I am currently reading Underbara dagar framför oss (Wonderful days ahead of us) by Henrik Berggren which is a biography over former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. So far I am only a couple of chapters in but I was struck by something as I was reading:
How important the novels I read as a child are to my understanding of this book.
As a child I loved books set in historical times (I hesitate to call them historical fiction because some of them were books written in the time they were set). I loved the Little House on the Prairie books and the Anne of Green Gables books. I also loved some Swedish series Kulla-Gulla and then a series that was written as I was in my early teens (thus making it historical fiction) about a girl named Lina. I also devoured Astrid Lindgren’s books. As a teenager I read for school and fell in love with Per Anders Fogelströms City series which covers, as historical fiction, the growth of Stockholm through the eyes of a working class family. All of these books had an impact on my understanding of the non-fiction book I am currently reading.
Both the books about Kulla-Gulla and Lina are set around the turn of the last century (the final book about Lina covers the actual turn of the century) and that is also the time period that the chapters I’ve read in Underbara dagar cover. Kulla-Gulla is the story about a young orphan who gets sent out from the orphanage to work for the lowest bidder (the county would pay people to take in orphans to work and pay them, the person who wanted the least amount of money “got” the child). She lives in what can only be described as abject poverty. Later in the series it is discovered that she is actually the granddaughter of the master of the large country estate to which the cottage where she works belongs. The later books come to discuss class issues and class differences in a great deal. Something that is mentioned in Underbara dagar as Palme’s grandmother comes from the higher social classes while his grandfather is from a merchant background with no money of his own as his father failed in business. The grandfather is a lieutenant in the army and later works in his brothers insurance business. Because he has very little money of his own he needs to marry someone who has money of their own. This is a concept that is discussed in Kulla-Gulla as she, through her grandfather has a large fortune and she is therefore the object of interest from a young lieutenant without a fortune of his own.
Although the books about Lina don’t tie quite as tightly to the parts I have read I am sure they will come into play later on since I know that Palme and Lina have been tied together for me previously. You see before Palme became Prime Minister he was ecklesiastikminister or minister for education. We studied him in my history of education class which was part of my M.Ed. studies. Many of my classmates really struggled with that class. They found it difficult to understand and remember the different educational reforms. I didn’t. Because for me it wasn’t the first time I had come across many of these ideas and events. I knew from Lina about the differences in the education received between the poor and the better offs (not the upper classes but the rich farmers and well to do merchants). I knew about the growth of what we call folkhögskolan (a school form that still lives today and is often considered an alternative to those who do not do well in normal school settings as it is often concerned with a more artistic way of expressing things, and/or with educating the whole person). In the books about Lina folkhögskolan gives the children of the middle classes a chance to continue their education after the end of compulsory education.
When it comes to the City series by Fogelström I could immediately draw parallels to Underbara dagar since, much like the main character in the first of that series, Palme’s grandfather comes to Stockholm with dreams of making good. Palme’s grandfather was able to realise those dreams whereas Henning gets caught in the poverty trap of so many others. Palme did have advantages over Henning in that he had an education, something Henning did not.
The point of all this is that works of fiction that I read as a child and teenager for pure enjoyment have become important to me when I make connections both in my professional and personal development. By reading as a child I am able to draw conclusions as an adult. And those readings give men a leg up on people who have not read as much as I have. This is why I always give books to children. That is why I will always encourage reading. And above all that is why I love reading.