The Wrong Madonna

Cormorant (2002)
Kindle eBook (2012)


First edition published by Cormorant Books (Toronto, 2002). 399 pp. ISBN 1-896951-37-6.

Second edition as Kindle eBook (2012). 443 pp.

Buy it from Amazon.



It is the day before Easter Sunday, 1965. A young foreign girl can be seen sitting by a grave in the Mirogoj cemetery in Zagreb. She is holding a small infant in her arms, trying not to look at it. “Child,” she says out loud. “Oh, child. You picked the wrong madonna.” Weeping, burdened by guilt, she tells the sleeping infant what is about to happen.
Ten days later, a girl named Lisa Grankvist arrives in London, hoping to have a good time and to forget the past she has left behind. Apart from a wad of cash, she is carrying a bag of clothes, a Viennese teacup, her dead father’s tools, and his false teeth wrapped in a handkerchief (hoping he will one day rejoin his smile). She also brings with her several dark secrets. Her new friends, the groovy young things of swinging London, see her as mysterious and deep, lonely but self-sufficient.
Lisa finds a peaceful corner in this new world: a room in a house in Chiswick full of various nationalities and spicy foods. Here she grows a beautiful garden, and imagines that she has found a permanent refuge.
One night after drinking to much with her friend Pru, Lisa in an unguarded moment asks the question: Why do men rape women? Pru, guessing that buried inside the question is a component of the story Lisa insists on keeping to herself, demands to know more. Lisa refuses at first, but beginning with a night’s confession, her story emerges slowly in long conversations between the two friends. It ends after twenty years of letters, long-distance phone calls, and an unexpected reunion. It’s an shocking ending Lisa herself could never have imagined.



The Wrong Madonna is brilliantly loaded with spot-on emotional insights about the nature and quality of home and belonging in the world. It is a book that begs to be savoured, that requires a slow, thoughtful chunk of time spent with its revelations and words, so beautifully strung together and so completely true to life.” – Carla LucchettaGlobe and Mail.

“Compelling … engrossing … an intimate portrait of female friendship, but it is also a woman’s journey through guilt to forgiveness. … Holmström forces her character to walk the fiery road to hell before reaching the the safe haven Lisa dreams of from childhood.” – Margaret MacphersonEdmonton Journal.

“Holmström vividly evokes scene and character with a minimum of flourish. Settings as disparate as London’s Carnaby Street era and the 1970s in suburban Canada  are presented both realistically, with a keen eye for detail, and emotionally, with character-based resonance that serves to re-imagine the settings at a level beyond the merely physical.” – Robert Wiersema, Quill & Quire.

“Holmström deftly crafts a narrative in which the interweaving of the past and the present constructs a compelling narrative of loss: both a loss of self, and loss of one’s home.” – Anne LydenCanadian Literature.

“By incorporating the peace and love mantra of the sixties … with the demonic madness which overcame the Balkans in the later part of the last century … Holmström has planted a veritable garden of delights. … A promenade through this garden, replete with profound psychological insight and beautifully rendered characters, is worth the price of admission.” – Irene D’SouzaBooks in Canada.

“Set in London, Canada, Sweden, and Yugoslavia … this novel entertains and enthralls as it examines issues of transgression, justice, revenge, motherhood, and tribal identity.” – James GereinWorld Literature Today.