Thursday, 23 November 2017

Astrid Lindgren's war diaries: A World Gone Mad

Astrid Lindgren's war diaries: A World Gone Mad · Lisa Hjalt

One of the books on a reading list I shared in March was A World Gone Mad: The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren, 1939-45, published last autumn in English by Pushkin Press (translated by Sarah Death). Astrid Lindgren was a Swedish author who wrote fantastic books for children. When we lived in the UK it seemed as if people only knew Pippi Longstocking and not the other wonderful characters she created. I still remember moments in primary school when the teacher read Seacrow Island during breaks; one of the books from childhood that I have read countless times and hold dear is The Brothers Lionheart. I doubt children think much about the personal life of an author, they simply forget themselves in the world he or she has created, thus the war diaries showed me a side to the author I knew nothing about: Lindgren as a young mother trying to grasp the horrors of the war, not without the feeling of guilt in a neutral Sweden.

Do Lindgren's war diaries have anything to add to what already has been written about the Second World War? What I found interesting is that she is barely 32 years old when the war breaks out and clearly feels the need to record its progress. She collects press cuttings and writes entries of various lengths in leather-bound journals, a total of seventeen which were found in her home in Dalagatan in Stockholm after her death in 2002 (published in Sweden in 2015). The book only contains the entries, and some illustrations, and it surprised me how thorough she was in her accounts. I thought I was about to read Lindgren's personal thoughts but soon realised that this was a book about the war in layman's terms.
Astrid Lindgren's war diaries: A World Gone Mad · Lisa Hjalt

Lindgren comes straight to the point without overdramatising, although she naturally experiences fear and anger. The first entry is written on the 1st of September 1939 when the Germans invade Poland. With a constant voice she compares the peaceful life in wartime Sweden - where there was no conflict, only the effects of rationing - to the horror elsewhere in Europe, especially in the neighbouring countries Finland and Norway. When she starts working for the Swedish Intelligence Agency, in its postal control division reading overseas mail, the war gets closer; she mentions this one 'profoundly sad Jewish letter' from the Continent to a friend in Sweden.

By Christmas 1944 the reader realises that something serious has taken place, she has experienced a breakdown which many who don't know her story could interpret as a consequence of the war and her work: 'I've had a hell of a six months this second half of 1944 and the ground beneath me has been shaken to its very foundation; I'm disconsolate, down, disappointed, often melancholy - but I'm not really unhappy.' She never writes in the diary what exactly is the cause but those who have read about her life know that there were troubles in her marriage. Her husband had met someone else and had asked for a divorce, which he then didn't go through with.

The diaries predate Lindgren's fiction writing but on its pages we witness the birth of an author; during the war she is writing her first children's books: 'I'm the happiest when I write.' However, the book is not a diary of an author, as I have heard people say, that is, it's not a diary with entries about fiction writing and style. Her first book, about a girl called Britt-Mari, was published in 1944 and for that one received an award. In March 1944, when her daughter is bedridden with measles, Lindgren is working on the first book about Pippi Longstocking and on the book's last pages there is an illustration of the rejection letter she received after submitting the manuscript in April 1944. A year later she talks about Pippi again, about rewriting - 'to see if I can make anything of that bad child.' We all know how that turned out.

I can recommend the book, which is very readable and, as stated above, showed me a new side to my favourite author from childhood. My quibbles have to do with the book not containing more illustrations. There are photos of Lindgren and her family but I would have liked to see more photos of the diary entries and press cuttings, particularly those relating to some key battles that Lindgren writes about in her entries. It would have helped to connect more visually with her experience of the war.

A World Gone Mad: The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren, 1939-45
By Astrid Lindgren
Pushkin Press
Hardcover, 240 pages, illustrated

Monday, 30 October 2017

№ 12 reading list ... from the Land of Ideas

№ 12 reading list | Ayobami Adebayo, Peter Hedges, Isambard Wilkinson  · Lisa Hjalt

My № 12 reading list was supposed to appear on the blog in September - that stack of books looks good, doesn't it? - but I got busy packing. As in moving, to Germany. Ich bin ein Bremer! Not quite a declaration carrying the weight of Kennedy's Ich bin ein Berliner ... except for us, the family. We are settling in our new home and exploring our surroundings. My first task was arranging the books and creating a reading nook, and then, to feel more at home, setting up the kitchen and making the first Friday pizzas. Bremen has many cafés and restaurants and everywhere I have been the atmosphere has been the way I like it, relaxed and unpretentious. I have already visited two bookshops in the centre but no library, yet. Because of the move the time for reading has been somewhat limited, but I have finished the first two works on the list and I'm well into a few others. Three publishers provided books for the list, for which I'm grateful: Canongate [1], Eland Books [2] and Fox, Finch & Tepper [3]. I will be reviewing these three books on the blog later.

№ 12 reading list:
· South and West: From a Notebook  by Joan Didion
· Stay with Me  by Ayobami Adebayo [1]
· Travels in a Dervish Cloak  by Isambard Wilkinson [2]
· What's Eating Gilbert Grape  by Peter Hedges [3]
· The Unwomanly Face of War  by Svetlana Alexievich
· Autumn  by Ali Smith
· Hitch-22: A Memoir  by Christopher Hitchens
· How Fiction Works  by James Wood
· Against Interpretation and Other Essays  by Susan Sontag

Usually there are a few library books on my reading lists but this time the books are all mine. A dear friend in Iceland gave me a generous Waterstones gift card on my birthday, which I used to purchase the works of Didion, Sontag, Wood and Alexievich (if you're following on Instagram you may have noticed). Later I was viewing the works of the late Christopher Hitchens in a bookshop when I spotted his memoir, which had escaped me - so glad I bought it. Reading Autumn by Smith felt right this autumn and something tells me I will be reading her new one, Winter, this coming winter. I also have my eyes on some new Icelandic titles that I would like to feature on the blog. And then there is a new publication this autumn that I'm very exited about: Patti Smith's latest, Devotion. She is such a wonderful writer.
№ 12 reading list | Ayobami Adebayo, Peter Hedges, Isambard Wilkinson  · Lisa Hjalt

The three works to be reviewed later:

The 'fiercely independent' Canongate is the publisher of Stay with Me, the debut novel of Ayobami Adebayo, a young Nigerian author who I can only hope is working on another fiction. Without giving away the plot the synopsis reads: 'Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything - arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, appeals to God. But when her relatives insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair.' The book was shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.

The focus of Fox, Finch & Tepper is to publish 'literary fiction titles with a strong sense of place that have already been published and that deserve resurrection.' What's Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges is a perfect example. I had only seen and enjoyed the film, starring Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and Juliette Lewis, but how wonderful it feels to read the book. Hedges's writing style is pure delight.

Eland Books - 'keeping the best of travel writing alive' - recently published Travels in a Dervish Cloak by Isambard Wilkinson. He first visited Pakistan as a teenager and during the War on Terror he worked there as a foreign correspondent. I waited for a proper Wi-fi connection in our new home before starting this book because I wanted to be able to look up things and places. That is what good travel writing makes you want to do. I believe Wilkinson will teach me a lot about Pakistan and its culture.

Bis bald!

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Schuyler Samperton Textiles

Schuyler Samperton Textiles, designs, patterns: Nellcote, Cordoba, Celandine · Lisa Hjalt

The world of textile design got richer this year when Schuyler Samperton, a Los Angeles–based interior designer, took the plunge and introduced her own fabric collection under the name of Schuyler Samperton Textiles. With the launch of the fabric line, a dream came true for Samperton, who has been collecting textiles since her teenage years. The word stunning describes my first impression of her collection, which exists of eight fabrics made of 100% linen, available in various colourways. For two months I have been admiring the details of her patterns and asking myself, Where do I even begin to share this beauty?

Schuyler Samperton Textiles, design: Nellcote petunia
Nellcote/Petunia by Schuyler Samperton Textiles

You may have seen some of the fabrics by Schuyler Samperton Textiles on my Instagram account this summer, but for the first blog post I landed on the Nellcote/Apricot in a leading role, a bohemian pattern that to me depicts a certain playfulness. (The detail above shows the colour Petunia.)

The Nellcote/Apricot is the fabric and colour I would like to use for a cushion or two in our new living room, after we have purchased a new sofa - I'm moving soon, about to start packing! I have been playing with ideas and every time this is the pattern that feels right, plus its colours match well with the textiles I already have and the ones I have my eyes on.

Schuyler Samperton Textiles, design: Doshi persimmonSchuyler Samperton Textiles, designs: Nellcote, Caledonia, Celandine · Lisa Hjalt

Left: The Doshi fabric in Persimmon. Right: In foreground, Nellcote/Apricot; top, Caledonia/Mandarin; bottom-left, Celandine/Sunset

Of the eight designs, the Doshi fabric is the one with a loosely printed pattern, a simple botanical motif. You can easily use any of its five colourways to draw out another colour, resulting in a beautifully decorated space. For this post I chose the Doshi/Persimmon but I also have a crush on a blue version, Doshi/Lake. The floral fabric also seen in my image above is Celandine/Sunset.

Some other time I would like to feature the Caledonia design in more detail on the blog. It's the floral fabric with the butterfly in my image above, in the colour Mandarin. This fabric also has a bird motif.
Schuyler Samperton Textiles, designs: Nellcote, Cordoba, Celandine · Lisa Hjalt

Another Schuyler Samperton design I'm fond of using in my new home is the Cordoba fabric with a paisley motif, seen folded in the colour Spice in my image above, and in detail below (also spotted in Indigo under the ceramic vase). I have yet to decide between the Cordoba/Spice and Cordoba/Dahlia.

I will be featuring more fabrics later. In the meantime you can view the full range of fabrics on the website of Schuyler Samperton Textiles, where you will also find a list of showrooms.

Schuyler Samperton Textiles, design: Cordoba spice
Cordoba/Spice by Schuyler Samperton Textiles

A few years back I featured the work of Schuyler Samperton on the blog. The suzani lovers out there may perhaps remember this particular post where, among others, I shared an image of a West Hollywood bedroom (scroll down), belonging to a residence she designed. She studied art history and decorative arts at Trinity College, NYU and Parsons School of Design, and for four years she worked for American interior designer Michael S. Smith. Her interior design projects are accessible online. Throughout September I will be adding some of my favourite Schuyler Samperton spaces to the Lunch & Latte Tumblr page.

Textile and interior designer Schuyler Samperton and her dog. © Schuyler Samperton Textiles/Alexandre Jaras