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Nino Mick

Vulcan

Spring 1909. Work is gruelling and hazardous at Vulcan, the world’s biggest matchbox factory, in the small industrial town Tidaholm. There are rumours of a nationwide general strike. Among the workers are two young women, Sara and Naemi, both in love with Sara’s husband Salemon, a fervent socialist and antimilitarist. He has been incarcerated for draft evasion, leaving Sara to care for her seven-year-old twins all on her own.

Above the town a presence is soaring, moving unnoticeably, a little astray, like vapour, hovering between the houses and buildings, briefly inhabiting its people. These invisible spectators consist of 46 girls and women that perished in the great factory fire at Vulcan thirty-five years ago. They, a fragmented and traumatized collective, watch in horror as summer arrives, because they know all too well that wherever passion ignites, death will soon follow. For Sara, Naemi, Salemon and the other factory workers, life will change in the most dramatic way.

This dynamic and swarming novel explores community and collective struggle, love and vulnerability, work and ardour. Following their debut with poetry collection Twenty-five-thousand Kilometres of Nerve Fibres (2018), Nino Mick brings us a historical novel unlike any other, where proletarian literature meets modernist poetry.

SHORTLISTED FOR PRISMA LITERATURE PRIZE 2023

Nino Mick (b. 1990) grew up in Tidaholm and now resides in Gothenburg. In 2013 they won the Swedish poetry slam nationals and made their debut with poetry collection Twenty-five-thousand Kilometres of Nerve Fibres in 2018. Nino Mick also works as a train driver. Vulcan is their first novel.    

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About the book

Spring 1909. Work is gruelling and hazardous at Vulcan, the world’s biggest matchbox factory, in the small industrial town Tidaholm. There are rumours of a nationwide general strike. Among the workers are two young women, Sara and Naemi, both in love with Sara’s husband Salemon, a fervent socialist and antimilitarist. He has been incarcerated for draft evasion, leaving Sara to care for her seven-year-old twins all on her own.

Above the town a presence is soaring, moving unnoticeably, a little astray, like vapour, hovering between the houses and buildings, briefly inhabiting its people. These invisible spectators consist of 46 girls and women that perished in the great factory fire at Vulcan thirty-five years ago. They, a fragmented and traumatized collective, watch in horror as summer arrives, because they know all too well that wherever passion ignites, death will soon follow. For Sara, Naemi, Salemon and the other factory workers, life will change in the most dramatic way.

This dynamic and swarming novel explores community and collective struggle, love and vulnerability, work and ardour. Following their debut with poetry collection Twenty-five-thousand Kilometres of Nerve Fibres (2018), Nino Mick brings us a historical novel unlike any other, where proletarian literature meets modernist poetry.

SHORTLISTED FOR PRISMA LITERATURE PRIZE 2023

Reviews

What lingers with me the most after I’ve finished reading are the portrayals of the women.

Vulcan is a proletarian novel that moves between revival meetings, elementary school, tuberculosis-ridden children, exhausted charwomen, stinking bogs, and the contrasting dinner parties of the bourgeoisie. I always approach historical novels with trepidation. There is so much that needs to fall into place for it to work. The research needs to be solid, but definitely not protrusive. This is the most impressive thing about Mick’s novel. The focus on subtle details – the soft muzzle of a horse, the bleeding lice bites, the fingertips that glow in the dark from the phosphor at the factory – make the text vivid. Preferably the research should be so obvious for the author that it becomes transparent in the text /… / What lingers with me the most after I’ve finished reading are the portrayals of the women. Methodically and elaborately the author depicts Sara, Naemi and Berta’s miserable, yet magnificent lives. Haven’t women suffered and endured enough? With subtlety and patience Mick shows, without reducing them to prototypes, how their conditions were always worse than the men’s, even though they were allies in the same struggle.

Aftonbladet
When did you last read a page-turner about labour disputes?

Nino Mick works with a magical realism where Swedish predecessors are Majgull Axelsson – and Selma Lagerlöf. The forty-six young women who perished in the great fire in the matchbox factory 1875 were buried in a mass grave, impossible to tell apart, history’s anonymous workers. Mick breathes life into this event and portrays them as unholy spirits, ghosts, like ash, soil, dust. Thirty-five years of despair and indignation that whisper and holler. Through masterful craftsmanship the dead appear to know more about the fire than the living. They become a sort of documenting dervishes that propel the narrative like sparks. Vulcan is the god of fire and metalworking in Roman mythology. Nino Mick’s Vulcan melts together documentary and fiction in a story that comes alive in the language – seeing as bed bugs and dreams are equally real – but that also poses crucial questions about personal responsibility and courage. When did you last read a page-turner about labour disputes?

Sveriges Radio Kulturnytt
What we are offered is quite simply a literary universe, and in a climate that is still dominated by autofiction, it is refreshing with epic storytelling of the large format.

Evidently, the workers and the struggle are the focal points – with every right – but we also become acquainted with the upper-class and their exclusive dinner parties. We are introduced to the strike breakers, the scabs, and get to experience their woes. What we are offered is quite simply a literary universe, and in a climate that is still dominated by autofiction, it is refreshing with epic storytelling of the large format. But what really convinces me are the characters. They are so incredibly well-portrayed. Take Naemi, an idealistic young woman active in the Young Socialists’ movement. Her enthusiasm for anarchy as well as life in general is always present, but that is never all that she is. Of course, there are the kind of whims one can expect from such a character, but she also comes across as a ponderer that is struggling with the relationship to her family. Take Sara, the closest thing this collective novel comes to a main character. She is, contrary to Naemi, fundamentally a ponderer, but she is also a person who cheats on her husband with a twenty-year older woman named Berta. Take Vilhelm, a young boy who appears mostly interested in playing football. As the story progresses, we find out that he is a person capable of both joining the Salvation Army for the sake of a girl and of betraying all his old friends. I could go on. Mick doesn’t allow any of their fictional characters, not even small children, to become stereotypes. Each and everyone have a depth and a humanity that most authors should count themselves lucky if they could convey in at least one character. In this sense, the author resembles the Russian maestros: just like with Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, there’s something underneath every stone in Mick’s world.

Etc
Nino Mick writes with tremendous compassion

Vulcan can certainly be considered as working-class literature. The dramatic events in connection with the strike, and the circumstances leading up to this, describe matters and themes that don’t have much room in contemporary Swedish literature. But more importantly it is a novel that portrays several ordinary people as the unique individuals they are.  Sara and Naemi work with packing matches into boxes – a monotonous and gruelling job that is also hazardous, one never knows when a match may ignite. Here are dreams and hopes, bitter disappointment, friends that become enemies, and a love story that is just as unexpected as it is heartbreaking. Nino Mick writes with tremendous compassion /… / All in all, Vulcan is a rich and multi-faceted debut novel, with personal destinies that one will remember for some time to come.

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