Smash Pages Q&A: Anneli Furmark on ‘Red Winter’

‘It’s like all the characters in the book have their own universe.’

Anneli Furmark’s Red Winter is a stunning book. It is a love story where the grand romantic scene and gesture happens in the opening pages. It is a narrative that is fractured told from multiple points of view, none of whom understand everything that’s happening. It’s about the politics of 1970’s Sweden and how they intersect with people’s lives. It is an impression of a time and of a place that is rendered and colored beautifully that lingers lost after one finishes reading he last page.

Furmark was kind enough to answer a few questions about her book and how she works.

I’ve read Red Winter a few times now, and I am curious where the book started for you. Was the initial idea?

I grew up in Luleå in northern Sweden, a city that resembles the one in Red Winter. One of my first comic short stories (in my first book, Labyrinterna, 2002) was an autobiographical story about a year in my youth when I dated a young Maoist. I knew I wasn’t ready with that time in my history, and Sweden’s history as well. Red Winter is fiction, though, and the setting is some years earlier.

Where did the idea of telling the story from multiple points of view come from?

I wanted to do a love story, because it’s one of the main ideas in the book: that a political conviction, or a religious one, can make you believe in things that your heart knows is wrong. Or rather, you can come to the point when you neglect, or abuse,  your deeper feelings. And leaders of these groups are often encouraging this, or demanding it.

The idea to include different viewpoints was there from the start. In some way it is the young daughter who is the observer, even if there are a lot of things she doesn’t know about. I find it interesting when different people look at the same things in totally different ways. It’s like all the characters in the book have their own universe.

Now for those of us well especially those of us who grew up in the United States – or maybe just for those of us of a different generation – I wonder if you could give some context for the book’s events.

In some ways the book focuses on the Swedish self image. Sweden had developed and changed a lot in a very short time, and when the 1976 elections came, the Social Democrats had been in government for four decades. Suddenly the conservatives won the election. For people like my family members it was a shock. At the same time there was a significant leftist movement, fractured into numerous groups with different communist agendas. There were a lot of political discussions, in my home and among my friends. I was a child, but I was involved.

How important for you were the political and ideological battles that are the backdrop of the book?

There is one question that was especially important for me at that time: the one about violence. Siv asks Ulrik whether if she were on the wrong side, he would shoot her “when the revolution comes”. Obviously not everyone, but at the time many people in those communist groups and parties were really into dreams of violence, weapons, armies.

If you confronted them directly about it they would deny it, but I know they were. I couldn’t stand it then, and I can’t stand it now.

I’m still fond of some of the Social Democrat idea of welfare and distribution policy. But the political landscape is so different nowadays. It would take a new book to even begin to explore that, I guess…

You would have been the age of the children back during this period, and I wonder about your impressions of the period and these political battles?

Like most children I had the same views that my parents had for a long time, and they were Social Democrats. As a teenager I got new views, mostly from discussing with friends. I started to be concerned about environmental issues, nuclear power, women’s rights. At that time, these questions were not important at all in the Social Democrat party, except nuclear power which they supported strongly.

I know that you grew up in the North of Sweden. How much do you think that setting and sense of place has influenced your work?

I should say very much, if not totally. I was raised with dark winters and bright summer nights, so that’s the norm for me and everything else is an exception. In all my work I am interested in how people react to each other and the landscape they’re in. I paint a lot, and my paintings have a tendency to contain mountains, forest, cityscapes and the houses of the north, even if I try to do other things as well. I always end up here, in Northern Sweden.

I wonder if you could talk about the way you use color and light in the book.

I try to not use too many colours, and always try to find the important ones. For this book they were the blue-greenish shades of the winter nights, and the warm orange-yellow tone of the indoor lamps, which by the way seemed much weaker back then.How hard was it to find the right ending for the book?

It’s always hard. Even now I’m not totally sure this is the right decision.

Red Winter was originally published a few years ago in Sweden. What are you working on now?

My last book (2016) was about a woman traveling to Tromsø in northern Norway, she’s stalking a character from a novel named Alberte. The novel exists (by Cora Sandel) but of course she can’t find the main character Alberte.

I was blown away by the landcape around Tromsø. My next book will be set in that area too. It is based on a young adult novel written by the Norwegian writer Monika Steinholm, and I made a graphic novel from it. Lots of love, drama and mountains. It will be out in Sweden in May called something like The closest we will get (Närmare kommer vi inte).

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