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Blekingegatan 32 Lena Einhorn, Blekingegatan 32 (32, Blekinge Street)

Norstedts,  2013.

Reviewed by Tuva Tod in SBR 2014:1

Review Section: Fiction, Light-Hearted and More Serious

The central problem of this novel is  Greta Garbo: who do we refer to using  that name? Lena Einhorn wants us to  reconsider. She calls her book a novel. So,  we are not faced with another reappraisal  of the known facts about the famous  actress; we are not looking at a new  biography. In an afterword, Einhorn claims  she is not reconstructing ‘reality’ but has  been inspired by the reality found in her  sources, biographies among them. One  thing a biography cannot do is account  for the legends surrounding a well-known  name, be it a living person or somebody in  the past. How can a legend survive? 

Both fiction and biographies must  rely on interpretation, on the writer’s  individual judgement. The reader is given  the advantage of access to the writer’s  imaginative power to portray feelings.  Some readers of fiction may miss the sort  of truth they can find in facts. But here  they are offered truths that help them  understand the predicament of others.

  Einhorn’s novel about Greta Garbo’s  early acting years gives life to the image,  partly by discovering the world she once  inhabited. She also recreates personal  relationships by adding dialogue in pivotal  situations. Happily, Einhorn has access  to a newly discovered cache of Greta’s  correspondence. She is able to use it  verbatim, to good account. 

Another approach involves describing  Greta’s social environment. She had  a deprived childhood and hardly any  schooling. But she and her friends at the  Dramatiska Teatern school in Stockholm  were all handpicked and had their own  individual characteristics and political  outlooks. They brought all this to bear on  their progress as pupils as well as friends.  Later, Greta Garbo allegedly referred to  these years as ‘the happiest in my life’.

  Filming abroad was less satisfying.  Hollywood was quite a competitive,  cut-throat place even in the early 1920s.  Despite rumours of an enviable life of  luxury, Hollywood newcomers found  competition and rivalry at every level of  the industry. Actors and directors with  exclusive studio contracts could literally  be worked until they dropped. 

But what about Greta’s own hopes and  fears as portrayed in the novel? Her two  great loves were her fellow pupil Mimi  Pollak and the director ‘Moje’ (Mauritz)  Stiller, and both became her lovers. 

There appears to be a duality in Greta’s  life that operated on nearly every level of  her life. It was evident in her bisexuality.  Also, her split personality was revealed in  an inability to make informed choices. She  did not know herself well enough to plan  her career or future. By the same token,  she was not fair to either of her lovers,  both of whom she let down as she saw fit.  She longed to be loved, without knowing  why she should be. As she tragically  said: ‘I desperately want people to find  something of value in me to love, but it  is impossible for me to give away anything  of value I can find in myself’. She was, it  seems, happiest when alone. 

This looks like the ‘fatal flaw’ in a  tragic heroine alone on the stage. Indeed,  the book might be read as a drama. But  reading it, we respond with a new, warmer  picture of Greta Garbo, the divine and  lonely star. 

Also by Lena Einhorn

  • Geniet från Breslau (The Genius from Breslau). Reviewed by Darcy Hurford in SBR 2019:12.
  • Siri. Reviewed by Eivor Martinus in SBR 2012:1.
  • Om Strindberg (About Strindberg). Reviewed by Peter Graves in SBR 2011:1.

Other reviews by Tuva Tod

Other reviews in SBR 2014:1

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