Anna portrays a woman who refuses to accept the age-old beliefs society hands her. A country church gleams white in the sun, as stark and resilient as the Lutheran faith that sustains it. The First World War rages on the continent. Much of Sweden is changing but the village holds on to the old.
Sixty years later, Anna gives refuge to a young niece, whose marriage is falling apart. Fredrik is long since dead. She still blames him for the death of their child. Yet she misses his scent that would linger on her skin, like the moon that shone on the snow and colored it blue.
Every day she visits the child’s grave, an old woman in a beret and tweed jacket. Time after time her thoughts return to the past and how her life was molded.
1. A fylgia, Gustafa explains, is a “shape” that will follow Anna around, a guardian spirit of sorts. It may appear as an animal or even as a person, only to disappear shortly before her death. When does Anna see it?
2. Dancing occurs often in Fylgia. What does it signify?
3. When talking to Ella, Anna says, “I was taught early that what was good for the family and the village was also good for me. Feelings would only confuse.” In what way did this lesson help or harm her?
4. Anna sees a dead wood grouse and suspects it died from fox poison. “The hen lay on her back, with a dead viper wrapped around her wings. Three wood rats had bitten into her breast. Even in death they had refused to let go.” In what sense might this be a metaphor for the novel as a whole?
5. Anna tries to explain to Fredrik why the children bully Ella. “It’s as if by punishing her, they think the rest of them can be saved.” Is this kind of fear at the heart of bullying even today? If not, how do you explain it?
6. The threat of disease, even madness, is one of the undercurrents of Fylgia. How would Ulrika have been diagnosed today? Could she have been cured?
7. Anna reads Nietzsche, who says that God is dead. She disobeys Wikander, who says the word of God is set in stone. Yet, when she listens to Palestrina, she’s deeply moved. “Anyone needing proof of God should only hear such music.” Is she a believer after all? What is her worldview at the end?
8. After Gustafa breaks Ulrika’s vase, Torpen takes it to be mended. It’s “expertly repaired, with not the faintest trace of breakage.” Anna recalls: “Even so, we never dared fill it with flowers, only a single peony on some special occasion, for it could never be as strong as it once had been.” How does this apply to other aspects of her life as well?
9. In Chapter Thirty-Eight, when Anna goes back to the cabin, Fredrik has already left. She will always wonder what might have happened had he still been there. What do you think?
10. Anna wants to show the villagers how to use condoms, even though they are illegal. Emma objects: “I don’t believe in forcing information on people who don’t want it.” Do you think Emma is right?