Again and again

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photo: Göteborgsoperan

Do you know the Spotify Review of your year? It shows you what you most listened to during the past twelve months. For me, it showed as most listened playlist “Kristina från Duvemåla”, as most listened artist ”Helen Sjöholm“ [lead actress in Kristina] an as most listened song „ Duvemåla hage”.

Last Saturday, my friend Tabea and I took the opportunity to see the musical again. It had moved from Gothenburg to Stockholm and as they only seem to set it up every 20 years, I felt I had to see it again. When I talked to my friends who had been with me when I first saw it in February, many of them said they had also been to Stockholm to see it again. My former boss has actually seen it seven times.

I was cold during almost the entire show. Not because the theatre wasn’t heated (on the contrary) but because I had goose bumps all the time. Next to me was a man sitting whose lips moved with every song. He knew every line.

When I first saw the musical, I was not as familiar with the story or the music so it was a stupendous experience. This time, I had the opportunity to pay attention to little things and just like in February, the four (!) hours passed by in the blink of an eye.

The first time I saw “Kristina från Duvemåla” was before the September wave of countless refugees seeking shelter in Germany and Sweden. While it had already been an issue then, last Saturday, it was perfectly impossible to not see the striking similarities between Kristina and any refugee woman today. I don’t think anyone with a brain sitting in that theatre did not think of the current situation. ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus who wrote the musical, said: ”Kristina sings ”I am a refugee and a foreigner”. If we can open some eyes to what it can mean to be a refugee and a foreigner, then we have succeeded with something important”.

The day after I saw it was the last show they played. Let’s hope it comes back soon.

On grief

“During the time closest to her death, he thought every morning when he woke: I shall live this day without her. Tomorrow I shall wake and live through the entire day and do without her. The same I shall do the day after tomorrow. That is how it shall be for all my days I have left. During all the time that is left to me in this world, I shall be without her. This was every morning’s reminder. (…)

And the days without Kristina accumulated into weeks, months, and years. He could already say: It was last year I lost my wife. Soon he would say: It was the year before last year I lost my wife…One day it would be: It was that year when I lost my wife…it was long, long ago…And then the bereavement soon would end when his own life would be finalized (…)

In the evening, he would stand on the path between the shieling and the dwelling house, as if he was waiting for her. Here she should come walking with her milk cans, one can in each hand, and he would help her carry if he was close by: Can I take one, Kristina? She replied: That is nice of you, Karl Oskar. But now she did not come on the path where she used to go and he was left standing disheartened. Did he not know it? Would he never be reconciled with it? He had no more cans to carry for Kristina. He had no wife. He had raised a cross over her at the graveyard.

On tepid summer evenings, he would go outside of the house and (…) then it happened that he, surprised, listened and looked in through the open windows. At this evening time, he used to hear Kristina’s sewing machine from inside. It buzzed and rumbled so that you could hear it from afar. But now? No noise from the flywheel, no sound from the pedal under her feet. Tonight her sewing machine was completely silent. (…)

And Karl Oskar stood always likewise crestfallen when he was forced back from the past and into his present moment: Kristina’s sewing machine was put away in a corner and made no sound and in the loom her shuttle would never no again.”

(Vilhelm Moberg, The Last Letter Home/Sista brevet till Sverige, 1959)

Library Love

The impressive Stockholm Central Library (Photo Simon Paulin/imagebank sweden)

The impressive Stockholm Central Library (Photo Simon Paulin/imagebank sweden)

Remember how I suffered from the excruciating heat during my first weeks in Dizzel? Well, it seems that this town only offers two kinds of weather: burning heat or pouring rain. In the last week, I came home rain-drenched twice. And when I say rain-drenched, I mean completely wet to the bone.

Raininess does add to the mysfaktor/Gemütlichkeitsfaktor though – if you’re inside with a lit candle and a hot cup of tea. And – yes, a good book. Yesterday, I registered at the public library.

Libraries and me have history. We go way back. Some of my very first memories is the children’s section at Heidelberg’s public library. There was a dragon of some sort and a kind of reading arena (do I remember this correctly, mom?) and it was wonderful there.

Actually, I’ve gone through various public libaries in my life. In the small village where I went to primary school, I read through all the shelves. (They were rather limited numbers of shelves, to be fair.) In the small town we moved next, I was a frequent visitor in both the school library (with great enthusiasm, I read all of “Malory Towers” (“Dolly” in German) and “St Clare’s” (“Hanni und Nanni”) and we reenacted their Midnight Parties) and the so-called Catholic library (where the biography of a terrorist made the biggest impression on me).

Düsseldorf Library

Düsseldorf Library

As I moved to Bremen to study, I got to enjoy a large and most beautifully designed library. When my mom came to visit, we would plan spending an afternoon there, leaving with heaps of books. After relocating to Stockholm, I devoured all the Swedish literature I could finally access so easily. The Stockholm Central Library is a piece of architecural art, and the branches in the parts of the city are so many that it was never more than 10 minutes to walk to a library. They even have a library in the subway – so convenient! There, you could take “literature to go” with you in a paper bag that had “crime” or “love” written on it and preselected books in it.

Graduation Day, me in front of the Carolina Rediviva

Graduation Day, me in front of the Carolina Rediviva

In Uppsala, the dignified National and University Library Carolina Rediviva became my second home and I wrote my entire thesis in the cozy Karin Boye Library. Each Monday night, I would go to the local public library close to my student dorm and meet Janne and Britt, two eldery Swedes, who would practice language skills with me. The concept is called Medspråk and the library kindly hosted it. (I also took the opportunity to borrow a children’s book series on Queen Kristina there.)

Only in Hamburg, I never set foot into the library. In retrospective, this worries me because I kind of believe in the (allegedly Chinese) saying, “After three day without reading, one’s speech becomes tasteless.” I hope no one was bothered by my potentially tasteless speech.

So yesterday I took the important step to register at the Düsseldorf Library. It is squeezed between the main railway station, some weird sculptures, and the Consulate of Greece. I had very little time (and actually the last book of Moberg’s distinguished “Emigrants” series left to finish) but I remembered hearing recommendations about Donna Tartt who only publishes one book per decade and blows the critics away every time.

So now it’s me, the rain and “The little friend” for October.

Sweden’s best book

utvandrarna

One of the most pressing socio-political problems of our time must be the migration and refugee movements. Who would have thought that a Swedish book could – in my humble opinion – contribute anything to the question?

A couple of years ago when I took a Swedish course in Göttingen, our teacher made us watch a movie where everything happened in what felt like real-time. I did not fully appreciate the movie but one scene was etched in my memory and the name “Utvandrarna” (“The Emigrants”) stuck with me.

When I came to Uppsala, my friends Michelle and Malin must have brought up the story and introduced me to the musical whose name I had heard before but as it is not the same as the film/book, I had never connected it to the story. To me, it was a musical about something on the Swedish countryside and despite the fact that ABBA’s Björn and Benny wrote it, it never succeeded to catch my full attention. When my favorite magazine published an article on the new, elaborate –redesign of the book covers in 2012, I decided that I would give the story a try. That’s where my story with Kristina, Karl Oskar and Robert finally began.

It is the story of a group of peasants from the South of Sweden who suffer from bad harvests and famine so that they decide to emigrate to America. My friends make fun of me because I read the books so slowly. One reason for that is certainly the advanced linguistics (with dialectal dialogues) but I also find the book series by Vilhelm Moberg to be very emotionally exhaustive. Every word in the thousands of page is carefully arranged, every character is fully thought-through and in every little substory, there’s a whole own drama going on. Moberg succeeds in sucking me into the life of Swedish peasants during 1860s in a way that only a skilled author can. Sometimes, I want to read with a highlighter to mark the passages that remind me of my own very much smaller-scale migration. And many times, I am amazed by the striking parallels between today’s refugees and Kristina’s family. Hundreds of years in between and yet, so much is so similar. This story, a national treasure in Sweden, manages to evoke such empathy for the characters that transcends the place and time and should contribute to changing one’s outlook on the Kristinas that come to Europe these days.

It is certainly true that I have no read all of Swedish literature but I am sufficiently impressed with both the story itself and the masterly way it is told to proclaim this one of the – if not the – best Swedish book. (Astrid Lindgren is, of course, standing outside all competition.)

The books in English and the movie trailer as well as the musical which goes under the name of Kristina från Duvemåla.

Coming up next: The Musical, Kristina från Duvemåla.

"Invandrarna", The Immigrants, part two of the four-part-series on my nightstand

“Invandrarna”, The Immigrants, part two of the four-part-series on my nightstand