Insightful, elegantly written biography of the beloved author of the Pippi Longstocking tales, a complex woman of parts.
“Life is not as rotten as it seems.” It’s not much of an affirmation, but, Danish biographer and literary critic Andersen (Hans Christian Andersen, 2005) suggests, it was about the best that Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002) could do. Born into a family of farmers who instilled in her the virtues of hard work and a certain Nordic stoicism, Lindgren started off as a teenager fresh out of school working as a journalist—and quickly became pregnant by the mercurial editor, who, though “neither a journalist nor an author…could hear the difference between good and bad storytelling.” One wishes for Lindgren’s sake that he had been a better man, but the editor clearly knew that Lindgren had a gift. It was, Andersen writes, a gift laden with psychological insecurities. Without being too obvious about it, many of Lindgren’s stories were about loneliness, isolation, and depression, and while she reckoned, following a researcher’s findings, that Hans Christian Andersen wrote about death in “five-sixths” of his stories, she kept pace: “the same goes for my fairy-tales,” she said, “more or less.” Lindgren wrote in a range of genres, including books for grown-ups that included crime stories, comedies, and fables as well as her famed writings for young readers; many, as Andersen recounts, had a political edge as well as a psychological dimension, some specifically anti-Nazi. A fascinating aspect of the book is Andersen’s theory of the origins of the Pippi Longstocking stories in debates about childhood education, for while Lindgren wrote about the effects of loneliness on children, she also posited a world in which children could play freely, of a kind with and drawing on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Anne of Green Gables, and, unexpectedly, the Superman comic book franchise.
Readers who grew up on Lindgren’s stories will find this excellent book irresistible—and often surprising.