November reading

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In October I finished another novel from my Classics club reading list, Moominvalley in November by Tove Jansson. All I had left to do was to write a review, ideally post it during November considering its theme, and go on to other novels. Unfortunately I got stuck, November is already gone, and I still haven’t written that review.

It was not really writing the review that was the problem, I just had too much other things going on, but by now I think that the wisest course of action is to write something, anything, and move on.

So what can I say about it? Well, it was good, melancholy and beautiful, like Jansson almost always is. It is the last books about the Moomins and the Moomin family is not at home. Instead we meet some of the supporting cast from the other books, people who have all come to depend on the Moomin family’s presence and struggle to fill the void on their own.

All the Moomin books can be enjoyed by both adults and children but this one may be especially relevant for adults. I really liked it and do recommend it, but only if you have read most of the other Moomin books first, as it also act as a  farewell to Moomin valley.

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A maid among maids

Sheeps in a meadowIn 1914 Swedish farms had difficulties finding enough labourers. Many young people from the country side preferred to move into the cities or emigrate to America to the hard work as a farm labourer. At this point a young Stockholm journalist, Ester Blenda Nordström (1891-1948), decided to find out for herself what it was that made people leave. Using an assumed name she applied for a position as a farm maid and spent a month working as a farm labourer. Back in Stockholm she wrote about her experience, first in an article series and later in a widely popular book, En piga bland pigor (A maid among maids) which is the one I have just finished.

So why do we need an outsiders perspective on the hard farm life when Sweden have so many great working-class authors who wrote about their own experience? Well, I must admit that I found the outsider’s perspective really helpful. Reading it today we are all outsiders and Nordström, as a very modern woman in 1914, acts as a bridge between me as a modern reader and the common life in 1914. She asks the questions I would have asked and she comments on thing I find notable but which may have been considered too normal to mention by someone who was not an outsider. She also wrote this before the working-class authors really broke through in Sweden so it was cutting edge both in its theme and the way it was done. It doesn’t hurt either that she was an excellent writer and that the book is genuinely funny.

In Swedish this type of undercover journalism is called wallraffa (to wallraff) after the famous German journalist Günter Wallraff. Perhaps it would have made even more sense to name it after the Swedish journalist who used the method more than fifty years earlier.

I may have already ordered some of her other works. I can’t wait to read about her time hitch-hiking through America or the time she spent one and a half year in Kamchatka. Unfortunately she doesn’t seem to have been translated into English so if you want to read anything by her my recommendation is to either learn Swedish or pester your favourite publisher until they translate her for you, whichever seems easiest

A Time on Earth

Birches in a meadow

The year is 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis casts its shadow over the world. In California the ageing Swedish-American Albert Carlson feels death approaching. The time has come for him to look back on his life and reflect on what he did with his one time on earth.

A Time on Earth (Din stund på jorden) by Vilhelm Moberg is a story about death and about living. About Albert who abandoned his dreams, and about his brother Sigfrid who died young and never got the chance to fulfil his.  It is a melancholic story, filled with regrets over two lives which never became what they ought, but it is written with a compassion for the characters which prevents it from being too bleak.

Albert Carlson has lived his whole adult life in the USA but never managed to make it his home. Now he spends his days in a lonely hotel room with his memories. He suffers from the common emigrant curse of longing for a country which no longer exists, the Sweden he knew has moved on without him (as an emigrant myself this is something I fear). The story moves back and forth from Albert’s life in California to his childhood in rural Sweden, both beautifully portrayed in the novel.

A Time on Earth is a beautiful book, which kept me captivated from the beginning, but it is not a very cheerful read. I believe I should find something a bit lighter for my next read.

This book was on my Classics Club reading list. I read it in Swedish but an English translation exists.

 

 

Why everyone needs to read The Brothers Lionheart

Cherry blossomsThe time has come for me to review one of my absolute favourite books. A book I added to my Classic Club reading list just to get an excuse to re-read it (again) and review it. I’m  talking about The Brothers Lionheart (Bröderna Lejonhjärta) by Astrid Lindgren.

The Brothers Lionheart is primarily a children’s book, aimed at rather young children, but it has plenty to offer older readers. Indeed it is a highly unusual and brave novel. The main-character and narrator is ten-year-old Karl Lionheart and already on the very first page we are told that he is about to die. The story is however not as bleak as it may sound. For children this is primarily a fantasy adventure which deals with sibling love, death and the nature of courage in a way no other children’s books do. It has some really dark parts but it doesn’t stay in the darkness and, as all is told from a child’s perspective, it never really scared me as a kid.

In many ways this novel is more melancholic when read as an adult. Lindgren lets us read between the lines and glimpse a sadder, but equally beautiful, story. She wrote this novel at a time when her favourite brother was seriously ill and a note of love and grief runs through the text. It may look like a children’s novel but it is not afraid to take on the big questions. The result is sad and wise and comforting.

I don’t want to spoil the plot for those of you who have yet to read it, just tell you that you should. I can’t guarantee that you will like it, it is not for everyone, but if you do it is something really special.

If you don’t mind spoilers read this excellent review, but beware, it does give away much of the plot including the ending.

I need to discuss this book with everyone and that can’t be done properly without spoilers so spoilers are welcome in the comment section for this review. If you have not read it yet, avoid the comments and go and read it instead (and do come back to let me know what you thought).

TW: Death, ableism.

Poetry from the deep forests

DSC_1871.JPGI have been a good reader this summer but a worse blogger and I fear that blogging and blog reading will remain slow for the rest of August. However, before I disappear again I want to introduce you to a favorite poet of mine, Dan Andersson.

I guess most readers have some author that transport us back to places we have been to or the people that we were. For me one of those authors is the Swedish poet Dan Andersson (1888-1920). Living abroad I sometimes long for my childhood forests and no-one catches the feeling of those forests like him. Admittedly he wrote about life in the much more impressive nature around the Swedish-Norwegian border, but his texts still feel like home.

I came to think of him as I found a collection of his poetry and ballads while browsing a used bookstore recently, and have been reading it on and off for the last week. Many of the poems depict the nature around his family homes but also the lives of the people around him, especially people on the edges of society. Other poems describe religious doubts and fears. However, what is perhaps most notable about his poetry is their musical properties. Many of his poems have been brilliantly set to music, sometimes by the author himself. I would even argue that some of them only truly shines when sung.
Dan Andersson’s poetry is probably hard to find in a good translation but you may still be able to find and enjoy some of the musical renditions. I especially recommend the ones by Sofia Karlsson!

What about you, do you have any texts that transports you back to a specific time or place?

East of the Great Glacier

Photo of a valley on Greenland

Helge Ingstad was a Norwegian explorer, lawyer, trapper and author of popular travel books, one of which I have recently finished. The book I read, East of the Great Glacier, takes place during an expedition to East Greenland in 1932-1933 which Helge Ingstad led.

As far as I understand it, the political background to the expedition was that Norway wanted to annex this uninhabited part of northeast Greenland and another part in the south. The contested regions had historically often been used by Norwegian fishers and hunters and Norway claimed that these parts were terra nullius and free for the taking. Denmark on the other hand argued that all of Greenland was under Danish jurisdiction. Ingstad and his expedition was on northeast Greenland to strengthen the Norwegian claim and to prepare for future use of the land by arranging infrastructure (hunting cabins). While they were on Greenland the case was taken to the Permanent Court of International Justice where Norway lost and subsequently withdrew its claim. (Why have no-one told me this story before!?!)

Anyway, the political situation may have been the reason for the expedition but it only plays a minor role in the book. Instead we follow the expedition through good times and bad. Ingstad is an excellent writer who mixes descriptions of the daily life of the expedition with intelligent comments on the landscape around him and all of it is filled with a contagious love for the Arctic. If you are interested in Arctic literature I recommend it.

A few Norwegian reading recommendations for 17th of May

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It is the 17th of May, Syttende Mai, and Norway is celebrating its National Day. As a Swedish immigrant to Norway I find it all somewhat bewildering. Nevertheless I thought I’d do my part here on the blog by highlighting two of my favourite Norwegian authors, Henrik Ibsen and Anne B. Ragde. One classic dramatist and one modern novelist, something for everyone…

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

Henrik Ibsen is a classic dramatist and probably the best known Norwegian author. He was a very influential early modernists and his plays remain widely played today. He wrote realistic plays that still feels modern, although they are much less scandalous now. His best known play, A Doll’s House, is also my favourite and is freely available in an English translation at Project Gutenberg.

Anne B. Ragde (1957 – )

I have mentioned Anne B. Ragde before on this blog but her name is worth repeating. Her writing is sharp, her characters and her plots interesting. I particularly admire her ability to write stories that balance humour and darkness but never feel shallow. I also appreciate the warmth she brings to her characters which often makes me sympathize with the most unlikely characters. Unfortunately I believe only one of her novels, Berlin Poplars, is available in English but that one I can really recommend.

Gratulerer med dagen Norge!