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by Carina Burman, Sarah Death, trans.
Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd, May 2008
288 pages
ISBN: 0714531383

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It is 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition. Swedish author Euthanasia Bondeson, who admits to being 40 years old, has come to London with her 'niece' companion, Agnes Bjork, a beautiful blond haired, blue eyed 22 year old. Euthanasia is one of 10 children, whose parents were a bit whimsical in naming them. The author also uses letters to the sisters as a way of advancing the plot.

On their second day in London, they visit The Great Exhibition, along with about 50,000 other people. Agnes gets ahead of Euthanasia and disappears into the crowd. Agnes is always getting herself lost, but Bondeson thinks she will find her inside. She is searching for her ward when she runs into a handsome Indian gentleman, Professor Devindra, a physician and artist, who helps her look for Agnes. They run into the artist, Sir Edmund Chambers, who, with his wife and sister in law, are also visiting the Exhibition. Agnes is finally returned to Euthanasia, and they return to their hotel in The Strand.

The next day, Chief Inspector Owain Evans of Scotland Yard takes them on a tour of the slums of London. They view poverty of Spitalfields, and visit a co-op food store that is trying to get a foothold in the area. They eat a couple of eel pies purchased from a local pie monger and then go on to visit the zoo to see the exotic giraffes and hippo.

Finally, on their fourth day in London, Agnes and Euthanasia visit The British Museum. It is not as enjoyable a day as it could have been. Although Prof. Devindra is attentive, Sir Edmund insists on pontificating on every display they visit. Euthanasia's attention wanders and so does Agnes. She disappears again. And this time, apparently for good.

Bondeson spends the rest of the book searching London for her missing ward. The descriptions of the streets and alleys of the city so are breathtaking, one seems to be there. Agnes may be a bubblehead, but we worry about her when we find out that a mudlark, a child who sieves the slime of the Thames for saleable items, has found the body of a lady. When Euthanasia is finally allowed to view the body, it turns out not to be Agnes. Where is Agnes?

Sarah Death, the translator of THE STREETS OF BABYLON has done a seamless job. It is hard to realize while reading the book that this is a translation. London of 1851 lives again. And the snippets of Euthanasia's latest book that we are allowed to read as she writes them (the book is written in first person) are really typical of the era. And Bondeson's forays into night time London dressed as a man, and her visit to the molly house (read the book to discover what that is) are extremely well done.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, May 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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