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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Lewi's Journey

Per Olov Enquist

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To purchase Lewi's Journey

Title: Lewi's Journey
Author: Per Olov Enquist
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 464 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Lewi's Journey - US
Lewi's Journey - UK
Lewi's Journey - Canada
Lewis Reise - Deutschland
  • Swedish title: Lewis resa
  • Translated by Tiina Nunnally

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Our Assessment:

B+ : long, limited, and yet strangely compelling

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 18/3/2003 Felicitas von Lovenberg
The Independent . 26/8/2005 Paul Binding
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 6/3/2003 Karl-Markus Gauß
The Scotsman . 21/5/2005 Allan Massie
Sunday Telegraph . 7/6/2005 Caroline Moore
Swedish Book Review* . (1/2002) Anna Paterson
TLS . 24/6/2005 Matthew Beaumont
World Lit. Today* . 3/2002 Anna Paterson
Die Zeit . 16/4/2003 Andreas Isenschmid

  *: The SBR and WLT reviews are virtually identical.

  From the Reviews:
  • "In einer gewagten, mitunter fulminanten Mischung aus theologischem Essay, journalistischer Recherche, zweifelndem Selbstgespräch und historischem Drama von Shakespearschen Ausmaßen schildert es die Geschichte von Lewi Pethrus, dem Gründer der schwedischen Pfingstbewegung, und seinem Gefährten im Glauben, dem Poeten Sven Lidman. Es ist eine schwierige, spannungsreiche und sonderbare Geschichte (.....) Das größte Manko des Buchs ist eines, für das Enquist nichts kann: Beide Männer sind zutiefst unsymphatisch." - Felicitas von Lovenberg, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Per Olov Enquist's treatment is subtle and persuasive. He has in fact a very good story to tell, a dramatic story of two men who work together, who love and admire each other, and who then quarrel, each trying to break the other. (...) It takes time and effort to get into this novel, but the effort is rewarded, and this is partly because it poses more questions than it offers answers - questions about the nature of religious experience, about honesty and hypocrisy, about compromise and doctrinal purity, about selflessness and selfishness. It is a big and ambitious book. Don't be put off by the subject matter." - Allan Massie, The Scotsman

  • "At times in this novel, Enquist has to strive too hard to convey the internal excitements of a faction-ridden community. Mostly, however, Lewi's Journey is unexpectedly absorbing and powerful." - Caroline Moore, Sunday Telegraph

  • "Lewi's Journey is a work of vital intensity, rewarding and demanding. (...) (A)n indispensable contribution, among other things, to the archaeology of modern religious consciousness." - Matthew Beaumont, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Lewis resa is also a journey through an intellectual territory that Enquist has spent the best part of forty years staking out" - Anna Paterson, World Literature Today

  • "Doch irgendwann hat im Lauf dieser langen Erzählung auch Enquists Geschichte ihr Leben und ihr Geheimnis eingebüßt. Interessant, um ein Dutzendwort zu nehmen, und anregungsreich bleibt es immer (.....) Kurz: Dieser Roman ist sehr gehaltvoll, ideenreich und ansprechend, nur leider erheblich weniger aufregend als die anderen sechs Romane Enquists" - Andreas Isenschmid, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Lewi's Journey centres around Lewi Pethrus (originally: Petrus Lewi Johansson), the dominant figure in the rise of the Swedish Pentecostal movement, as well as Sven Lidman, who also came to play an important role in it. For Lewi the overriding principle of the Pentecostal movement was that each congregation be independent, "with the idea of complete congregational freedom" -- essentially the opposite of, for example, the hierarchical Catholic Church (where all answered to Rome), and a return to how Christianity had been practised at the very beginning.
       Lewi managed to get his Filadelfia congregation expelled from the Baptist union in 1913; the organised Church expected that to be the kiss of death, but instead Lewi and his ideas flourished. Pentecostalism grew and grew. Based on simple principles, it had tremendous appeal:

     The ideological guidelines were clear, and were consistently carried out. All dogmas, except for the bible and belief in the all-encompassing presence of Jesus Christ should be opposed. This meant, among other things, that Lewi also effectively prevented the use of a creed within the Pentecostal movement.
       The lack of an overarching administration did complicate some things, but the very active strong personalities -- foremost Lewi, but then also Sven Lidman -- proved a strong enough guiding hand.
       There are some quirky aspects to the practise of religion here -- speaking in tongues proves very popular -- and the media are suspicious (and confounded) by its tremendous success. With success also came power, and potential influence, including in the politics of the country. Lewi steered clear, for the most part, but among the ambitions that were eventually realised was the founding of a newspaper -- a useful tool to spread the word, but also a distracting business.
       Eventually, after World War II, Lewi's strong stand against "cultural radicalism" -- which led him to oppose even: "Entertaining movies, theater, and dances in schools" -- began to put him more at odds with a changing society and weakened his position. Throughout, Sven Lidman -- a fairly successful writer who only eventually turned to religion -- is an interesting contrast and cohort, his sermons widely hailed (and, Enquist say, of enduring quality). Ultimately there is a break between the two, the strict Lewi, still seeking the right path after decades, essentially sacrificing a man who he doesn't believe is completely devoted to doing what is necessary -- and Lidman taking Lewi down (at least a notch or two) with him in a parting shot.
       For Enquist Lewi is a central figure in modern Swedish history and culture, "the foremost enemy of modernism, and yet part of it". It's that ambiguous role that he tries to convey in this long novel, meeting with a certain amount of (but not complete) success.
       Enquist figures in the novel, a narrator who explains why he has embarked on this story (the death of an acquaintance who was active in the movement, and access to his Lebenslauf, an extensive life-chronicle) and occasionally surfaces and even offers a few of his own experiences (illegal worship in the Baltics in Soviet times, etc.). It is a novel filled with questions, Enquist wondering -- often aloud -- what actually happened, or what led Lewi and Lidman down these paths. Lewi's Journey is a sort of multi-track biography, focussing both on several individuals as well as the Pentecostal movement itself -- yet leaving many open questions about each.
       Enquist recreates a great deal of dialogue, making for an intimate portrait -- yet also, at times, acknowledges how much is simply speculation, emphasising that the book is both fact and fantasy. He draws comparisons to the story he recounted in The Royal Physician's Visit, a similar historical re-creation -- with similarly obsessed characters. Most of the story is presented in decade-by-decade chunks, but Enquist moves effortlessly ahead and back when he feels like it. It's a strangely paced novel, and yet remains compelling over its entire length -- an unlikely story that he presents cleverly enough to draw the reader in.
       Lewi's Journey is a strange book, and it's not entirely clear what Enquist meant to accomplish. Still: interesting.

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Lewi's Journey: 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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© 2005-2010 the complete review

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