My need of Olof

My copy of "Cat´s Cradle" was old and yellowed and hard on my hands (some other paper shuffling didn´t help any) and now I´m reading Olof Lagercrantz again, with cotton gloves on. If I´m not careful, I´ll soon be constricted to whatever is available electronically and I don´t like it. But perhaps the answer lies with Lagercrantz. In "Vårt behov av Olof" (= our need of Olof), a friendship book given to him on his 90th birthday (I suppose there would have been too many speeches for him to hear at the birthday dinner if they hadn´t given all those writers a few pages each) one of his friends point out that he read slowly and he read thoroughly, usually he spent three or four years with a book, and that book usually generated a book of his own.

"Min första krets" (= my first circle) is Lagercrantz´s memoir of his first twenty-five years. The book was inspired by his reading of Joseph Conrad´s "Heart of Darkness". Eerily, Lagercrantz found some clues in there to his childhood and his low-aristocratic, military family. What I like about his book is that he does not judge. He only tells it the way he experienced it at the time. Some of the things he has to say about the way he and his siblings were brought up are horrific, and one sister killed herself at nineteen, jumping out of a window. He is actually rather generous towards his father, recognizing that if you have no imagination, how can you act compassionately?

What saved him, in a way, was tuberculosis. It struck him down hard while he was doing military service, he spent several years in sanatoriums, and it wasn´t certain that he would survive. While he was ill, his aunt sent him books from his grandfather´s collection and only then did he begin to read. Rather late in life for a future writer. He doesn´t say so, but I think the reading kind of saved his soul, and maybe it strengthened his will to live. He has later (as many in the friendship book testifies) described his life as a series of awakenings, and literature was certainly what made the world make sense to him. Perhaps that is why I feel so, well, related to him.

I am also happy to see that in the friendship book, someone else has noticed that he, in his portrait of Olof Palme, described something of himself. It makes me feel like I haven´t totally misunderstood him. Lagercrantz has been described as the devil by some (not quite as hated as Palme, though), but I find it hard to understand why. But perhaps the Lagercrantz of the 70´s, the newspaper man, and the old Lagercrantz of 2001, the author, are somewhat different people. And not everyone has the ability to forgive and move on.

Perhaps I should read slower. But I do have books that I return to all the time. Mostly for pleasure though, I´m not sure Austen (for example) has contributed that much to my growth as a human being. Maybe it´s time to re-read some of those books that I always think of as ones that changed my perception of literature and, indeed, reality. Like Milan Kundera´s "The Unbearable Lightness of Being". Is it still as good as it once was? He gave me some clues to my childhood and background! For now, I´ll put it on my list. And try to stay away from paper.

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