Desiree Johansson was born in the 1950’s with multiple disabilities and, as was typical then, was institutionalized; her mother adopted three other girls and reared them the best she could. They were Margarete, who had been abandoned in a laundry room, now a physicist; Christina, who was abused by her mother, now a doctor; and Birgitta, also an abused child, who has become an alcoholic and drug addict. Desiree has practically no control over her body, but she has a sharp and directed mind. An “April witch,” she is able to cause birds to carry her mind into other places and times, and learn about her past. She believes that one of the three adopted daughters stole the life that should have been hers, and she uses her paranormal power to explore their lives and interfere with them.
April Witch is a fascinating read. Glimpses of abuses in the Swedish welfare system of the 1950’s, as well as indications of inadequate reforms, will prompt comparisons. But the real focus of interest for American readers will be the tormented character of Desiree, the unwanted child ironically named “Desired One,” whose brilliant mind makes existence in her paralyzed body excruciating.
Desiree’s plans and schemes, complicated by her tortured love for her doctor, Dr. Hubertsson, who knew the adopted girls and her mother when they were children, provide for a complex plot that builds to a surprising climax. The poetic language and the sensitive representation of the mostly female characters (Hubertsson is really almost a cameo) rivet the reader’s attention throughout this bizarre but compelling tale.