First edition published by Coteau Books (Regina, SK, 2008). 343 pp. ISBN-10: 1-55050-395-2; ISBN-13: 978-1-55050-395-1.
Second edition as Kindle eBook (2013). 360 pp.
It’s one shocking surprise after another with Claudia. After a very modest life in Sweden, her single mother, a Latvian refugee, marries a successful Canadian doctor and they move to Canada. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Claudia, too, marries a successful surgeon. She lives an enviable life with her handsome husband and four children. But behind the perfect façade she hides the shame and guilt of the past: the murders she witnessed, and her involvement in them. It’s her dirty secret to take to the grave.
It’s not until later in life, living alone in her big house, and after witnessing yet another senseless murder that, fed up with feeling cursed, she finds the courage to face the trauma of the past, those incidents she herself had a part in – when she and her girlfriends found that shunned girl from their class raped strangled in the park during their lunch break, and then, and when seven years later she found one of those girlfriends, Anneli, on a beach in Spain with her throat cut. She remembers how she stood looking at Anneli wondering if she had been killed because of what she said that time when they stood around that other girl’s dead body in the park. They were not kind words. None of them had showed any empathy. Is Claudia to be punished as well at some point? For that same lack of empathy?
It’s no wonder that she has never felt really safe, always surrounded her with talismans for protection. Her husband is the greatest talisman of them all, but he can’t help her either.
Then suddenly her Latvian mother decides to return to Riga after sixty years, insisting Claudia comes along. Claudia, having nothing better to do, agrees, afraid to let her frail old mother travel alone. In Riga her mother grows increasingly distant as she chases a past that is no longer there. But eventually they make two discoveries. One is a happy one; a part of the past has survived into the present. The other is one of terror that makes Claudia’s past traumas seem irrelevant. It also makes both her and her mother sit down late one evening and confess dark secrets to each other.
But will she have the strength and the empathy to deal with this latest disaster, a disaster that involved family? And will the family ties prove strong enough? They must, because family is all she has left.
“Claudia reads as if it were the story [Holmström] has been waiting to write. She crams more than 60 years of personal and international history into its 350-odd pages, and highlights it all with semi-mythic connections that transcend time.” – Mary Soderstrom, Quill & Quire.
“Not often do I sit glued to a book until I sadly reach the end, but that’s what happened with Britt Holmström’s Claudia. … There is much examination of violence and its causes and effects … But this loving, insightful book really focuses on the varied relationships between mothers and daughters, highlighted with great beauty and emotion … What a joy to read.” – Jenni Mortin, Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
“This work is an engaging one from the first page and does not falter, thanks to Holmström’s writing. It moves effortlessly with flashes of imagery that evoke beauty when least expected … Worth reading for Holmström’s intense insights into the human condition and all its follies, for its prickly humour and for the sense it leaves at the conclusion that it is good to be human.” – Mary Barnes, Prairie Fire
“Claudia is written in a world where violence is inevitable, where female sexuality can corrupt and degrade as well as empower, and where love can nourish healing. Moving backward and forward in time, and between Winnipeg, Regina, Sweden, Spain, and Latvia, Claudia covers a lot of ground. Details of place and era are well researched, often drawn from Holmström’s global experiences, and the narrative flows throughout. … Claudia could be a heavy read, but the grittier details of this novel are readily offset by flashes of humour, beauty, and hints of magic” – Sandy Bonny, SPG Book Reviews
“With the lightest of literary hands, Holmström manages to explore the currents of violence that shape women’s lives, and she does it without a hint of didacticism. … Claudia tells us: ‘There are days when I want to holler for justice, but I know better than to expect the impossible.’ But the moving and unexpected ending to this powerful novel is transformative, a satisfying and profound resting place after a darn good read.” – Shawna Dempsey, Herizons Magazine
“This is a subtle novel that details the strength, forgiveness and power of family while examining the ties that bind people together.” – Lynn Rashid, School Library Journal