Translated from the Swedish by Sarah Death

EUROPE

Astrid Lindgren is best known for her iconic children’s book character Pippi Longstocking. But she also kept diaries throughout the Second World War, recording world events, and tracking with horror the progress of the war from her home in officially neutral Stockholm. I found the diaries to be a mixture of the fascinating and the prosaic. She records in detail the news as she interprets it from her reading of the papers and from insights from friends and colleagues. This is mixed in with interesting details of family life, even listing the presents that her children receive for their birthdays and at Christmas, and with detailed descriptions of the food eaten at special meals.

21 May 1940

In the evening I was out at Anne-Marie and Stellan’s at Stora Essingen. We went for a walk around the island in the light of the full moon with the scent of lime blossom and budding bird cherry in our nostrils. Lovely, lovely! But the Germans are advancing by forced march; nothing can stop them.

However, sometimes the diaries lack essential detail – one year is particularly gruelling for Lindgren due to some kind of personal crisis, but the diaries as published are cagey and non-revelatory, so it all felt very obfuscating. Maybe Lindgren’s surviving daughter (who provides the preface), edited the detail out as an invasion of privacy too far, or maybe Lindgren didn’t confide all in her diaries – we know that Lindgren’s marriage subsequently broke down, so I can only assume her personal crisis relates to this later event. No doubt I’m being intrusive, but so much context was missing from this part of the diary that it just felt confusing.

Overall, though, Lindgren comes across as a loving, engaged and resolute, and I was very happy to spend time with her. Towards the end of the war, Lindgren reads Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday: Memoirs of a European (which is on my to read list, too), and is moved by his writing. I’ll come back to that book soon, but for now I’m moving away from the Second World War – it’s not healthy to spend too much of my reading time there.

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