OMA by Peter Hartling


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When Kalle is five, his parents die and he goes willingly to live with his grandmother (after all, ""She took him seriously"")--and we are into one of those small situation-probes that the Germans and Scandinavians do so well, that fare so poorly here. Still, there is hope till nearly the last that some of the fragments will expand or fuse, that five-years' episodes in Kalle's and Oma's shared life will somehow coalesce into a story. First and last they must adjust to one another: Kalle to Oma's strange modesty (""Old people aren't very nice to look at Kalle""), her nips of brandy (""Especially when I'm scared""), her grudge against her daughter-in-law, his mother--which drives Kalle to tears. ""He couldn't make himself admit that [Oma] was just as important to him now as his mother used to be."" One reason, the Damocles sword: Oma might get sick. But before that inevitability occurs, they prove their joint mettle at the Welfare Office, come to terms over Kalle's passion for playing soccer, divide Oma's prize airplane trip to mutual satisfaction. The talk is direct, uncomplicated, astringent--but it's there, and in Oma's italicized thoughts, that most of the action lies. And their final conversation--after Oma has indeed been hospitalized--is so reasonable a stock-taking (""Some orphanages are nice,"" even) as almost to say, duty's done. Or in Oma's words: ""I've explained things to you. And that's important."" In this case, though, explanation overbalances emotion.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1977
Publisher: Harper & Row