The toil of women is at the centre, with hungry children to take care of after long working days in the factory, the fear of unwanted pregnancies, forbidden love or the fear of being evicted, as any attempt to organise is punished by property managers and factory owners. And now there may be a general strike.
It is as if the working-class writer Moa Martinson's angry and sharp spirit has returned in certain scenes around the main character Sara, whose husband is being held at Långholmen prison for conscription refusal.
Eternal toil of women in gray ash dust, the conditions of life completely unreliable. Tomorrow is never certain, and in the obscurity of the factory, the work of "labing" (from English label) to put matches in boxes is fatal. Phosphorus matches easily ignited, slowly and brutally poisoned those who worked with them, and for a time factories were only allowed to manufacture the sticks for export. When they were finally banned in 1920, the reason was not least that phosphorus was used in illegal abortions.
But the grey ashalso holds something else. Nino Mick works in a magical realism where Swedish predecessors are Majgull Axelsson – and Selma Lagerlöf. The 46 young women who died in the great fire of the match factory in 1875 were buried in a mass grave, indistinguishable from each other, the anonymous workers of history. Mick blows the dust off the story and portrays them as sinister spirits, ghosts, like ashes, earth, dust. 35 years of grief and anger whispering and shouting. Fictionally, the dead know more about the fire and the guilt than the novel's living gallery of characters. They become a kind of reporting dervishes that, like sparks, move the plot forward.
Vulkanus is the god of fire and forging in Roman mythology. Nino Mick's "Vulcan" fuses the documentary with the fiction of a story that lives in language – because bed bugs and dreams are equally real – but also poses burning questions about personal responsibility and courage. When was the last time you read a page-turner about trade union struggle?