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A World Gone Mad

The Diaries of Astrid Lind­gren 1939–45 (Pushkin Press, £18.99)

We know and love Astrid Lind­gren for her wild and joy­ful cre­ation Pippi Long­stock­ing, who bounded onto the pages of chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture, pig­tails fly­ing, in 1945, so the re­cent dis­cov­ery of the au­thor’s diaries about the Sec­ond World War— 17 vol­umes of news­pa­per cut­tings, notes and re­flec­tions—is un­der­stand­ably thrilling.

Con­densed, and now trans­lated into english, Lind­gren’s diaries of­fer an un­usual per­spec­tive, in part for be­ing Scan­di­na­vian. Bru­tal re­ports from Fin­land cause her to re­flect: ‘I think I’d rather say “Heil Hitler” for the rest of my life’ than the ‘nordic na­tions … be over­run with Rus­sians’; we also see her un­easy mix­ture of guilt and re­lief at Swe­den’s con­tin­ued neu­tral­ity.

The diaries’ charm lies in the bal­ance of the au­thor’s thoughts on world events with her dayto-day do­mes­tic ex­pe­ri­ences. Re­flec­tions on mil­i­tary ma­noeu­vres, in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics and the fate of the Jews com­bine with notes on ra­tioning and cook­ing, a lack of white sewing thread and her chil­dren’s birth­day presents. on June 6, 1944, for in­stance, along­side ‘The Al­lies have marched into Rome!’, comes: ‘Per­son­ally I’ve been in a foul mood… Lasse came home yes­ter­day with ab­so­lutely lousy fi­nal grades and will have to re­take the year.’ This frank mix­ture re­veals a life pep­pered with our own ev­ery­day con­cerns: so mi­nor, so vi­tal and throw­ing the weight­ier trou­bles of war into re­lief.

oc­ca­sion­ally, one would have liked some ed­i­to­rial in­put; a foot­note to in­form us of her mar­i­tal cri­sis and some notes about the pub­li­ca­tion of Pippi Long­stock­ing would have cre­ated a fuller pic­ture. How­ever, we are suf­fi­ciently in­spired to read be­tween the lines. Emily Rhodes

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