More Women in Translation: Two by Astrid Lindgren

To celebrate Women in Translation Month, today I’m highlighting a piece I did earlier this summer for Shiny New Books, in which I reviewed two classics by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren that are now available in lovely new editions from the New York Review Children’s Collection. Lindgren is one of the world’s most-translated authors, but many of her books are hard to find in English. These two show her range and versatility in writing for children, and are definitely worth seeking out.

SeacrowIf you’ve been lucky enough to spend summers as a child in a special place, you know that they carry a most particular magic. The long days of precious freedom, the siren call of wind and wave, the friends and neighbors one sees at no other time or place, caught out of the everyday world into a golden realm of potential. . . it’s an experience you can never forget.

Such a place and such an experience is evoked in Astrid Lindgren’s Seacrow Island, reissued in May by the New York Review Children’s Collection. The Swedish author is best known for writing the instant worldwide classic Pippi Longstocking, but in her own country she published over forty children’s books, as well as plays and screenplays, and was a respected children’s book editor, animal rights activist, and humanitarian. In Scandinavia, Seacrow Island is one of her most popular works (it was actually first written as a television series), but has been out of print in English since 1971.

That it’s now back is cause for celebration, because this is an absolute gem. Set in the Stockholm archipelago where Lindgren spent her own summers, it follows the adventures of a family that rents a tumbledown cabin sight unseen and fills it with their love and warmth, winning our hearts completely along the way. The father and head of the family is the well-meaning but disaster-prone Melker (a writer); then there’s nineteen-year-old daughter Malin, eminently sensible and kind in her role as surrogate mother to her young siblings, but becoming dangerously attractive to young men; robust Johan and Niklas, at twelve and thirteen, looking for and finding all kinds of adventure; and sensitive seven-year-old Pelle, who has a very special connection to animals great and small. . .

Check out the full review at Shiny New Books.

mio_my_sonThough it’s full of the magic of summer, Seacrow Island is a realistic book, without the fantasy elements that permeate much of Lindgren’s other writing. An example of her work in this mode is Mio, My Son, also reprinted by the New York Review Children’s Collection in May, and also an overlooked treasure.

Karl Anders Nilsson, an unwanted foster child in Stockholm, learns through a mysterious message that he is really the long-lost son of the King of Farawayland. He travels “by day and by night” to rejoin his father and become the beloved prince Mio. But all is not well in Farawayland. With his new friend Pompoo and his beautiful flying horse Miramis, Mio must fight evil Sir Kato, who has snatched other children away and imprisoned them in his desolate Outer Land.

It’s a familiar fairy tale theme, and Lindgren brings the best qualities of the literary fairy tale into play: images of beauty and delight as well as darkness and danger; the impossible quest of the small and weak to conquer the strong and mighty; a sustaining faith in the power of love. The language is poetic and evocative, but not overly lofty; the first-person narration by Mio speaks directly to the child reader of around his age, between seven and ten. . .

Check out the full review at Shiny New Books.

2 thoughts on “More Women in Translation: Two by Astrid Lindgren

  1. As always, great commentary on these books.

    In particular, Seacrow Island sounds really good.

    It is interesting that, as you allude to, Nilsson did not incorporate fantasy elements into this book yet still imparted a magical feeling. I guess that says a lot about his writing style.


    1. Astrid Lindgren is the author, not Karl Anders Nilsson (the protagonist of Mio, My Son)…sorry for any inadvertent confusion there.

      And in the case of these two books, Seacrow Island is the “realistic” one but it does still have a very magical quality born of the natural beauty of the islands, as well as the special people who make their home there. It sounds like a marvelous place.


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