ALVA MYRDAL by Sissela Bok


A Daughter's Memoir
Age Range: 1902 - 1986
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 Internationally acclaimed for her contribution to world peace, Alva Myrdal's personal life (1902-1986) was a series of battles--against her rural Swedish parents, her husband, her children, her reputation, and in her personal quest to find out ``How do I become myself?'' Such ironies abound in this tactful and poignant memoir by her daughter (Philosophy/Brandeis; A Strategy for Peace, 1989, etc.). ``Serving'' her demanding, egocentric, and volatile husband, Gunnar (her ``consort battleship,'' as she called him), who won the Nobel prize in Economics, Alva often left their three children for long periods of time with various surrogates, damaging them but mostly damaging her relationship with them. Still, she longed for the children she could not care for, designed a family home that isolated the parents, taught educational theory she did not follow. Her children--disheveled, neglected, drifting--parented themselves. Jan, the son, a talented writer, ultimately rejected his parents, publishing a scathing attack on his mother just as she was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1982. Of the daughters, Kaj chose to live with a teacher on a farm, and Sissela, while her mother was in America lecturing on the status of women, was so insecure that she said she had to be seen by someone to know she was alive. And Alva's celebrated marriage itself declined into a quarrelsome intellectual companionship. Rational, unsentimental, the parents kept account books of all the money they ever spent on their children, sums they decided justified disinheriting them in favor of a ``universal heir,'' the abstract causes they had dedicated their lives to, a legacy that left the children begging from strangers for family mementos. Gunnar claimed that their social science was ``concerned with explaining why all these potentially and intentionally good people so often make life a hell for themselves and each other when they live together.'' This probing and forgiving book carries on the explanation, exploring those ironic connections and disconnections between the public and private lives that Alva, in searching for herself, could not see.

Pub Date: June 6th, 1991
ISBN: 0-201-57086-6
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1991