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Håkan Anderson, Breven (The Letters)

Albert Bonniers förlag,  2004. ISBN: 9100102822

Reviewed by Stig Olsson in SBR 2005:2

This long, long story contains many letters written by different people. However, the actual letters alluded to in the book title are five letters of the Roman author Ovid to his “brother Quintus”. These letters are about the poet and the philosopher Lucretius and his famous work De rerum natura. If authentic, the letters are nothing short of a literary sensation. “The letters exist, or at least they did exist”, the ageing German researcher and writer Ernst Weber confides to the author of the book. “I had access to them during a couple of weeks of my life, my greatest experience, my cruelest curse”, he adds. The author of the book, the “I” of the story, is in Crete to write about Weber’s adventurous life in warridden Europe during the 1930s and 1940s – as well as to try and create some clarity in the mysterious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of his old Swedish friend, Jan Eklöv. As it turns out the lives of Weber and the much younger Eklöv are closely linked together by the letters. A great overture, a promising intrigue. What happens to it all? Very little, really. The potential of the story seems lost, or diluted, in Anderson’s long-winded experimental prose adventure encompassing ever more coincidences, ever widening circles of geography and repetitive, confusing time leaps back and forth. The 15-page long Confession and Account by me, Otto Dietrich zur Linde, written during the days preceding my execution in the year 1946, is, however, an exception from the above criticism. This is an enlightening and thought-provoking passage on German thought towards the end of the Second World War, a disconcerting but concise piece of writing. After the “natural” annexation of Czechoslovakia “I thought I heard the echo of the German eagle’s wing strokes”, zur Linde writes, and, reflecting on talks with a Czech prisoner of war who had been sentenced to death, he continues: “It was as if I for the first time had a new perspective on life. I had never really spoken to any person with so different views to my own. How is this individual made who is not like me?” Shortly thereafter the prisoner was executed. Zur Linde was an intelligence officer in the Wehrmacht. Somehow he and Ernst Weber had met several times in Rome and Alexandria; and the five letters by Ovid seem to have been their common denominator. Håkan Anderson’s three ambitiously crafted “Possible opening scenes” are not altogether selfexplanatory. “And there is no return and it is impossible to write about it in any other way than this vague, evasive manner”, Anderson concludes, unintentionally commenting on the elusive style of his own first published book. The fascinating conception of his literary debut, this brick of a book, would have fared better with fewer words.

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