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April Witch [Paperback]

Majgull Axelsson
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Mar 2003
Desirée lies in a hospital bed thinking, dreaming. Born severely disabled, she cannot walk or talk, but she has other capabilities. Desirée is an April witch, clairvoyant and omniscient, traveling through time and space into the world denied her.

The woman who gave Desirée up at birth subsequently took in three foster daughters, who know nothing of the existence of their fourth “sister.” Sensing that her own time is short, Desirée has decided that one of the others has lived the life she herself deserved. One day, each of the three women receives a mysterious letter that forces her to examine her past and her present—setting in motion a complex fugue of memory, regret, and confrontation that builds to a shattering climax.

April Witch created a furor upon its original publication in Sweden. Addressing themes of mother-daughter relationships, competition between women, and the failures of Sweden’s postwar welfare state, it is foremost a thrillingly written and fascinating story.

Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade; Reprint edition (Mar 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812966880
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812966886
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 13.3 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 320,634 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The central figure, Desiree, is severely disabled. She was given up at birth by her mother, and put into an institution, at a time when mothers were adviced to 'forget and just have another one instead'. Desiree is intensely jealous of her mother's three foster daughters, who themselves have been separated from their mothers for different reasons. The story unfolds around each woman's own story and how they resolve - or not - their fractured relationships with their own mothers. Desiree's experience of being disabled is amazingly described, and the relief she experience when the situation for disabled people, improves, e.g. being seen as actual human beings with some abilities. She has a complex emotional life. It will take me several reads more to get my head round and unravel it all. It's a book I will come back to as there as so many stories within this story, most of which this review doesn't even begin to address! So read it and discover it for yourself! A definite 'must read'!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect blend of the real and surreal 15 Aug 2005
By A Customer
'April Witch'is one of those books that you read and remember for the rest of your life.
The central character Desiree is seriously disabled and she continues to deteriorate physically to the point where she cannot communicate with the outside world. Her mind and soul however have the ability to take flight and she uses this skill to manipulate those around her.
Desiree believes that she has been cheated of a proper life. Her disability has cheated her of the physical side of life but because she was abandoned at birth by her mother, she feels that she has been cheated of life itself- without having been loved one cannot really exist.
She uses her magical skills to delve into the parallel lives of three women, foster sisters that her mother took in after having abandoned her. But none of these women have had an easy start in life and when Desiree looks at each of their adult lives, she is forced to reconsider her own.
This book manages to track characters' histories against a backdrop of the Swedish state system, a society which worked only if you conformed. Desiree, with her physical disability is not the only misfit though - there are many others whose lives are made miserable as a result of failures and cover ups by the welfare state.
This very physical world is juxtaposed magnificently with Desiree's experiences of the metaphysical one. There are so many rich layers to this novel that you will want to reread it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something new 23 April 2002
By Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader - Published on Amazon.com
In post-war Sweden, three very different girls find a safe haven with foster-mother Ella. Christina and Birgitta were removed from abusive homes by social workers, and Margareta was abandoned at birth. Little do these girls know that there is a fourth member of their group-Desiree, Ella's severely disabled daughter. Desiree has been institutionalized since birth, suffering from cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Although she cannot speak or move, Desiree is an "April witch," someone with a weak body and a strong mind. She follows the lives of her three "sisters," whom she believes have stolen the life she was supposed to have.
Ella gave up her only child to the care of Sweden's new Welfare State when told that Desiree was too severely afflicted to ever leave the hospital. She could not know that, with the help of a computer, her daughter would learn to communicate with others, earn a number of advanced degrees, or use her paranormal capabilities to follow Ella's life and her relationship with her foster daughters. Much of "April Witch" takes place after Ella's stroke when the girls are separated and go on to lead their own lives. Christina becomes a doctor, Margareta a physicist, and Birgitta a battered, drug-addicted alcoholic, but none of them know about Desiree, yet.
We don't get to read many novels set in the Sweden of the `50's and 60's, and Linda Schenk's excellent translation makes you realize that there must a worthy collection of Swedish fiction we never get to see. "April Witch" is an intelligent, unusual, deeply felt story that should find an appreciative readership here in the U.S. My only quibble is that the April witch conceit is not fully played out, and actually isn't very necessary. Desiree is already linked to Ella and her sisters through real life-the doctor she loves was a boarder at Ella's house at the time of her stroke, Christina is a doctor in her facility, and Ella ends up on a respirator right down the hall from daughter. It's an interesting nuance to the story, but the tale of this family of women tossed together by chance is compelling enough without it.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Original characters 3 Oct 2003
By Sarah E. - Published on Amazon.com
I was browsing through a book store at lunch and this one just happened to be on the shelf with the cover facing forward. I read the cover and maybe the first four pages and then moved on. I couldn't get those four pages out of my mind, so I went back for the book. I was not disappointed. I recommend this book to friends - but not all of them. I can see how it may not be for everyone; but I enjoyed it quite a bit. It wouldn't be a book I would recommend to someone who would be easily offended as there are bit parts of explicit sexuality and some taboo subjects touched upon. I think the social commentary and off-beat characters may be a turn-off for some, but I find those topics and story lines compelling. The social commentary aspect could have easily been heavy-handed, but Axelsson keeps the story true to her characters and doesn't make her critique preachy.
The character development in this book was wonderful. The four sisters were complete and interesting and not like other people I know or characters I've run across. That may be because I am American and they are Swedish, but none the less, I found them convincing. That's not to say I would choose them as friends, but I don't require that to enjoy the book. I also liked getting to know a little more about Sweden than where it is on the map. The actual "april witch" aspect was an interesting way to tell all four stories. Christina was my favorite of the sisters, and the part about her x-rays during her time at medical school was a heartbreaker. Actually there were many poignant recollections of the girls growing up (pre and post Ella). I did find it hard to fathom why there wasn't more structure and honesty between the characters, but I think that was probably part of the mess they were in, so to speak. I would have liked to know even more about the characters and their flawed lives. I thought there were parts of the book that were unresolved; parts that weren't fully explained or situations that were somewhat messy - but I think that gave the book a measure of realism - real life isn't scripted and sometimes a happy ending just isn't in the cards. There were also little character traits and interesting situations for the characters that made up for where the book may have fallen shy of the mark. I wouldn't hesitate to pick up another Axelsson book...
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars OUTSTANDING WRITING -- AND A COMPELLING STORY 16 Aug 2002
By Larry L. Looney - Published on Amazon.com
Majgull Axelsson's novel APRIL WITCH is a story told from a different angle -- the narrator is a woman who has lived with cerebral palsy and epilepsy for all of her life. Born in the 40s in Sweden, she was abandoned into state care by her birth mother -- who subsequently adopted three foster daughters. The narrator, Desiree, knows about her 'sisters' -- but they know nothing about her, even of her existence.
Desiree is extremely intelligent and motivated -- facts that escape most of her care-givers for years -- and she is 'different' in another way as well: she is an 'April witch', with the ability to leave her crippled body and travel in the bodies of birds and animals (and even other people, although this choice is extremely physically taxing for her). As she moves through middle age and sees her own condition deteriorating, Desiree comes to the conclusion that her death is approaching. She has become increasingly obsessed with the idea that one of her 'sisters' has led the life that was 'meant' for her -- and she is determined to do everything she can to find out which one.
The three 'sisters' -- a doctor, a physicist and a drug- and alcohol-abusing derelict -- cannot stand each other. As the book opens, Desiree 'sets her sisters in motion', bringing them not only together, but together around her, in order to answer the questions which have been burning within her for her entire life.
The person who knows Desiree the best (and who cares for her very deeply) is her primary care physician, Dr. Hubertsson -- who also happens to be a former lodger at the home of her mother, 'Aunt Ella', as the other 'sisters' know her. He is the remaining link in the world that binds them all together -- and he becomes part of Desiree's plan as well. Over the course of this well-developed story, everyone involved -- Desiree included -- comes to learn a lot about themselves as well as the others.
Axelsson's central character is an unusual but compelling one -- and it's refreshing to see a person with such an extreme disabity portrayed with such empathy and respect. This book, besides being very entertaining and intelligently written, can be a potential eye-opener for those who look upon people with disabilities with pity and disdain, as society's flotsam and jetsam. They -- like all of us -- deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's True-You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover! 4 July 2002
By Kimberly L. Mays - Published on Amazon.com
Have you ever walked in to your favorite restaraunt and settled comfortably in your seat, prepared to order your usual dish-only to be tempted by other, less familiar entrees? You debate back and forth between the familiar and that "new kid on the block." The picture is so appealing, not to mention the accompanying description that literally sets your mouth to watering. After some debate, you decide to risk it and you order something that you have never tried before. You wait impatiently for the server to return, anxious and excited to sample this new delicacy. Finally, the moment arrives and the server places a hot, aromatic dish in front of you and you throw caution to the wind and dive right in. Then, you chew. You ponder. You chew some more. It has all the right ingredients, but it has lost something in the preparation. Perhaps the chef should have added a spice here, a seasoning there. Maybe he should have cooked it just a little while longer. You finish the meal, but you have lost some of your furvor in the process. It is just not what you thought it was going to be.
This is how I felt when I read "April Witch". The review in People magazine was enough to make me run out and buy the book, in hardcover no doubt. I started it that evening, but was soon disillusioned. The story line showed great potential, and the characters were certainly developed and memorable. Although it moved along a little too slowly, I stayed with the book because it was "just good enough" that I wanted to finish it. The author, however, left me hanging. I kept waiting for a "climax" that never came. It had "all the right ingredients", but was lacking something. The next time, I'll order my usual.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Story to stumble across!!! 27 Dec 2006
By Stacy Koenig - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Read in the summer of 2003. I remember because I sat on my porch, drinking coffee and reading... until the porch light had to come on and then I switched to wine. I almost finished this in a weekend!

Desiree was abandoned at birth, a hideous child of disfigurement and riddled with birth defects (Cerebral Palsy). As she grows, Desiree becomes bitter to her 'three sisters' who she feels stole her life, as she was supposed to live it. The story is about Desiree and how even though she may not move, she may not speak...she follows the sisters everywhere, because she is an "April Witch", one of weak body but a mind so strong...

To make amends for her life, Desiree plots the 3 sisters to interact despite their sheer hate of each other... and she includes her physician in the twist, Dr. Huberson.

*this book was written in Sweden, and translated. -Wonderful translation This has easily become one of my favorite reads, so even though I read it 3 years ago, I had to post about it, as I have picked it up to read again!
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