Books by Reidar Jonsson

MY FATHER, HIS SON by Reidar Jonsson
Released: Oct. 1, 1991

Swedish writer Jonsson offers a farcical sequel to My Life as a Dog (1990) that is neither as unified nor as moving: here, his protagonist struggles through a difficult marriage and remembers his father and his own traveling days as a deckhand aboard merchant ships. ``I do everything too late,'' Ingemar Johansson tells us, continuing his chronicle of abashed loneliness. This time he begins in 1976 in Algiers, where he and his wife Louise (``Life and death go hand in hand. Always'') are detained. Louise, he says later, is ``a totally instinctive volcano,'' and he's ``a frail piece of wood, accidentally falling into the volcano and burning up.'' Jonsson uses memory as structure; a triple-deck narrative tells the tragicomic story of the slapstick life aboard ship, his marriage, and the near-mythological search for his father (``Why did he always have to cut us down to a very small size?''). The shipboard saga (Australia, Nigeria, and other ports of call, plus eccentrics like Eight—``a madman who respects neither life nor death'') is more or less amusing, especially a long story concerning sharks and a wheelchair in 1962 when Ingemar, with his ``overdeveloped sensitivity,'' was a ``crazy paid-by-the-hour laborer.'' But such anecdotes become repetitive; the marital squabbles get bogged down; and the search for the seaman father is too episodic to be sustained. Ingemar comes across finally like a neurotic, ineffectual Pippi Longstocking. Overall, this reads like what it is—the second book in a proposed trilogy, not quite here nor there. Occasional picaresque high moments and horseplay, as well as an effective rendering of dislocation, ultimately survive a ballast of soggy hit-or-miss adventures. Read full book review >