Translated by Sarah Death
UK title: A World Gone Mad: The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren 1939-1945
Before she became internationally known for her Pippi Longstocking books, Astrid Lindgren was an aspiring author living in Stockholm with her family at the outbreak of the Second World War. The diaries she kept throughout the hostilities offer a civilian’s, a mother’s, and an aspiring writer’s unique account of the devastating conflict. She emerges as a morally courageous critic of violence and war, as well as a deeply sensitive and astute observer of world affairs. We hear her thoughts about rationing, blackouts, the Soviet invasion of Finland, and the nature of evil, as well as of her personal heartbreaks, financial struggles, and trials as a mother and writer.
Illustrated with family photographs, newspaper clippings, and facsimile pages, Lindgren’s diaries provide an intensely personal and vivid account of Europe during the war.
I’m not a World War II buff but when I do read about the period I like learning about everyday people and what it was like to live at the time. Troop movements, negotiations between allies? Enh. But give me diaries and letters by those on the homefront and I am there.
Lindgren’s account is a very specific and detailed view of the war from neutral Sweden, a fact that helps it transcend narratives I’ve read before. Instead of being stuck in London for the Blitz or tied to a German account of of the fighting we get to peek at all sides from a relatively safe Scandinavian perch. She pasted in newspaper articles about the war and fills in the spaces with information about Lindgren’s own life – making do with rations, working censoring letters, listing what her children received for Christmas.
The specificity takes us back to that scary time but she still pulls back and looks at things with a wider lens. These parts stuck with me the most as I write this in November 2016 as global political balance seems to be deteriorating by the day. “One dreads opening the newspaper each day,” Lindgren writes, and I can’t help but agree with her.
As long as you’re only reading about it in the paper you can sort of avoid believing it, but when you read in a letter that ‘both Jacques’s children were killed in the occupation of Luxembourg’ or something like that, it suddenly brings it home, quite terrifyingly. Poor human race: when I read their letters I’m staggered by the amount of sickness and distress, grief, unemployment, poverty and despair that can be fitted into this wretched earth.
It’s a wonderful, intensely readable look at World War II from a unique perspective. A hearty recommend, especially for fans of diaries and homefront history.
Thanks to Yale University Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.