When I was a child my favorite book was Lapland Outlaw by Arthur Catherall which I got from the Weekly Reader Book Club. Catherall’s children’s book may have involved some inaccuracies, but it taught me that people in other cultures have different values which need to be respected. The sixteen year old Sami boy who was the central character had grown up as a nomadic herder of reindeer. He felt panicked by being enclosed within four walls and fought to maintain his ancestral way of life.
I haven’t visited with the Sami through the pages of a book for a great many years, but it was my memory of Lapland Outlaw that caused me to obtain Forty Days Without Shadow which is an English translation of the French thriller Le Dernier Lapin by Olivier Truc.
The protagonists are Klemet Nango and Nina Nansen who are officers of the Reindeer Police. Klemet Nango is a Sami who feels cut off from his culture because he was forced to attend boarding school where his language and cultural practices were forbidden. This is similar to the experiences of Native Americans and other indigenous peoples. Nina Nansen is a Norwegian woman who is a recent graduate of police academy. She insists on being respected by other male law enforcement officers. The Sami are very alien to her, but she makes an effort to learn their customs. The Reindeer Police are responsible for enforcing regulations regarding reindeer herding, but Klemet knows the local herders. This is probably why he and Nina are assigned to investigate when an antique Sami drum goes missing from the museum, and a herder is stabbed to death.
I was very interested in finding out more about the Sami. I found it especially intriguing that the roofs of traditional Sami tents were covered with interlaced antlers that were supposed to be arranged so that you could see the sky through them. This is similar to the huts that are constructed for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. My Jewish ancestors were also once nomadic herders. Perhaps this is why I feel a connection to the Sami.
I also found out from this novel why the situation for the Sami and reindeer in Finland is so different from Norway and Sweden. I located additional information about Reindeer Herding in Finland from a website on the Sami maintained by the University of Texas. The events of this novel take place in Norway where ethnic Sami still have the exclusive right to herd reindeer. Some of the Sami depicted in this book have definitely modernized. I got a kick out of Klemet’s uncle writing songs in the Sami language and performing them on You Tube. Here’s a Modernized Example of a Sami Song on You Tube and here is a More Traditional Example .
Sami drums were used in shamanistic ceremonies. The old traditional drums that had belonged to shamans are very rare. The drums are usually covered with symbols which have been studied by anthropologists who may or may not be mistaken in their interpretations. Each drum is unique and the symbols may have had personal meaning for the shamans who owned them. I found an artist’s rendering of a Sami shaman displaying his drum on Wikipedia which is in the public domain because the artist created it in the 18th century. I wanted readers to see how amazing these drums are, so I have included the image in this review below.
I thought the characters were well drawn and well-motivated. I found both of the protagonists sympathetic, and although the villains weren’t at all sympathetic, they were very credible. I appreciated the fact that Nina played an active role in the case. Since she knew French, she went to France to interview the French collector who had donated the drum to the museum to find out more about the stolen drum and the circumstances in which he acquired it. She also brought about a major break in the case due to her rapport with a female Sami who trusted her.
This was an excellent novel from the thriller perspective. There were issues involving party politics in Norway, racism, World War II and predatory behavior by mining companies. It was a suspenseful and involving story line from start to finish. I loved Forty Days Without Shadow.