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