Where does friendship start? In a classroom for a subject at which you do not excel? On a train, traveling to somewhere you've never been before? Maybe in a small village in Sweden, in a rented house where you're recovering from a pain so deep you don't know how it will ever stop?
In Astrid & Veronika, friendship begins in a kitchen in that Swedish village. Astrid Mattson is the "neighborhood witch" who has lived in the same house in the tiny village her her entire life. The globetrotting Veronika Bergman has rented a small neighboring house with the intent of writing her second book. The two houses are within sight of each other, but remote from all else.
Veronika falls easily into a habit of walking, eating, writing (or not) and thinking. From time to time, she thinks she sees a flicker behind the kitchen panes of her neighbor's home, but there's no movement otherwise inside or outside of the house. It's as if no one lives there.
Astrid knows she's viewed as a witch in the village. She doesn't mind that people in the village steer clear of her. She lives alone, and she says it suits her. However, once someone is suddenly not alone, it's hard to keep up the façade. She watches Veronika with more interest than a hermit should, noting her habits and activities. When she does not see Veronika for a couple of days, and it's apparent she's still in the house, Astrid makes a decision: she will go check on her.
This is the beginning, one can say, of a beautiful friendship.
Both women are full of stark and raw emotion. They've had losses and surprises, injuries and indignities. At 78, Astrid has lived a full life — despite the quiet nature of her current situation. Younger by more than half, Veronika had her share of loss and disappointment, and many of the items on her list are quite unexpected.
Author Linda Olsson creates a difficult story full of love and respect. The language is soft and gentle, the characters kind to each other and supportive. They listen when they should, share when they can. No judgment, no horror between the friends — despite some of the shocking details they reveal — which allows the reader to make the same concessions.
Some of the story is told by suggestion. Some is direct. However, it's crystal clear to the readers that these two women need each other at a time when they cannot reach out to anyone else. One hopes that all women have friends like that, and those of us lucky enough with worthy friendships can recognize our better friends (and hopefully ourselves) in these two women.
It's not an easy book to read because of Olsson's women. I don't state that to scare the "gentle" reader, but these women have heartaches, true and deep. Olsson gives it to the reader straight, unflinching as the characters themselves.
If you are brave enough, you will love the characters in the book and find the storyline and its subjects unforgettable. Approach with the open heart these women have and you will be rewarded.