Le livre d’or des gens de Sunne, by Göran Tunström

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This is an odd little book that is not quite what its title makes you expect: “The Golden Book of the People of Sunne” was to be a history of famous and important people of Sunne. But its author, Stellan of the town grocery store, makes the story of people who mattered to him, good or bad, interesting or just plain odd, and present a strange kaleidoscopic view of Swedish small town life. It is by no means a life-like or believable account… the distortions are strong and they are many. This makes the whole book quite amusing yet profound.

Here is a quick list of the odd characters you could meet:

  • Stellan the grocer with the droopy eyelid who likes autographs,
  • Harald the painter who can’t paint,
  • Cederblom the pastor with his own human failings, and
  • The man from the moon

The wives (or mothers) are no less strange and provide some interesting plot twists.

 I have found no trace of an English translation of this, however. So, unless you can read French, Italian or Dutch, you’re out of luck.

Through the strangeness appear interesting depictions of the difficulties of ordinary lives. For one thing, how difficult it can be to really know others.

On connaît très peu la vie des autres. Ce qu’elle est vraiment.

The narrator, Stellan, introduces an early description of his new neighbor Harald the painter with these two sentences. We know very little of the life of others. What it really is. And really, between what we see from the outside and what the other aspects of that life is, be it the life led behind closed doors or the person inner life, there can be a world of difference. What do we know of what matters to others, or of the private hells they conceal from us?

Stellan gets his hands on pastor Cederblom’s diary, in which we read the following passage:

Le monde est devenu tellement abstrait. C’est-à-dire, je tourne ma gentillesse abstraite vers le scintillement que sont les humains. Il n’y a qu’une chose que je dois apprendre : rester en place. Celui qui ne fait rien ne blesse personne, je vais lire une ligne ou deux, je vais laisser les heures apprendre à passer… je m’abreuvais de toi… « le vent du sud balaya le jardin de son âme et il pleura quatre jours sans interruption »… Je ne sais pas… est-ce que ça se voit sur moi que je suis mort?

He is describing with detachment his suffering born from a failure to connect with his lover and from her rejection of him. He feels dead inside and wonders how he can learn to be in this new way. The world has lost is “realness” and immediacy, others seem remote and unreal.

Grief holds a large place in this book, especially grief created by the deaths of mothers. Grief,  loss, loneliness, and the desire for forgiveness for many transgressions… and maybe, just maybe, redemption.

References:

Tunström, Göran, Le livre d’or des gens de Sunne, Babel, 1999.

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