I adore Astrid Lindgren. Fact. Her books are like the book soundtrack to my younger years, when I would spend my summer holidays in Germany with my Omi and Opa. Each evening, my Omi would read to me until I fell asleep, sometimes for hours if a book was particularly engaging. Amongst the treasures she shared with me were the awesome Pippi Langstrumpf (Pippi Longstocking) and Die Kinder von Bullerbü series (The Noisy Village series). I really connected with the independence, joy and sense of adventure the children in these books had. Confession: I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking! A part of me still does.
(This edition is so quirky- Lauren Child is the perfect illustrator for Pippi)
When her war time diaries were translated and published in English for the first time, I realised how little I know about Astrid Lindgren as a person; I was intrigued to find out what her perspective was, having heard good things about her insight and plentiful documentation of life in Sweden during World War II. She documented consistently throughout the entire period, cutting out and commenting on war related articles, writing about elements of the war affecting her own life and that of the Swedish as well as including entries about her everyday life at this time.
First of all, I must say that it felt incredible to not only read the diaries of a favourite author but also to read primary documents from the Second World War period. As I read, the entries felt very real, they felt very honest in nature. Reading felt an honour, a privilege.
What I found most interesting about this book was the Nordic and Baltic perspectives on World War II, elements I don’t know a lot about although I consider my knowledge of the period extensive. I hadn’t given much thought to the impact both Germany and Russia had on countries such as Finland, Norway and Denmark and so this book was an excellent starting point. I hadn’t realised just how much fear the threat of Russian dominance created. Stalin’s Socialism was just as much of a political threat as Nazism was for many of these countries. I also knew that Sweden had remained neutral but again didn’t have much more information about this. Lindgren explore Sweden’s neutrality with all its complexities and argues a good point in my opinion, although I can see some weaknesses in her argument too.
I really enjoyed reading the everyday snippets of Lindgren’s life, which brought me closer to her as a person; her war work, her children, her love for nature and her relationship with her husband. It was of course wonderful to read how Pippi Longstocking came into being and how she developed into a published personality.
However, I do not consider this collection ‘breath-taking’ as one of the included reviews announces. For me, this diary collection is important and I feel richer having read it but it doesn’t have that ‘book tingle’ factor. Because they were personal diaries, the tone is at times monotonous and this meant that I didn’t feel fully engaged throughout. Also, the many mentions of plentiful food became superfluous, even though most of those mentions were accompanied by gratitude and thoughts of those in war torn countries. Again, I can see this content as only natural for a personal diary but it affected my reading experience as a reader of today. The last niggle I have is that there are a couple of Lindgren’s comments that didn’t sit quite right with me. I could understand them, see where she was coming from in the context of Sweden’s position but nevertheless, they made me feel uncomfortable. An example of this was a comment she made about a group of people liberated from the Theresianstadt concentration camp; this camp was ‘comparatively’ bearable when compared with other camps. It could be the translation, it could be her turn of phrase but I am just not sure about this statement weighing up levels of suffering.
So, to conclude, reading Lindgren’s published diaries has certainly set the ball rolling; I definitely want to find out more now about this down to earth, quirky woman, who had the imagination to mesmerize so many children as well as the drive to become a much loved, celebrated author. I am also keen to research the role Nazism played in Nordic and Baltic countries further.