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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Captain Nemo's Library

Per Olov Enquist

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To purchase Captain Nemo's Library

Title: Captain Nemo's Library
Author: Per Olov Enquist
Genre: Novel
Written: 1991
Length: 230 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Captain Nemo's Library - US
Captain Nemo's Library - UK
Kapitän Nemos Bibliothek - Deutschland
  • Swedish title: Kapten Nemos bibliotek

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Our Assessment:

A- : well-conceived and well-written tale from darkest Sweden

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Literature Today . Winter/1993 Ingrid Clareus

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The complete review's Review:

       Per Olov Enquist's novel has little to do with Jules Verne's great character Nemo, the captain who ventured twenty-thousand leagues under the sea, or the shipboard library of the fantastic submarine. Verne's book and character are a release for the narrator here, a different kind of escape into the world of fiction.
       The story of Captain Nemo's Library largely deals with the life of two childhood friends, the narrator and his friend Johannes, in bleak northern Sweden. The two were switched at birth, something that is only discovered (or realized) when they are five or so. After a prolonged legal battle the two switch families: it is 1940, they are six years old and their worlds have been thrown upside down.
       A bond still unites the two throughout their youth. The narrator never had any books in his youth. Johannes got a dozen after the switch of households, and he passes one on: Verne's The Mysterious Island, with its tale of the Nautilus, determining the end that Johannes and the narrator must meet.
       A third character figures prominently as well: Eeva-Lisa, a playmate-substitute and companion given to Johannes, but also a girl who becomes a significant figure in the narrator's life.
       The world is unbalanced when the original mistake is undone. The children then grow up in the right households, with their actual parents, but in fact they grow up in the wrong households. Each misses the world he has been removed from. Eventually they set out to set things right again, leading to the Nautilus and its library.
       Enquist's novel has a prologue, four parts, and an epilogue. The end is revealed at the beginning, but the pieces necessary for understanding how the narrator reaches it (and indeed what he means) are only presented piece by piece. Composed of many relatively short passages and sections, the narrator describes his youth and the episodes with Eeva-Lisa that lead back to Johannes -- and Nemo and the Nautilus.
       Sparely and deceptively simply presented, Captain Nemo's Library presents a neat story that comes together very well. In the dark, cold Swedish countryside, a land of silence and secrets, the narrator tries to make his way, helping the doomed Eeva-Lisa and then finding her again. This is no childhood idyll, but it is a hopeful little saga: strength of will and belief carry him through.
       Enquist tells a good story -- from the hospital mix-up to the narrator's efforts to find Johannes and Eeva-Lisa again Enquist keeps the reader interested. He also does more, ably playing with literary form and with writing itself -- without ever trying too hard.
       A very satisfying read. Recommended.

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Reviews: Per Olov Enquist: Other books by Per Olov Enquist under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Scandinavian literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Per Olov Enquist was born in 1934.

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