Growing up in Sweden, I read the whole Astrid Lindgren canon from Pippi Longstocking to Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter, but my fascination with Tove Jansson, the equally beloved creator of the Moomins series, only began in New York, as an adult, after I discovered her novel The Summer Book. That book remains one of the most beautiful meditations on the beginning and the end of life I have ever read.
During a recent trip to Stockholm, I noticed Bulevarden och Andra Texter, a new collection of stories and essays by Jansson, in the basement of Hedengrens, a venerable bookstore in a posh part of town. The texts, never reprinted before this compilation, span from 1934 to 1997 and cover a wide array of topics and genres, including tableaux of Jansson’s bohemian days in Paris, a humorous account of the indignities of house-hunting, a short story about a botched honeymoon in Fascist Capri, and a gentle manifesto on children’s literature.
“The Island,” which I have translated here for the first time into English, was originally published in 1961 in a travel magazine, Turistliv i Finland. At once a short story, an essay, and a prose poem, the piece reads both like a sketch for The Summer Book (published eleven years later) and a vignette of Klovharu, the island where Jansson and Tuulikki Pietilä, her partner, built a summerhouse in the mid-60’s.
This text seems to change following mysterious tides. There are sudden shifts in point of view and tense—from an impersonal voice that can have the impassivity of nature to a profoundly physical first person, from a timeless present to an urgent past. The punctuation is quite peculiar. Several verbless fragments. Many sentences never really coalesce—they form, rather, a syntactical archipelago.
There is a surprisingly large number of people who go around dreaming about an island.
Sometimes deliberate people look for their island and conquer it, and sometimes the dream of the island can be a passive symbol for what is one step beyond reach. The island—at last, privacy, remoteness, intimacy, a rounded whole without bridges or fences. Read More