In Anneli Furmark’s latest, social democrat Siv has fallen in love with Ulrik, a Maoist many years her junior. Like the bitter winter air that writes itself on their faces, the affair casts an icy glow on all it touches, namely Siv’s family and Ulrik’s political position; as a member of Sweden’s communist party in the late seventies, Ulrik is meant to convert social democrats like Siv rather than fall for them and risk revealing party secrets.
Unfolding in tense, careful prose and shadowy blue and orange watercolors, Siv and Ulrik’s story is equal parts cold—the endless winter, Siv’s pull away from her husband and children, the desolation both she and Ulrik are pushing against—and inviting, due in large part to Furmark’s keen ability to access the deeply interior and the expansive, the majestic, sometimes simultaneously. In one such scene, Siv’s daughter Marita wades serenely through a golden forest of thawing snow; in another, Siv muses on loneliness as her world is shown from above, a bird’s eye study in blue and black squares, circles, and curves.
Yet for all its magnificent stillness, Red Winter howls with unease. The question—is it possible for Siv and Ulrik to be together?—nests inside their relationship, waits for them around corners like an unwelcome stranger. There it is during an unexpected run-in on the sidewalk, as Siv whisks her daughter along and Ulrik attempts to sell party newspapers; there it is, too, in the unrelenting eyes of Ulrik’s party boss; there it is, once more, in the eyes of one thickly-bearded communist who leers at them from Ulrik’s bedside. “Can you take that picture down?” Siv says. “Marx?” Ulrik responds. “Why?”
Underscoring this tension is Furmark’s clever use of red—red books scream their political weight against the muted blues of the communist party’s local headquarters; cherry-bright stripes and plaids weave their way through the characters’ sweaters. Even the matching red tea kettles (one at Siv’s home, one at the party headquarters) burn with pressure. Though the twin kettles never appear in the same place, Furmark has made it easy to imagine them whistling to one another across town, two notes of lovesick, impossible brightness in the freezing dark.