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The Eye of the Reindeer: Sometimes it takes a lifetime to find your way home.

Author name: Eva Weaver (2016 Fairy tale / historical fiction)

In her second novel, Eva Weaver tells the tale of two young girls on a journey that spans almost 30 years through snow, wars, and endless nights at sea. Starting in Finland in the summer of 1913 the book is divided into four parts. 

  • Dark Night of the soul
  • Towards the midnight sun
  • The reckoning
  • The time of the sacred drum. 

“Maybe their bond had always been more than just companionship. And the way she still ached for Marta – was this love? Was this what the girls teased each other about in the sidda? Except that when they talked about love it was that of a woman for a man – she never heard anyone talk about a woman loving another woman, except in whispered rumors’.”

The first part of the 371-page book starts off painfully slow as the scene is cast with the main character, Ritva, who is only sixteen. She is sent away to a remote island by her father. This island which was a former leper colony has now been converted into an asylum for women and girls that have been cast off from society due to perceived mental illnesses and unsavory behavior. When she arrives at the island she soon realizes that there may never be any hope for her to leave the asylum. The winters are cold and unforgiving with little care been afforded to the patients who reside there. Ritva’s one solace comes in the form of visits from the doctor who attempts to force the hands of the matrons to take better care of the patients. However, during the winter months when the waters freeze over, the patients are left to fend for themselves. 

Early on Ritva makes acquaintance with Martta, who is a slightly older girl than her, and soon a solid friendship forms between the two. When Ritva falls severely ill it is Martta who stays by her side almost day and night despite the further hardships that the matrons then make her suffer. By the time that Ritva is well enough to start working in the gardens again the two friends concede that should they stay on the island another winter, they will never make it through. Either because they would physically die or their will to be alive would completely break. 

“She wanted to get to know the mysterious woman who had tried to escape from this forsaken place, had kicked and bucked like a wild horse, alive and unbroken.”

They begin slowly trying to store some supplies and make a plan to escape. Their only option to get off the island is to use a coffin that is being prepared for a sickly patient. After creating a diversion by starting a fire, the two set off with the cover of night on the sea in a coffin that barely fits the two of them. 

Part two begins two weeks later after successfully having had escaped. They are certain that there is still a manhunt for them and are cautious not to draw any attention to themselves by sleeping on deserted islands and making sure to never make contact with people. As time goes on, the summer months turn to winter and their journey continues to try and move as far away from the asylum as possible in order to find Martta’s reindeer people and make a life for themselves there. 

Their plans are almost foiled when they are discovered by one of the workers who is tracking them in order to bring them back to the institution and restore the name of asylum. 

They hatch a plan to kill a seal and set the scene as if they had been attacked by a wild animal. Martta whose people live in harmony with nature and all its creatures explains to Ritva how the seal had given her permission to kill it in this instance as it was willing to sacrifice its life to help them. This bold plan works and soon they continue on their way. 

They travel for years and along their journey, Ritva adopts a wolf pup that had been caught in a snare, to the absolute disdain of Martta. Soon after the pup is added to their travels they come across a young boy who attempts to steal from them. Being that he is so young they decide to take him along with them. With food supplies running low and the journey long this decision is not an easy one. 

After years of traveling towards the reindeer people, they are finally so close that they can see them from afar. It is that evening when they decide to rest before completing their journey that Martta makes an advance on Ritva by kissing her. Shocked and confused, Ritva pushes her away and what follows is Martta taking off in the middle of the night to spare herself from having to deal with the fallout of her mistake. 

Ritva and the young boy wake up to the realization that Martta has left with the wolf with not a word of goodbye. Heartbroken, Ritva can hardly function for a few days, and in that time a blizzard approaches which threatens both her and the young boy’s life. Miraculously they are saved by a clan that is nearby and they wake up in warm tents. 

Over time the community accepts her and the boy into their group and Ritva makes herself useful in the day-to-day happenings of the community. 

However, her heart still longs to go back to Finland in order to see her younger sister. Her heart also longs to see Martta again in order to try and make things work out between them. 

“Lift your face towards the sun,

Lift your bones towards the sun:

Lift your souls towards the sub;

You are warm, you are free,

You are warm, you are free.”

This longing for her sister brings us into part 3 where she makes the trip back home, leaving the young boy in the care of her new community that she has. 

Terrified to just walk into her childhood home she makes contact with her sister by writing her a small note. They are reunited the following day at a favorite childhood bridge where they briefly share stories of how their lives have been. 

Ritva soon discovers that her father has been sexually abusing her sister and Ritva vows to make him confess to his sins and leave the church as a pastor.

One evening she sneaks into the house and a fight ensues between the two of them. Ritva is however able to overpower him and ties him to a chair in the house where a confession is made. More than that, however, she then discovers that her mother was actually from the reindeer people and that once her father had married her, he made Ritva’s mother swear to never speak of that life and of those people again as it was against the churches ways and teachings. 

Later that evening she moves him into her childhood room and while they are asleep he commits suicide in the ultimate act of guilt and shame. 

Ritva and her sister soon move on to find her community once again. 

Although I have touched on most of what happens in the book, part 4 will remain a mystery for you to read. The ending comes with hast and almost feels rushed compared to how slowly the book began. However, there is a lot that happened in those last few pages including Ritva finding her late mother’s sister, children being born, guardianship of children being taken up, and the ultimate reconciliation between two lovers who couldn’t stay apart. 

“We’ve lived through many hard times; the Christians did not believe in our old ways and destroyed many of our sieidis, our sacred places. But you see, there are many such places – a rock, face, a lone tree, the top of the mountain – and you cannot destroy everything.”

This is not a book that will make you want to read it over and over again, however, after part one, it captures your imagination very well and is worth the read. Eva Weaver’s ability to tell the story brings alive all your senses in this lovely novel. 

Blog post by Hulisani Khorombi.