Astrid Lindgren’s take on World War II

7:27 min

The newly published 1939-1945 diaries of the globally acclaimed children’s book author offer fresh insights into war-time Sweden and into the life of the not-yet-famous Astrid Lindgren.

She is best known in Sweden and around the world as the author of children’s classics like Pippi Longstocking, Karlsson on the Roof and The Brothers Lionheart. But now, a different side of Lindgren is revealed, with the publication of her war-time diaries; 17 volumes of personal notes where she reflects on the dramatic world events of the time, on Sweden’s actions and on her own daily life as a housewife and mother of two living in central Stockholm.

In the very first diary entry, dated September 1st 1939, Lindgren reflects on “the terrible despondency weighing down everything and everyone” as World War II breaks out. The radio was churning out news reports, the Armed Forces were calling up men of draft age, and a ban on driving was enforced in Sweden.

“God help this poor, madness-stricken planet,” the young Lindgren wrote. She was 32 and a keen writer, but not yet an acclaimed children’s author.

This year marks 70 years since the end of the war and Lindgren’s 17 leather-bound journals have been collected and printed in one weighty volume. Among those who have overseen the publication is Astrid Lindgren’s great grandson, Johan Palmberg.

Palmberg told Radio Sweden that Lindgren was “in despair” during the war but she used humour to cope. He said some of her observations and thinking can be discerned in the children’s fiction she went on to write, starting with Pippi Longstocking, which was first published in November 1945.

“People say that Pippi is a response to the destruction and totalitarianism of World War II, because she is this completely humanistic, free and democratic person who comes to save everybody from the terribleness of the War,” he said.

The newly published collection also contains scanned images from the original journals, which looked a bit like scrapbooks; Lindgren’s own notes are interspersed with newspaper cuttings, which she also comments on.

The book also contains copies of facsimiles and family photographs from the wartime years. Leading Swedish author Kerstin Ekman, who was a good friend of Astrid Lindgren’s, has contributed a preface and Lindgren’s daughter, Karin Nyman, rounds the book off with a postscript.