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Table of Contents
About The Book
SOON TO BE A NETFLIX FILM
Louise Erdrich meets Jo Nesbø in this spellbinding Swedish novel that follows a young indigenous woman as she struggles to defend her family’s reindeer herd and culture amidst xenophobia, climate change, and a devious hunter whose targeted kills are considered mere theft in the eyes of the law.
On a winter day north of the Arctic Circle, nine-year-old Elsa—daughter of Sámi reindeer herders—sees a man brutally kill her beloved reindeer calf and threaten her into silence. When her father takes her to report the crime, local police tell them that there is nothing they can do about these “stolen” animals. Killings like these are classified as theft in the reports that continue to pile up, uninvestigated. But reindeer are not just the Sámi’s livelihood, they also hold spiritual significance; attacking a reindeer is an attack on the culture itself.
Ten years later, hatred and threats against the Sámi keep escalating, and more reindeer are tortured and killed in Elsa’s community. Finally, she’s had enough and decides to push back on the apathetic police force. The hunter comes after her this time, leading to a catastrophic final confrontation.
Based on real events, Ann-Helén Laestadius’s award-winning novel Stolen is part coming-of-age story, part love song to a disappearing natural world, and part electrifying countdown to a dramatic resolution—a searing depiction of a forgotten part of Sweden.
Elsa didn’t turn around. She straightened her spine and concentrated on finding her rhythm, but still she had to glance at her skis to make sure they stayed in the tracks. It was a little too dark to head out, but she was so eager.
Her cheeks were windburnt. From the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of her dark hair sticking out from beneath her hat and turning silvery gray with frost. Her eyelashes had changed color too, and she could feel the cold moisture when she blinked. It was like she was becoming a different person.
The lake was crisscrossed with snowmobile tracks leading home and away. To neighbors and cousins. To the reindeer corral. She followed the widest track. She’d found her rhythm, and her skis swished beneath her. She was nine years old. A big girl now. With skis of her own, not hand-me-downs from Mattias.
She poled onward, her arms strong and powerful, with each glide long. She knew the house would soon be a tiny dot behind her. The lake gave way to forest, but she wasn’t afraid. She was never afraid, because she knew exactly where she was and could always find her way home. She didn’t usually go beyond the lake. But now she was big.
It was early January, so the sun had found its way back, but it hardly rose over the horizon before dipping down again, leaving a pink shimmer in the sky. Today the clouds absorbed the light faster than she’d expected, but it wouldn’t be pitch-black for a while yet. She would make it there before dark. The snow weighed down the firs and birches. It looked like they were all bowing to her, welcoming her home. To think, that they recognized her even with her frosty silver hair and new skis.
She heard the reindeer and skied faster, though her thighs were stiff. Her breath came faster too, stinging her throat. She must not lick her dry lips or they would redden and crack. She didn’t like the taste of blood.
No one was there now, she knew that. Mom, Dad, and Mattias were at home. It wasn’t time to feed the reindeer yet, but she was going to surprise them. Get the pellets ready, haul out the bags, and maybe even go in and scatter some of the feed. Hold the reindeer lichen in her hand so the animals would flock around her, not the least bit afraid.
The sound of a snowmobile starting up halted her in her tracks. Such disappointment. She wasn’t the first one here after all. The snowmobile was idling. She pushed off with her poles, almost silent, then grabbed the trunk of a pine and peered around it.
It was him.
She never said his name.
In his mouth, between taut lips, was something soft and downy. In his hand, a bloody knife. Elsa squeezed her poles so hard her cold knuckles ached inside her mittens.
He took the piece of ear from his mouth and stuffed it into the pocket of his grimy yellow pants, the kind road construction workers wore. The wide reflective strips flashed as he passed in front of the snowmobile’s headlights. The dead calf lay next to the fence, just outside the corral. He bent down—for what? To take it with him? Her throat betrayed her and he looked up. His eyes were searching, quick and deft, until he found her. Maybe he wouldn’t recognize her with her silver hair?
It looked like he was swearing, stomping toward her in his boots. His tongue bulged behind his upper lip, pressing against the snus to release the nicotine.
Then he grinned and pointed at her, holding an index finger to his thin lips—shhh—before drawing his finger across his throat.
Death. She knew that meant death.
He went back to the snowmobile, took a pair of black gloves from his pocket, and swung his leg over the seat. He was unaware that he had pulled out more than just the gloves. The small, downy ear fluttered through the air and landed in the snow. It bore the mark that proved the calf belonged to their herd.
He revved the engine, releasing the stench of exhaust, but also something undefinable that made Elsa’s nose crinkle.
She skied on shaky legs to where the man was last standing, removed her mitten, and picked up the ear. She wiped the snow away and got blood on her palm. It wasn’t the whole ear; he’d cut off just the outermost part, where the marking was.
She glanced at the dead body by the fence.
It was Nástegallu—Elsa’s reindeer. The white patch between her eyes, and her unusually long legs. Drops of blood covered her soft fur. Elsa’s reindeer, without her earmark to show where she belonged. Elsa couldn’t cry, couldn’t scream. There was a frightening clamor in her head. The thought that one day she would kill the man who did this.
- Publisher: Scribner (January 31, 2023)
- Length: 400 pages
- ISBN13: 9781668007167
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Raves and Reviews
“Stolen is an extraordinary novel. A coming-of-age-story you'll get lost in, about youth and heritage and the never-ending struggle to be allowed to exist. Although set in the coldest and most northern part of Scandinavia, I'm convinced it’s a universal story to be loved everywhere in the world.”—Fredrik Backman, internationally bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and Anxious People
"[Written] with sensitivity and insight for the subtleties of Sámi life." —New York Times
“A moving account. . . . The heart, and the great appeal, of this novel is its empathetic portrait of a young woman who flourishes in this harsh, but beautiful, landscape.” —Financial Times (UK)
“Powerful. . . . [Laestadius] has neatly side-stepped cliches about Indigenous communities to reveal a loving portrait of a community fighting to survive. . . . What Stolen may do best is make clear how hollow words ring when world leaders talk about protecting Indigenous land and people. . . . Stolen is both a lesson and a warning.” —Grist
"A revelatory account.” —Kirkus
“Sámi author Ann-Helén Laestadius has written a fresh, devastating, and insightful novel about Sámi life and the struggle for justice in a rapidly changing world. A love for the imperiled landscape reverberates throughout this engaging read.” —Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of How Strange a Season
“Stolen is in equal measure a gripping and thrilling mystery as it is a testament to the continued beating heart of Sámi life. Ann-Helén Laestadius takes her place as an important voice in world Indigenous literature.”—Michelle Good, author of Five Little Indians
“Shattering and thought-provoking from the first to the last page! . . . An illuminating portrayal of a part of Sweden where villagers, neighbors, and families are set against each other through generations.” —Book of the Year Award Jury Citation (Sweden)
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