Here is another of my silly experiments reading Scandinavian literature in Spanish translation… still feels like trying to peel an orange with oven mitts on. I am so used to reading Spanish to try to understand the culture the literary object arose from, that it is hard to focus on the fact this books comes from Sweden and to picture it that way in my mind.
But this book is rather interesting, a short compact story about the relationship between the owner of a picture framing shop from a Swedish small town, Theodor, and a younger neighbor who becomes a pop star. While that relationship sounds a little bit fishy, that fishiness potential is never realized. Where things do become fishy is in the relationship of the young pop star and her manager whom she calls “uncle”… We have seen real-life version of the young pop star/older manager duos turning into long-term love relationships, or whatever they are based on. I am mostly thinking about Céline Dion here, but I doubt that is what Lindgren had in mind.
So, the “uncle” ends up committing suicide by jumping through a window, or maybe was pushed by the young pop star. This is the turning point of the story where the young pop star, Paula, decides to walk away from this life of “falsity” which forced her to be what she was not. The ending comes as Paula and Theodor are recovering from plastic surgery which is meant to help them become once again anonymous. Paula was conveniently dating a plastic surgeon which was part of making her in the image that her manager was trying to market and this plastic surgeon is the instrument of their ultimate deliverance.
However, this is not the main theme of the book. The main thread is actually about authenticity in art, be in the visual arts or the performing arts (hence the Paula connection). Theodor encounters what looks like the original of a Madonna by Nils von Dardel, a famous Swedish painter. He becomes mesmerized by the painting to the extent that it considers that it is what gives meaning to his life. The painting is confiscated by the taxation authorities while they are investigating him for tax fraud (a consequence of his being a shoddy record keeper). He subsequently meets a master copyist who provides him with a copy of the Madonna painting. This sparks some lengthy ruminations by Theodor on which painting is the “authentic” Madonna. He concludes that they both are and that authenticity has much more to do with the response generated in the one viewing art than with the production of the work of art itself.
Lindgren, Torgny. En elogio de la verdad. Nórdica Libros, Madrid, 2007.
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