Memories of a life

Leif GW Persson is Sweden´s most well-known criminologist, professor and advisor to the government, with a television program that has made him "a national treasure" (as the British tend to call people like Stephen Fry, the Swedish word would be folkkär, something like "people-loved") and even a string of successful crime novels behind him. He has recently published his memoar, "Gustavs grabb" (= Gustav´s kid), and I had a really good time reading it. Persson is one of those people who tell it like it is, or at least as they see it, calls a spade a spade and so on, and this memoar is no different. However, Persson is very frank about his memories being not entirely trustworthy. Like the very detailed story of how his best friend lost his school cap down the bear pit at the zoo. His friend claims this never happened. Persson chooses to make this his life´s story, though, with reservations about the truthfulness of it in every direction. And the result is excellent, a man´s personal mythology; this is what it´s like to be Leif GW Persson, in this world.

Persson has a few scores to settle, a few clarifications to make. He is also very funny, not just a little bit cynical, and humble about his own short-comings, especially with the social and emotional bits. He seems honestly surprised and grateful that none of all his children have lashed back with a vengeance at him for being a crap dad. He is certainly pretty hateful towards his own mother. I think about the reasons for this and the only answer I can come up with, from the pages of this book, is that being a good parent is about respect and trust. He writes very candidly about his mother´s betrayals and controlling behaviour and I guess that even a distant father can be ok as long as you can trust him completely.

He is also a social climber with a chip on his shoulder, but at the same time with well-nigh gargantuan self-confidence. His soft spot is his father, Gustav, who was, one understands, the foundation on which Persson built his life. I see a lot of parallells with Kerstin Ekman´s novel about her life in regard to class. This is an experience shared by so many people in the Western World who were born somewhere between 1940 and 1970, when the working classes become the middle/consumer classes.

I find myself thinking a lot about people´s need to make their lives into stories. It think some are just born with it. Ekman says somewhere in her novel that there are no stories in real life, it just goes on and on. And certainly, I know plenty of people who live like that and will share their facts of life with you, but who are no story-tellers. But story-telling, the narrative gene, is a survival gene, I think. When life as you know it is taken from you, when what gives your life meaning is ripped away, whether it is a person, a job or something else, story-telling is the way we cope and find new direction. That´s what therapy is all about: telling it. In some cultures, when someone has died everybody asks: How did it happen? And the grieving person has to tell it, over and over, as part of the process. In our culture, I fear we are much too afraid to ask, too afraid to increase the pain.

I enjoyed this book a lot and I think I can recommend it to just about everyone, it´s the perfect Christmas read. It´s interesting, entertaining, and makes you think about your own story, why do I tell my own life the way I do? And how would it change me if I changed the narrative?

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