vividly and terrifyingly evoked in The Colonel’s Wife, an astonishing and brave novel that resonates painfully with our own strained political moment.
At once complex and hideous, sexually liberated and sympathetic to the darkest of political movements, the narrator describes her childhood as the daughter of a member of the right-wing Finnish Whites before World War II, and the way she became involved with and eventually married the Colonel, who was thirty years her senior. During the war, he came and went as they fraternized with the Nazi elite and retreated together into the deepest northern wilds. As both the marriage and the war turn increasingly dark and destructive, Rosa Liksom renders a complex and unsavory character in a prose style that is striking in its paradoxical beauty. Based on a true story, The Colonel’s Wife is both a brilliant portrayal of an individual psychology and a stark warning about the perils of nationalism.
Liksom's brief, haunting novel (after Compartment No. 6) finds an elderly Finnish woman in her final days, reflecting on a lifetime as both a victim and perpetrator of cruelty. The unnamed narrator was born into a rural and staunchly right-wing Finnish family between the world wars. After the loss of her father, she is drawn to a peer of his, the intimidating and powerful Colonel. Though he is 30 years older, their love affair and eventual marriage blossom in the days leading up to WWII together, the narrator and the Colonel visit Germany and witness the horrors of the Third Reich, host Heinrich Himmler for dinner and a sauna, and eventually meet their beloved Hitler at a party. Outside of their political scheming, though, the couple also spend time in the deep, untouched natural world of their native Finland, exploring and cherishing that which is unspoiled by war. The narrator's reminiscences are frank and unadorned, but still moving; her descriptions of the torture she witnesses by the Nazis, and of that she endures by her husband, are made more chilling by their lack of sentimentality. Liksom's novel memorably combines transportive prose and her narrator's stark perspective.