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Latest Review: "A Burnt Child" by Stig Dagerman

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Phillip Koyoumjian on Stig Dagerman’s A Burnt Child, from Zephyr Press.

Phillip is a Rochester native with a background in European history and literature. He has an MS In Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois and is looking forward to beginning a PhD in Modern European History next fall.

Based on Phillip’s review, the book’s cover, and hell, even the title, this novel sounds kind of unnerving and creepy, but also quite awesome. Which, based on reactions to Dagerman’s Island of the Doomed, which our Book Clüb will be discussing this Thursday (and which I sadly forgot to read, but also really really want to read), it’s wholly fitting to Dagerman’s style. All manner of crazy things seem to go on, but fueled by the most basic and natural human emotions and reactions…

Anyway, here’s the beginning of Phillip’s review:

The recent reissuing of several of Stig Dagerman’s novels by University of Minnesota Press has rekindled interest in his works, which have until now been little-known outside Sweden. Just twenty-four when he wrote A Burnt Child (here newly translated by Benjamin Mier-Cruz) in the summer of 1948, Dagerman was regarded at that time as one of Sweden’s most talented “Fyrtiotalisterna,” a handful of men of letters whose writings evoked the ennui that followed the Second World War. He produced plays, poetry, short stories, journalism, and novels before depression eventually deprived him of the will to write; he ended his own life not long after his thirty-first birthday. A Burnt Child, his penultimate novel, is a haunting expression of the angst many European intellectuals felt during this period.

Twenty-year-old philosophy student Bengt Lundin (whose name plays on the original Swedish title, Bränt barn) is confronted with his mother’s death and his father’s looming marriage to his mistress. Bengt struggles with anger toward his father and conflicting emotions toward his volatile late mother and unstable fiancée. Unforeseen by the myopic and arrogant Bengt is his burgeoning infatuation with his father’s mistress. Her femininity and sensuality are qualities his mother did not possess and his plain fiancée avoids, and Bengt allows his obsession with her to consume his life. While scornful of his father’s betrayal of his mother, and his mother’s betrayal of Bengt through her own affair, he betrays his own father and fiancée with Gun. After he realizes that he cannot make Gun love him exclusively, he succumbs to jealousy and attempts suicide. He eventually reconciles himself (to some degree) with reality, although he does not abandon his increasingly oedipal love for Gun.

For the rest of the review, go here.



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