Last Winter’s Snow by Hans Hirschi is the tale about Nilas and Casper. Their story starts in the early eighties when being gay was still an abomination, even here in Sweden and when HIV and AIDS were making itself a horrendous name and became the huge gay disease (the punishment for choosing to be gay as it was called then).
I remember in secondary school I did my final paper on HIV and AIDS, this was in the late 90s, and I had the privilege to get to talk to several people who were living with HIV then, men and women alike I might add. It was right around that time, in the mid-90s when research hit home and developed the good meds, which finally gave HIV positive person a chance and it no longer was a death sentence. Well, at least if you lived in a country like Sweden or had money. So, when Hans described what happened during that time, even if I was too young at that time myself to have any own memories, I did recognize the society he was describing in Last Winter’s Snow. It was partly the same of what I had been told too when talking to people for my research. It feels like a hundred years ago but in reality, it was only some odd thirty plus years ago.
Nilas and Casper meet in the midst of this horror of not really knowing what AIDS is, how you get it and also the slander of being the cause of it, once more having to prove you’re not the devil because you love someone of the same sex (when I think about how people were treated and still because they LOVE not HATE, but love someone else it makes me want to punch something.) They fight the general masses opinion and stick together and their bond grows stronger because of it not spite of it. Hans did this so very well to describe the hype and the general feel of it, the disgustingness around it and how they treated people, especially, gay men.
The first thing I thought during and after reading Last Winter’s Snow is one of the first things Hans said the first few times we met, especially, the first time. He told me repeatedly, I don’t know how many times at that first meeting: “I don’t write romance” or “I am not a romance author” or “the books I write are not romance”. He was very clear that he didn’t write romance books. At that time I hadn’t read any of his books today I have read several, not all but several, and all of them have had romance in them and Last Winter’s Snow is the epiphany of romance, with a twist. And by romance I don’t just mean two people meeting and falling in love, I mean romanticizing a culture (the Sami culture that sure needs some fine romanticizing so we Swedes can get our heads out of our asses and see the beauty in the culture our nation has right under our noses). Then the way he writes about Nilas’ and Casper’s life, in general, the way he keeps Casper’s family a bay for most of the book and focusing more on the good from Nilas’ family. That is all romance in a way too.
I have to say I love Nilas pretty much immediately, what’s not to like, he’s gentle but no pushover, kind and considerate, smart. He’s faithful to his homelands, and the fact that he’s Sami is a huge bonus since that is Sweden’s native people and very much a huge part of our history, one that we do not cherish as much as we should. I am sure they are very proud to have been featured in a Swedish author’s book too, and have such a huge part of the story which is why Hans (at least I think) decides to have the very descriptive fauna and landscape description so that the reader truly can get a feel for what Lappland landscape, or Sápmi, look like.
Last Winter’s Snow is huge in its history and Hans most definitely make sure you get to see all the things there is to see, even here the words are romantic, the feel of the scenery he describes are majestic. I never been to the northern part of Sweden but I could see it too and most definitely want to go and see it for myself, the northern lights, the midnight sun, all of it.
One other thing, I think, I’ve realized about Hans after reading his last few books is, either he must be thinking a lot about death and dying or he’s terribly afraid of dying, because there’s a lot of action around dying even in this book just like in the Jonathan books, his short stories… well, let’s just say, all his books have death in them. The only book I’ve read by him so far that there’s no death is Ross Handyman. So, there’s a complaint I have, if to call it that, do people really always have to die to not be around? Yes, death is part of life but really Hans my dear friend what’s with the constant dying?
The story of Nilas and Casper is absolutely lovely, it’s serene for the lack of a better word. There’s never any doubt what they are all about or what they are to each other. They are both strong in their own person but together they are rock solid. I’d love to have learned more about Casper, I felt that we didn’t get to know him quite as intimately as Nilas but this was after all Nilas’ story so in a way, I am not that surprised. The two ending chapters were magnificent and double bonus that it was a Swedish setting, that made this even more special or rather it is what makes it so special, to begin with.
I recommend Last Winter’s Snow to anyone who is interested in reading a great but different book, it is not for those who expects an American setting with fluff. This is a Swedish book, with very Swedish characters and settings. I know from personal experience where my own books have been questioned or rather misinterpreted because it isn’t Americanized and the characters don’t act like Americans do because let's face it a lot of books have that point of view even if taking place elsewhere. I want more books like this one and what Hans has done is to give a little bit of Sweden to the world.
Dreamer, Writer, Reader and Metal Head.