The Eye of the Reindeer: Snow, Sanity and the Search for Self…



We readers know that it is super important to make sure you have the right book for the holiday season.  Something that won’t be over too quickly, that will take you on a journey (even if you have to stay at home) and will plunge you right into a new and unexpected world.  Today’s book does all of those things and more in an epic journey toward freedom of body and self, spanning more than 30 years.  We received The Eye of the Reindeer by Eva Weaver from Hachette Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Shortly after her thirteenth birthday, Ritva is sent away to Seili, an island in the far north of Finland. A former leper colony, Seili is now home to ‘hopeless cases’ – to women the doctors call mad. But Ritva knows she doesn’t belong there. As biting winter follows biting winter, she longs to be near to her sister, and wonders why her father ever allowed her to be taken to this desolate place.

Hope arrives in the form of Martta, a headstrong girl who becomes Ritva’s only friend. Martta is a Sami, from the north. All through her childhood, Ritva’s mother told her wonderful Sami legends and tales – of Vaja the reindeer, the stolen sealskin, of a sacred drum hidden long ago. When Ritva and Martta decide to make their escape, this is where they will head.

So begins an odyssey over frozen sea and land towards a place where healing and forgiveness can grow. This is a story about friendship, about seeing the world through a different perspective, and the stories and tales that can make up a life.

Wowsers, what an epic!  I had absolutely no idea when I started reading this book that it would span such a long time period and feature an unbelievable journey, both in foot miles and in growth of characters.  Ritva is a young woman in 1913 when she is shipped off to Seili, an asylum set on an island in the freezing north, and home to women that have been deemed (correctly or incorrectly) difficult cases.  The daughter of a pastor, Ritva has long experienced strange dreams and visions, and it is only when she meets Martta, a young Sami woman imprisoned with her, that she discovers that her dreams may be related to legends of the Northern Sami people.  After a daring escape, Ritva and Martta are caught up in a journey toward physical freedom from Seili, and the emotional journey of dealing with family history, sexuality and who they really want to be.

The book is broken into a number of parts that correspond with certain legs of the journeys that the girls – and then later on, women – take.  The story begins with Ritva’s time on Seili and we are given certain glimpses into her past and the reasons why her father may have had her committed in the first place.  This family mystery continues throughout much of the book until it is brought to a shocking, yet satisfying conclusion about two-thirds of the way through.    After this, Ritva tries to carve out a place for herself to belong and untangle the pressures of expectation and desire that have weighed her down.

I haven’t read a book like this in quite a long time, if ever.  The Eye of the Reindeer is totally focused on Ritva as she faces incredible challenges throughout her life.  The pace is quite slow, despite the fact that the story begins in Ritva’s adolescence and ends after her middle age, and yet I found each section totally absorbing while I was reading it.  I think my favourite part of the book was Ritva and Martta’s escape from Seili, their unconventional modes of transport and the suspense of potential recapture set against such a hostile environment.  The setting in Scandinavia and the lands at the top of the world was so well described as to almost be a character in itself and I was fascinated by the details relating to the indigenous people of this region – the Sami – and their way of life.  The author leaves some notes after the story is finished about the Sami and their current predicament for those who wish to find out more.

This book certainly won’t be for everyone, given the depth in which it explores difficult subjects like abuse, abandonment and betrayal, and the slow unfolding of the narrative, and certainly isn’t one that, had I known in advance how hefty the story would feel, I would probably have ever picked up.  The atmosphere is quite tense in some parts and particularly gloomy in others, but for the most part there is an undercurrent of hope and determination that spurred me on to find out how Ritva’s story might end.  Overall though, I am so happy to have read Ritva’s story and was completely absorbed in her life as it unfolded.

If you have a space in your schedule in the next few months which could be filled with a vast, sprawling landscape and a young woman slowly picking her way towards truth over the course of an incredible life, then I would definitely recommend you have a go at The Eye of the Reindeer.

Plus, the author has a rhyming first and surname.

That’s always a bonus.

Until next time,


From Poignant to Peppy: A Double Haiku Review…


Good morning to you, loyal friend of the shelf! Or alternately, if this is your first visit, welcome soon-to-be loyal friend of the shelf! It is Mad Martha with you today and I am delighted to be sharing with you two very different illustrated books for young readers.  One is poignant, grave and yet abundant with signs of hope, while the other is peppy, cheerful and abundant with moments of unexpected quirkiness.  I was lucky enough to receive print copies of today’s books from Book Guild Publishing for review – many thanks!

Let us begin with poignancy, shall we?

West of the West Wind is the third in a series of short story collections by Norwegian author Nils-Johan Jorgensen that feature folk tales for children aged nine plus.  This collection is comprised of three stories that all revolve around hope and endurance in the face of hardship.  The Library, the first story in this edition, follows a young boy who tries to rescue some books that are to be burned by the Nazi occupying forces.  In his mission, the boy discovers that allies can be found amongst supposed enemies, and that as long as there are those prepared to demonstrate courage, the written word will endure.  The Wolves is also set during World War II and in it three young siblings and their (acquired) canine friends are confronted with the consequences of showing love and kindness during a time of distrust and violence.  Finally, The Silence of the Sail, introduces the young sailor Thomas as he attempts to forge a new path in the new world and leave his small island home in Norway behind.

west of the west wind

Books in a satchel,

Unlikely friends; dreams pursued.

Out of darkness, light.

West of the West Wind was my first encounter with Jorgensen’s work for children (or indeed, adults!) and after reading this tome I am very interested to seek out the prior two in the series, North of the North Wind (based on Nordic fairy tales) and East of the East Wind (modern-day fables featuring oriental themes).  The book is only short, at 64 pages, but it certainly packs in some highly emotional content.  From an adult reader’s point of view, the stories revolve around heartbreak, loss and the pervasive fear that looms when something or someone that we hold dear is threatened with destruction.  But alongside these emotions are the sparks of hope and rebellion that are woven through the story, from the boy in The Library, desperate to save just one more book from the pyre, to the little family that is forged in the mountain hut in The Wolves, and the decision to break out of one’s ancestral mould in The Silence of the Sail.  I suspect that young readers may not appreciate the nuances of emotion in the same depth as adult readers would, but in reading, or being read to from these stories, they would certainly understand the sense of integrity, and the choice to act against opposition and fear that is common to the characters in all three stories.

The line drawings that appear throughout the book are just beautiful and perfectly compliment the subdued atmosphere of the stories.  My favourite of the three stories was The Wolves, because of the lighter tone that coloured most of the story.  The Library however, has the most favourable ending of the three.  The Silence of the Sail left me a bit melancholy, and the ending was rather abrupt (in a few senses!) which jarred a little.  Overall though, this was a thought-provoking and memorable read, dealing with a period in history that we often think young children may not be able to handle.  Of course, the ability to process the negative experiences of death, separation and war that are featured here will vary from child to child, so it may be useful for parents or teachers planning on sharing this book to consider ways in which the stories might lead to deeper discussions about the content.

West of the West Wind was released in March.

Now on to the peppy!

The double delight that is One Red Heart & Mindy’s Birthday by Nao A. Weaver is certainly something different from your average picture book for kids.  The book contains two little stories accented with quirky illustrations that make you look twice.  One Red Heart is about a little mouse who is given a little red heart as a gift.  The story proceeds as a counting adventure, with the mouse gathering friends around him until all they all come together to make music with their ten colourful hearts.  In Mindy’s Birthday, a surprise party is afoot and a host of odd little munchkins spend their day making decorations, baking cakes and generally preparing a birthday of epic proportions.  The effort turns out to be worth it as the guests party on into the wee small hours before curling up together in a “sweet-scented flower”. As you do.

 one red heart

The word “whimsy” is

often overused these days,

but accurate here.

I don’t like to describe things as whimsical, because I think the word is getting a bit trite and cliched, but really, there’s no other word to describe Weaver’s work.  Well, actually I could probably use odd, or unusual or cheerful or playful or fanciful….okay, so I probably should have thought a bit harder before I went with whimsical, but it’s done now.  In any case, this book has a very original look about it.  The colourful line drawings really add to the overall feel of the stories, as the text is sparse, but I would have liked the illustrations to be bigger so I could better appreciate the detail in them.  In some cases the text, though sparse, was quite helpful, as it helped me to figure out what was going on.

While examining the pictures and the text together, the book reminded me of nothing so much as a child’s unexpected response to an artistic instruction.  For example, I know that in response to the line “Don’t be late!” I would probably draw something mundane. Like a watch. Or an admonishing finger.  Not Weaver. Check this out:


A bunch of jaunty creatures riding a luck dragon (or related genus).  And might I just add, commuting by public transport would no doubt become a lot more popular if people got to travel by luck dragon (or related genus).  Take note, Brisbane City Council!

Weaver is a Japanese author (as well as artist and illustrator) and like many things that come out of Japan, pop culture wise, this book may have you thinking, “Well, that was a bit strange, but I liked it”.  I was certainly thinking that as I turned the pages.  With that in mind, I suspect that this book will find its niche with those who like their stories to be a springboard into hitherto unexplored mindscapes of the imagination, rather than a linear story with a familiar characters and a reasonably predictable beginning, middle and end.

One Red Heart & Mindy’s Birthday was released in February.

I also feel compelled to mention that it would fit perfectly into category four of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – a book with someone’s name in the title, or indeed, category six – a book with something precious in the title.  Similarly, West of the West Wind could fit into category one – a book with something relating to Safari in the title.  To find out more about the challenge, click on the button below, then sign up so we can welcome you aboard the Safari bus!

small fryUntil we meet again friends and newcomers,

Mad Martha

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