Jaememe mijjen luvnie jeala (“Death lives among us”, not published in English) by married couple Anne-Grethe Leine Bientie and Bierna Leine Bientie is a thought-provoking and poetic volume containing great life wisdom. It contains 11 stories about people from very different backgrounds and life situations who have had a close encounter with death. Death affects them differently, and their reflections as they face it are different.
The tenderness in the first and the last texts, where a beloved life companion passes away, makes its mark on the entire book. The ageing bereaved continues living as if in slow motion, with things like switching on the oven, making coffee, and lying down beside the beloved done almost like a ritual. The difficulty of accepting death and letting go is depicted with great tenderness. “Daesnie gællesjem jïh dutnjien vuartesjem. Dagke manne jieliminie jïh datne sealadamme?” (Here I am, lying next to you and looking at you. Is it even possible that I’m alive when you’re dead?) (67).
In the text Gurhtie (Loon), a fisherman feels guilty about a dead loon in the net as its young and the other loons screech and wail from across the lake. Some hard feeling arises between wife and husband. She swears: “In edtjh gåessie viermide jadtedidh mearan dijjen leah tjovhkh” (I’ll never throw the net during nesting season again) (20).
Although death is present in all the stories, there’s a strong embrace of both life and death in day-to-day life, showing that if you embrace life, things can turn out well.
There are also stories about people who aren’t surrounded by good relationships and the presence of others when the circle of life closes, and who die in the same defiance with which they lived. Such is the case in “Gaatoelamme” (The Disappeared One), when a child comes to visit their uncle who is no longer there. Filletanta wants no funeral, no obituary, nothing at all. There is no room for emotion, only for pragmatic solutions.
In “Vïere” (To tie a wreath), the adult daughter has been tasked with making a wreath for her father’s funeral. She ties prickly wild shoots from her mother’s rosebush into the innermost part of the wreath and thinks: “Eah baakoeh daerpies gosse daate vïere gæstoen nelnie” (We don’t need words when this wreath is on the casket) (45). Almost ceremoniously, she ties the painful experiences of her childhood into the wreath and feels a sense of atonement and healing. So often she had thought: “Gosse jaama, dellie edtjem aavoedidh” (What a joyous day it will be when father dies) (46). Now that time has come, she feels the power growing within her.
Most of the texts are applicable to any one of us, and the Sami emerges in small details, such as the text suddenly slipping into joik-like poetry. The Sami-language text draws the reader into the Sami sphere through precise word choices – one expression can often open up an entire world.
Bierna Leine Bientie, who has been a South Sami priest and is also a psalm writer, received the South Sami Culture Award in 2021. Anne-Grethe Leine Bientie is both a hymn writer and author. Her children’s book Joekoen sjïehteles ryöjnesjæjja was nominated for the 2018 Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize. The Norwegian version of the book nominated for this year’s prize, Midt iblant oss lever døden, has been bought as part of the Arts Council Norway’s purchase scheme for new Norwegian fiction.
The book has been beautifully and evocatively illustrated by the couple’s daughter, Ellen Sara Reiten Bientie. The pictures lead the reader on to another new story and new reflections, which one must consider and ponder, then read once again and feel a sense of security in the fact that death is neither scary nor threatening but rather a natural part of our lives.