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CHILDHOOD by Jan Myrdal

CHILDHOOD

By Jan Myrdal

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-941702-29-4

 This boyhood memoir begins with five-year-old Jan running through the dark--a nighttime ritual he played out despite the chagrin of his chronically disapproving parents. Here, Myrdal (India Waits, 1986, etc.) describes his unconventional early years with a strong, sometimes disquieting candor, capturing the peculiar ways adults talk to children and conveying his own survival techniques (``Whatever you did it was important not to leave traces''; ``You had to choose your words so you were not understood''). Myrdal is the son of Nobel Laureates Gunnar and Alva, celebrated social scientists who failed to check their academic miens at the door. With no interest in the boy's feelings, Gunnar constantly scrutinized and joked about Jan's behavior with visiting friends; Alva, who recorded their conversations in a notebook, omitted Jan from her official records after 1940 and, when he was fully grown, denounced him to US immigration authorities. Both parents left him, early and often, in the care of relatives who at least provided an honest welcome and a sense of home. Meanwhile, Myrdal never developed much of a relationship with either of his preferred (and ostensibly planned) younger sisters--not Kaj, who neglected to tell her own daughter of his existence, nor Sissela (Bok), whom he here calls ``as phony as a three-Crown coin.'' Confused and angered by the family characterization of him as a ``problem child,'' the author was nevertheless able to make friends and connect with relatives, enjoy typical boyhood pleasures (attempting to build a tree house, jumping on ice floes), and retain an imaginative inner life that neither parent could violate for long. Myrdal pursues these memories and their emotional precipitates as vigorously he does as the scenes of family life. Myrdal's memoir caused a stir in Sweden, but even those who don't know the elder Myrdals and their work or the author's previous books will read it as an evocative re-creation of life as seen by a child.