Memories and Love Letters

I’ve just finished a delightful debut novel by Swedish writer Sofia Lindbergh entitled The Red Address Book. The story is told by Doris Alm, now 96 years old, who is in declining health in Stockholm. Her only living relative is her great-niece Jenny now living and raising her family in San Francisco. Doris has begun writing her life story for Jenny because she doesn’t want her memories to die when she does. She uses her red address book given to her as a young girl by her father to prompt her memory. It saddens Doris that just about everyone listed in her book is now dead. She has outlived everyone who ever meant anything to her except Jenny.

A reoccurring subject throughout her writings is of Allan Smith, who she met as a young woman in Paris. It was love at first sight for both of them. Allan was half-American and half-French and was in Paris studying architecture. They spent every waking moment together during those months preceding Hitler rise to power in Germany. Allan’s father forces him to leave Paris on such a short notice he doesn’t have a chance to tell Doris. For her it’s like he just vanishes into thin air while Europe is thrown into the frenzy of World War 2. Doris and her younger sister Agnes become displaced by the war and end up in America. She looks for Allan everywhere and finally sees him for one glorious night before he leaves to fight in Europe. She wears the locket with his picture in it for the next 70 years as she writes letters to him that are undeliverable.

Jenny comes to Stockholm when Doris falls and breaks her hip. Jenny is able to read Doris’s writings and talk to her about their family including Jenny’s drug-addicted mother. Jenny also learns about Doris’s life-long love of Allan and puts her husband Willie on a search to find out what happened to him. It’s a poignant part of the story.

Doris lives such an interesting life full of all kinds of people, and the author fleshes out all the characters so well. There’s Agnes, her younger sister who stays in America when Doris returns to Europe. There’s Gosta Nilsson who is a painter of modern art who does not receive fame during his lifetime, but is always there for Doris. In fact Doris lives with him in Stockholm for 20 years after the war. And of course, Jenny who is so devoted to Doris, and if you have a favorite aunt you’ll enjoy reading about Jenny and Doris’s relationship.

There is so much more to tell you, but it would spoil some wonderful surprises. So you’ll have to read The Red Address Book yourself to find out. It’s a fun and easy read- perfect for a trip or a lazy weekend.

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