A heartwarming debut about 96-year-old Doris, who writes down the memories of her eventful life as she pages through her decades-old address book. But the most profound moment of her life is still to come …
Meet Doris, a 96-year-old woman living alone in her Stockholm apartment. She has few visitors, but her weekly Skype calls with Jenny—her American grandniece, and her only relative—give her great joy and remind her of her own youth.
When Doris was a girl, she was given an address book by her father, and ever since she has carefully documented everyone she met and loved throughout the years. Looking through the little book now, Doris sees the many crossed-out names of people long gone and is struck by the urge to put pen to paper. In writing down the stories of her colourful past—working as a maid in Sweden, modelling in Paris during the 30s, fleeing to Manhattan at the dawn of the Second World War—can she help Jenny, haunted by a difficult childhood, to unlock the secrets of their family and finally look to the future? And whatever became of Allan, the love of Doris’s life?
I wanted to end 2018 with something different to what I usually read. So as soon as I read the blurb of 'The Red Address Book' I decided that this would be it. This is a work of fiction that sounds so real. It is the beautiful, heart-warming, emotional but also quite sad and nostalgic story of a lovely, talented and quick-witted old lady and the many memories that have shaped her long life.
Doris is just a few short years of being a centenarian, but even if she's frail and riddled with pains brought on by her old age, she still has her wits about her and remarkably, she still manages to live alone in a small apartment in Stockholm. Apart from the caregivers who visit her everyday, Doris's only contact with the outside world is with her great-niece Jenny who lives in America, through Skype on her laptop. Yes, Doris didn't let social media and technology intimidate her. Sadly, she has no other relatives living close by.
"Once upon a time I was very beautiful."
Among Doris's most precious possessions is an old address book. Over the years, in this book, Doris has recorded the name of every single person she had come across throughout her long life. Now, sadly, almost all names are crossed out and marked 'Dead'.
"There are certain memories you just can't forget. They linger and fester, occasionally bursting like a boil and causing pain, such terrible pain."
Doris doesn't want to take all her memories to the grave with her. She wants Jenny to know about all her many wonderful and painful experiences. So she starts to pick names from the address book and write down the many memories associated with those particular names.
Through her writing, Doris gives life again to the people that have left an impression on her in one way or another. With her, we relive Doris's life, her ordeals and heartbreaks, anguish and pains, but also her passion and love and happy times. From the time she was a young girl forced out of her home to start working, to the time she became the most beautiful, wanted model in Paris, then on to the time she escaped war and went to the States and then back again to her country, Sweden.
Since all my grandparents passed away before or just a few years after I was born, I have always been curious as to how life was back then, what they went through in their lives, how they managed to survive both wars. So, as I was reading this book, I imagined Doris was my grandmother telling me about her life, what she went through so many years ago, in her childhood and youth. About the heartache and suffering she had endured, about the all-consuming love she experienced. About the many people that have crossed paths with her throughout the years.
This book was originally written in Swedish, but it has been perfectly translated to English. It is not a fast read and thank goodness for that as I wanted to read it slowly so as to savour all Doris's adventures, both at glamorous and trying periods of her life. Each chapter starts in the present day with what Doris is doing and what happens to her presently. (This part made me feel so sorry for Doris as she tries to deal with the many challenges an old body presents). Then each chapter continues with a chunk of Doris's musings about some particular character from her past. I found myself laughing with Doris, feeling happy and sad with her, wondering what if... with her, and yes, by the end I ended up with my emotions all over the place, with a lump in my throat and with tears in my eyes. Tears of joy and sadness mixed together. Doris will stay with me for quite some time now.
The author has succeeded in transporting me back in time, to glamorous places such as pre-WW II Paris and to New York where Doris spent some years. The author's exquisite writing and vivid descriptions made me feel as if I was there and could clearly visualise everything.
Being a lover of historical fiction, I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it. With huge thanks to HarperCollins for a review copy of this book which I voluntarily accepted to read and review.
Sofia Lundberg is a journalist and former magazine editor. Her debut novel, The Red Address Book, will be published in 32 territories worldwide. She lives in Stockholm with her son.