Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Book Review: En komikers uppväxt (A Comedian Growing Up)


En komikers uppväxt (A Comedian Growing Up) by Jonas Gardell

Category: Fiction

Challenges:  GLBT Challenge, Flashback Challenge

Synopsis: A suburb of Stockholm in the 1970s. Juha, 12 years old, and his classmates are fighting a battle that the adults around them refuse to see or act upon. The class has a hierarchy and those who are out are very very out, those who are in are very very in and in the middle there are those who fight for life and death to be number 4 or at least not to be out.

My Thoughts: This book always makes me feel ill. The way the children in it treat each other and how the adults choose not to see. It makes me ill. And then it makes me think. And then I usually feel even more ill. I start thinking about my own actions when I was that age. How did I act? I was never one of the popular kids, but did I act as Juha did? Sometimes I know I did. Mostly though I was Jenny. But not always. And that hurts even more.

This book is often read in late junior high or high school here (I definitely read it in high school because I recently found my notes from it) and usually it is used in conjunction with a unit on bullying. And as such it is very effective. It really makes you stop and think. Part of me wishes it was suitable for younger children but I don’t think it is. It is a book for older teens and adults. I want children to see what they cause. But this isn’t the book for that. What it does show is what us adults cause, through our ignorance and unwillingness to see. There are no heroic characters in this book. There is no one who who says enough. The adults keep living there lives. Even when they see they are powerless to do anything about what they see. Part of me wants to believe that things have changed, part of me wonders if it ever can.

The book is divided into short chapters with some being letters written by an adult Juha to an unnamed person (although later it becomes clear who this person is) and most being snapshots of events during one school year. Most of the snapshots are told from Juha’s perspective but some are told from the perspective of his classmates. Although this type of writing can feel disjointed, in this book it really works. You feel the pain and conflict present in most characters. It also allows you to see the social hierarchy clearly. The format also allows some events to float, not tethered to chronology. Some events clearly happened after one another but which Friday Juha tells which story isn’t relevant and by not pinning it down to a specific time one can feel the crescendo build.

The book is included in the GLBT challenge because the author is homosexual. He is one of Sweden’s best know and most loved comedians. Although the book is not autobiographical one does get the feeling that Gardell has seen some of what happens himself, then again, I think many of us sadly did.

I’ve been unable to find this book in translation.


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1 comment:

Amanda said...

Aw! This sounded so good, and then I read the statement about translations. :(