To Cook a Bear
ORIGINAL TITLE: Koka Björn
AUTHOR: Mikael Niemi
ORIGINAL PUBLISHER: Piratförlaget
To Cook a Bear is the fantastic story of revivalist preacher Lars Levi Laestadius and the young Sami boy he saves from a ditch and cares for. It is the summer of 1852 in the Kengis village of Sweden’s far north, and Jussi – as the boy is called – has fled from a cruel home plagued by abuse, starvation, and alcoholism.
Jussi becomes the preacher’s faithful companion and disciple. Laestadius is an avid botanist, and with Jussi in tow he sets out on long botanical treks filled with philosophical discussions. The preacher teaches Jussi all about plants and nature; but also how to read, write and not least to love and fear God. For it is revivalist times, and thanks to Laestadius impassioned faith spreads like wildfire among the locals. While the preacher’s powerful Sunday sermons grant salvation to farmers and workers, they gain him enemies among local rulers, who see profits dwindle as people choose revival over alcohol.
One day a maid goes missing in the deep forest, and soon thereafter another disappears. One of them is found dead, the other badly wounded, and the locals suspect a predatory bear is at large. The constable is quick to offer a reward for capturing the bear, but the preacher – who in both instances was the first to be called to the crime scene – sees other traces. Traces that point to a far worse killer on the loose. Along with Jussi, the preacher reinvents himself as something of a forensic expert, unaware of the evil that is closing in on him.
To Cook a Bear is a riveting tale of great events in a small community. A gripping and vivid read, it manages to both entertain and to burrow deep down into the great philosophical questions of life. Reminiscent of Victor Hugo’s Les misérables and Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, To Cook a Bear goes straight to the heart.
“Divine crime fiction … This book is a masterpiece … The legendary Læstadius becomes a kind of Sherlock Holmes in this extraordinary historical crime novel … [Niemi] creates images, smells, sounds, atmospheres and characters that make this book a truly extraordinary reading experience. … a must-read”
“Superb suspense! … a multifaceted, mysterious and engaging novel. With a prose that glows … a book quivering with commitment and compassion, but also with foolishness and unconstrained brutality. To Cook A Bear is a rich novel that irresistibly engages the reader … Mikael Niemi’s novel provides a ruthless and almost physically palpable portrayal of a time that seems endlessly long ago … Is it nonetheless possible to feel elated after having read such a story? I dare answer in the affirmative: To Cook A Bear is simply a great literary experience”
“Formidable delivery. … Unlike anything else you have read … [Niemi] has composed science fiction as well as suspense, but without the plentiful humor and local color of Popular Music from Vittula, it hasn’t really lived up to past greatness. Not until this incredible novel”
“The pleasure of To Cook a Bear is twofold: On the one hand one experiences almost criminal enjoyment as one watches from the sidelines while Jussi and the pastor investigate the mysterious attacks. On the other hand, one gets drawn into an unfamiliar time and a fascinating world, as beautiful as it is brutal. /…/ …and that’s also how it feels when one has finished To Cook a Bear: as if the world has become a little larger.”
– Politiken (5 stars)
“It’s captivating as well as illuminating; several historical figures from the birth of Laestadianism appear, and the murder mysteries keep the reader entranced throughout the almost 400 pages. /…/ Mikael Niemi has written an intensely entertaining story.”
“Niemi’s prose is rich and visual, the story a blend of redolent, historical tall tale and detective novel. […] The portrayal of the orphaned Jussi is both clever and compassionate, and will linger long after finishing the book.”
– Tidningen Vi
“The new novel To Cook a Bear fulfills the everlasting expectations attached to everything Niemi has done since Popular Music from Vittula. The narrative zest, the humor and warmth of the dialogue, the suspense, and the instructiveness of the historical setting. A fine book, simply put.”
“With characteristic elegance, the author weaves a tall tale out of Læstadius’ life … A well-written, accessible, and entertaining historical novel that provides insight into Læstadius’ thoughts and deeds, while simultaneously depicting the Sami; their language and plight as a colonized people.”
“When Niemi takes on Læstadius, the latter also assumes the role of forensic scientist, following a murder in the woods. Even the title of this historical novel – To Cook a Bear – promises precisely that bleakness, rawness, humor and revelation of man that I have enjoyed in Mikael Niemi’s previous books.”
“Mikael Niemi’s new novel contains both powerful personal portraits and a sensitive depiction of the nature and botany of Tornedalen. […] The story evolves from an evocative opening to a phenomenal finale, a finale that is painful to read but nonetheless irresistibly suspenseful.”
“Mikael Niemi has written a novel as folksy as a Vilhelm Moberg and as locally genuine as a Sara Lidman or a Torgny Lindgren. And oh, how his writing sings.”
– Gefle Dagblad
”Mikael Niemi describes the early steps of the revivalist movement with so rich nuances, that it alone would be enough to make this novel his best book so far.”
– Aamulehti 4/5 stars
”The book is unbearably exciting and extremely skillful.”