To Cook a Bear
ORIGINAL TITLE: Koka Björn
AUTHOR: Mikael Niemi
ORIGINAL PUBLISHER: Piratförlaget
GENRE: Fiction, Film rights
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 disciple. Laestadius is an avid botanist, and with Jussi in tow he sets out on long botanical treks to teach him 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 sees other 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.
A gripping and vivid read, To Cook a Bear manages to both entertain and to burrow deep down into life’s great philosophical questions. Reminiscent of Victor Hugo’s Les misérables and Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, To Cook a Bear goes straight to the heart.
“Niemi succeeds in constructing a story that works as a murder mystery and as a compelling study of a dangerously inward-looking community.”
The Sunday Times
”an original and gripping crime story”
"To Cook a Bear is a smorgasbord of philosophy, natural science, history and murder mystery. This is a captivating and engrossing literary read. There’s a great deal of wit and intelligence to this dark brooding novel which makes much of its the edge of the world, on the boundaries of knowledge, setting. The mystery itself is enhanced by Niemi’s fresh take on the proto-detective and sidekick combination.(…)
Niemi is a born storyteller, To Cook a Bear is a beguiling and seductive read. The sense of time and place is beautifully observed, vivid images are conjured and even in the summer has its profound chill. This is an atmospheric and thought provoking novel, a very satisfying historical murder mystery, both the pastor and Jussi are rich characters, the inchoate/innocent and the man of God/man of science. Reminiscent of The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag, an urban tale of the clash between science, politics, religion and superstition."
Crime time, UK
”There is much more to this wonderfully idiosyncratic novel from Sweden; it is not only a riveting, psychologically astute mystery but also a work of history, natural history (the pastor is a gifted botanist), and religion.
Both the pastor, who is nationally known as founder of a controversial revivalist movement, and Jussi are highly empathetic and memorable characters who populate a book that is an example of both superb genre fiction and character-driven literary fiction. It is not to be missed.”
Michael Cart, Booklist
“One of the great events of the year, in terms of translated literature, is undoubtedly the historical procedural To Cook a Bear by Swedish author Mikael Niemi, in brilliant translation by Sergei Stern. A handy comparison is the novels of Umberto Eco (e.g. The Name of the Rose), which also hide deeply philosophical historical novels in the disguise of crime procedurals.”
“…a suspenseful, good-natured and occasionally insanely funny book that one simply wants to disappear into and go into hibernation for a few days.”
Posta Magazine, Russia
“The language is incredibly evocative. In Sergei Stern's masterful translation one can virtually hear how the peasants and the reindeer herders sound: their lamentations and cries, their cussing and profanities, which creates a both comical and eerie effect. The peculiar magic of the language has made it one of the most popular and notable books from Phantom Press.”
“Niemi’s writing – that of a narrator and a poet, a dreamer and a storyteller – brushes the highest peaks of the most delicate lyricism, rising strongly out of the abyss of the darkest mystery.”
Alessandra Iadicicco, Corriere della Sera
“Niemi plots a composite story where the philosophical novel, the crime novel, the historical novel and the coming-of-age story coexist, complementing one another instead of getting in each other’s way”
Alessia Gazzola, La Stampa
“Niemi’s thriller has such a suggestive atmosphere –stifling in its sweating puritanism, yet somehow lyrical, with an incredibly well conceived plot.”
Laura Ricci, Il Sole 24 Ore
“Laestadius, a man of faith and science, buried in the evil of ignorance and violence. A fighter who struggles to find humanity right where the darkest night feasts on man weaknesses. Best book of 2019”
“Visionary, rough, poetical and therefore deeply subversive. The pastor’s botanical knowledge makes the investigation and the scenery truly engaging.”
“Murders in Mikael Niemi’s To Cook a Bear? They are just a pretext for telling the story of the spiritual and cultural journey of Jussi, the adopted child of Laestadius, pastor, botanic and detective. They are also a pretext for praising books as antidotes to poverty and discrimination”
“A masterpiece of narrative”
“It is Swedish and a thriller, but it has nothing to do with Stieg Larsson and his Millennium saga . . . To Cook a Bear surprises with its original title, and grips readers with its police investigation in the purest Sherlock Holmes style. But it is also a historical novel based on the real figure of Pastor Lars Levi Laestadius and a manifesto for words and the importance of reading . . . A very different thriller that goes beyond the classic killer hunt and reminds us at times of the magnificent success The Name of the Rose”
La Voz de Galicia
“The Swedish writer Mikael Niemi immerses the reader in a historical thriller with Pastor Lars Levi Laestadius, a nineteenth-century historical character . . . An investigation in the purest police style that surrounds Laestadius and his disciple Jussi, a clear tribute to classic works like Sherlock Holmes."
“A novel with many shades . . . A powerful story with traces of an American thriller”
" The pleasure of To Cook a Bear is twofold: On the one hand, one experiences an almost criminal thrill of voyeurism as Jussi and the Pastor investigate the mysterious assaults. On the other hand, one is transported into a strange time and fascinating world that is equally beautiful and brutal. The descriptions of the landscape and the changing of the seasons instill an urgent desire to crank up the time machine, while the no less tangible depictions of tooth extractions, bear cooking and immense poverty makes one very grateful for central heating, a soft bed and a hospital nearby. … For every book Jussi reads, the world opens up a bit more – and that is how it feels when you finish To Cook a Bear: as if the world just got a little bit bigger."
"A nerve-rackingly good storyteller."
Oh, how it smells and tastes, this novel. Of animals, sweat and decay. Of lovemaking, herbs and fermented brews. Of poverty, blood and violence. Swedish writer Mikael Niemi does something special with language – indeed, he does so much that his prose sometimes becomes almost physically intrusive. In his new novel, To Cook a Bear, he tells a profound, colorful and complex story in which all his abilities as a writer come into their own."
"Mikael Niemi's To Cook a Bear is a magnificent novel about people and nature that reaches out across two hundred years to touch us ... a literary triumph."
"To Cook a Bear is a true reading pleasure. The writing style is detailed, palpable, remarkable. Fantastic! A murder mystery that will take your breath away! Highly recommended!"
"To Cook a Bear is a wonderfully powerful novel. A novel about life in the far north, about faith, hope and love. But also an old-fashioned crime novel. Forget all about contemporary forensic methods: look back instead to indispensable inventions such as fingerprints and daguerreotypes ... So, if you are a fan of good solid novels with historical twists and proper detective work, then this linguistic gem should definitely be on your reading list. Few writers manage to blend different genres – Niemi is one of them."
“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.”
“It’s the combination of energy and ease in Mikael Niemi’s prose that attracts me the most. There is so much force behind the words. The images he conveys of people and places are clear, the emotions genuine. In fact, it’s nothing short of a grand slam.”
“The book is in turns dark and terrible, comical, and profound. … To Cook a Bear is a story that captivates and ensnares, it is harsh but lovable. The language is flavorful, carnal, and although certain passages make one grimace in disgust – the titular bear cooking for example – one immediately reads on.”
“Floored, moved, high on the prose itself … A murder mystery thriller in an 1850s setting, social tragedy and historical novel all at once, resolutely dreaming of fairytale endings. It is all somewhat zany, profound, expressed from within and displayed from without, a grand setting and a hankering soul all in the same book.”
“The plot is a classic crime mystery … but To Cook a Bear is also a story about voicing and writing oneself forth in the world, about the power granted those able to order and classify the world … a fantastical account of how, for example, it feels to eat boiled potatoes with butter for the first time. It is one of Niemi’s greatest resources as an author: that he behind every corner manages to offer precisely that which I (and presumably everyone) rejoice in discovering at that very moment.”
“The story evolves from evocative introduction to phenomenal conclusion … Niemi’s prose flows forth; rich with connotations and images it forms an excellent vehicle for the historical account … the best I have read by Niemi.”
Uppsala Nya Tidning
“An insanely and absolutely wonderful book. A violent, educational and entertaining tall tale, which is heartily told. There is a lot of research behind it, but Mikael Niemi retains his effortless prose and craft.”
“To Cook a Bear is nearly a hagiography of Lars Levi Laestadius, here presented as a homicide detective with the wit of Sherlock Holmes. It’s an entertaining read … [However] It is when Niemi delightfully depicts a region he is deeply familiar with, that the novel trembles with life and presence. Here, Niemi’s prose becomes pure poetry and brilliant in every sense.”
“The murder mystery in To Cook a Bear is indeed dramatically suspenseful, and the historical and psychological portrayal of the threatened spiritual community in Kengis is captivatingly told by Mikael Niemi. But I am most moved by what I gradually learn about Jussi’s emotions and affections – the boy who can read, write, think, feel, and who loves Maria.” -
“The novel’s language is hypnotic; just so archaic and ceremonial it can be without coming across as forced … Niemi commands the precise musicality needed to pull off such terminology … immensely pleasurable, well-composed fiction.” -
“To Cook a Bear is a read suited for a long weekend or several pleasant autumn evenings: suspense, grief, agitation and giggles all in one sentence, a fairytale, a truth, and a rollercoaster ride, as unpredictable as it is well-written.”
Skaraborgs Läns Tidning
“Mikael Niemi has written a crime novel that is suspenseful but also moving, because it presents the reader with human benevolence in the midst of it all. Moving in the sense that the book touches you. That’s when an author has succeeded.” -
“The most gripping and captivating thing about To Cook a Bear is the portrayal of Jussi … In Jussi, Niemi has found a convincing voice, a desolate intimacy and wide-open gaze that makes the stench and the pain but also the beauty and the fragrances rise from the pages … It is tenderly told … Jussi gets under one’s skin ... The landscape, the people in it, the time – Niemi brings them to life.”
"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."
"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."
”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.”
Czech rights sold to Argo
Danish rights sold to Modtryk
Dutch rights sold to AtlasContact
Faroese rights sold to Sprotin
Film Rights sold to Anagram
Finnish rights sold to Like
French rights sold to Stock
German rights sold to BTB
Hungarian Rights sold to Polar Egyesület
Islandic rights sold to Forlagid.
Italian rights sold to Iperborea
Norwegian audio Rights sold to Lydbokforlaget
Norwegian rights sold to Oktober
Polish Rights sold to Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellonskiego
Russian Rights sold to Phantom Press
Spanish rights sold to Destino
Turkish Rights sold to Kafka
UK rights sold to MacLehose Press
US Rights sold to Penguin US