Ännu ett liv – a review by SSE student Gillian Wong Miswardi
When I found out that the first book in the SSE Literary Agenda would be by Theodor Kallifatides, I was pleasantly surprised. Having studied Swedish over the past two years, I had encountered Kallifatides in writings about the foreignness of one’s native tongue after having learnt another language. It was thus exciting to be able to read and discuss one of Kallifatides’ works.
One of the nice aspects of the Literary Agenda is the option to choose to read the books in English, Swedish, or in its original language. I was incredibly excited to be able to select the last option as that meant that I would be able to read Swedish works in their original language. For me, that was important for a couple of reasons. Before starting my MSc in Business and Management at the school, I had studied anthropology for my undergraduate degree. As such, I appreciated the opportunity to be able to come as close to the author’s thoughts as possible. Moreover, it was a chance to improve my Swedish.
Between the English and Swedish titles, I had already noticed a difference. The English title “Another life” doesn’t quite capture the essence of the Swedish title “Ännu ett liv”. The former suggests an alternative, a difference, or a path not taken. On the other hand, the latter suggests a continuation, a future, or something that is yet to be. In some ways, the idea of a different life captures some of the essence of the first part of the novel while the idea of a future becomes clear at the end.
There was no delay in discovering the raison d'être of the novel. After reading a comment by Dagens Nyheter’s culture editor that said that those older than 75 should not write, Kallifatides enters an existential crisis. It is hardly surprising that this comment could have such profound impact on him. In the following pages, I began to understand the role that writing has played in his life and shaped who he is today. It seems so rare that writers write about their journey into becoming who they are.
To understand the importance of writing in his life, Kallifatides takes the reader on a journey of his 50 years in Sweden. I enjoyed the chapters on Gotland and Fårö that resembled a mini history lesson. With a focus on the change from military activity to tourist activity on these islands, Kallifatides shows the reader how Sweden has transformed. Perhaps as an initial outsider to Sweden, Kallifatides has been able to observe such changes more acutely.
While I occasionally felt annoyed by Kallifatides’ behaviour in the beginning, I soon wondered if that was precisely the feeling that he wanted the reader to feel. After all, he was experiencing an existential crisis. The resolution of this crisis becomes visible in the last few pages of the novel, much of which gives the reader to think about.
Writing this review in English about a novel that I read in Swedish is reminiscent of Kallifatides’ experience. Would I have written the same review if it had been in Swedish? I think not. As Kallifatides writes, every language is unique. One cannot write the same book in two different languages.