My grandmother's picture stares down from the wall. She is very young and newly sexual. Her head tilts coyly downwards; she is surrounded by a veil of gauze: it is a perfect 1920s photograph. After reading Hanna’s Daughters (Orion), I thought this woman might exist in me. I understand her. The life stories of three generations of women, Hanna, Johanna and Anna, are the spine of this first novel, written by Marianne Fredriksson and translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate. Each character speaks directly to the reader: the book is triptych. Hanna, a child born into famine and disease, then scarred by rape as a young woman, is forged early into a grim black-clad pillar; she is hardly softened by marriage to a gentle man and a hard but content existence in their riverside mill. Her daughter Johanna, born on the cusp of great cultural change, flees her mother's class-bound fatalism, moves to the city and embraces social democracy. But she is forever caught between her lust for independence and the reality of her dependence on her husband. Finally she succumbs to dementia, the ultimate attack on her autonomy. By creating a cleverly split timeline, Fredriksson allows these lives to remain unanalyzed until Johanna's daughter Anna, a writer who cannot understand the depression that haunts her, sets out to explore her past. She cannot break down the walls of senility around her mother, so she looks further back to her grandmother, and traces the fine lines connecting the three lives. Anna comes to see herself as a link in a chain larger than herself, and through this understanding is set free. "I didn't carry sacks of flour from the mill to the village. Grandmother," she says to a picture, "and yet I did." Hanna's Daughters is clear, and the characters are warm and never become sentimental. Its message is a karmic one: learn your past in order to let go of anxiety about the future. Hanna and her daughters remind us that our parents' youth forms us.