Review of The Father by Anton Svensson

Over at Reviewing the Evidence I reviewed The Father by two men writing under the name Anton Svensson. It would be a pretty good primer for robbing banks, but mostly it’s a family saga with crime and is based on a true story.

Publishers and librarians have designated certain kinds of books as “women’s fiction.” Though the definition of this genre is fuzzy, these books are typically focused on conflicts within relationships and the emotional journey of women characters. THE FATHER is in a way very much like “women’s fiction” with a large dose of testosterone. The heart of this story is family relationships among three boys, raised by an abusive father who emigrated0751557838-01-_sx175_sclzzzzzzz_ to Sweden from the Balkans. When Ivan isn’t working as a laborer, he’s drinking wine and training his boy to fight for their honor. The novel switches between “then” – the story of their fraught childhood – and “now” – when the three brothers and a childhood friend have formed a highly efficient team of bank robbers.

Though a great deal of this long novel is taken up with the planning and execution of a series of highly-organized and daring robberies, the emotional heart of the story is in the bonds of loyalty and closeness that grew out of a twisted view of fatherhood. In a particularly harrowing scene, Ivan takes his sons to the house where their mother had taken refuge. When she refuses to return to her violent husband, he forces one of the boy to throw a Molotov cocktail at the house. Though torn between his parents, the necessity to belong to the clan persists into adulthood when an increasingly reckless string of crimes challenges the brothers’ commitment to one another.

Anton Svensson is a pseudonym for Stefan Thunberg, a highly successful screenwriter, and Anders Roslund, an investigative reporter known for his crime thrillers written with ex-convict Börge Hellström. THE FATHER is the first in planned series with the title “Made in Sweden.” This Swedish bestseller, optioned for film by Steven Spielberg, is based on a notorious true story. In the 1990s, Stefan Thunberg’s brothers robbed several banks and became known as “the military gang.” THE FATHER is a fictional exploration of the intense relationship of three boys and their angry, explosive father that eventually led the eldest son to form a criminal gang. It’s not so much the technical execution of crimes that propels the story as the emotional relationships as the eldest son tries to create with his brothers and a friend the kind of blindly loyal clan that was his father’s ideal. Whether he can hold that group together while committing increasingly daring crimes keeps the pages turning in what is a highly masculine version of relationship-centered “women’s fiction.” It’s a shame the translator, Elizabeth Clark Wessel, isn’t named on the title page, as the translation is smooth and effective.

5 thoughts on “Review of The Father by Anton Svensson

  1. As a guy this sounds pretty good to me. Maybe I’m in touch with my “feminine side” in that I really enjoy the relationships between the characters and their growth. I’m in the midst of two other series at the moment, but this looks like a good one for later. It is always nice to refer back to your blog for ideas on what to read next.

    • I enjoyed reading this – just was a little bemused at how much it’s really about family (well, and bank robbing as well) and how often books that focus on family relationships are consigned to “women’s fiction” – a category that makes no sense to me. I suppose if they were baking cakes instead of robbing banks it would really have landed in that category!

      I enjoy your blog, too – hope the seasons get sorted out soon. I’m ready for spring.

  2. You have piqued my interest and it sounds like it woukd make for a great film. I do like these sorts of ‘fiction based on truth’ stories even if the subject matter is a bit distasteful. It is a sad reflection of the strength of the human need for belonging that we all have, that some would go to these lengths to maintain loyalty and the ‘brotherhood or family ties.’

    • I quite enjoyed it, though the titular father is a nasty piece of work. He’s got his own twisted code and teaches it to his sons – the only valuable bit being that they should stick together. Though even that goes pear-shaped when their loyalty involves never questioning the wisdom of robbing banks.

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