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Under jorden i Berlin
(Underground in Berlin)
Bonniers, 2002. ISBN: 9100578657
Reviewed by Eivor Martinus in SBR 2003:1
Rather surprisingly, I found that my half-written review of this book had disappeared without a trace into cyberspace. After a fruitless search I decided to have another go. In a similar way Strindberg’s book, which was first published in a Swedish translation in 1945, was completely forgotten until Jan Myrdal rediscovered it two years ago and managed to persuade Bonniers to reprint it. It is a remarkable novel, based on real events and dealing with the Jews who lived underground in Berlin at the height of the Nazi era. Friedrich Strindberg, who was the son of Frida Uhl and Frank Wedekind but conceived and born during Frida’s marriage to August Strindberg, was a journalist and a staunch Socialist. He lived dangerously during the early forties when he was writing for a German paper while saving a great number of Jews from a certain death in concentration camps. He has been awarded the honour of “The Righteous among the Nations” in Jerusalem and is one of only ten Swedes to have been honoured thus.
Under jorden i Berlin can be read as a love story but it is also a true account of a messy piece of German history where the lines between black and white were not always so clearly defined as after the fall of the Third Reich. Strindberg has adopted an objective tone and has the audacity to suggest that there were decent Germans who tried to help wherever possible, even at the risk of losing their own lives. Self-interest was not confined to the villains of History; good and evil knew no boundaries. The storyline follows a young couple, Herbert and Lotte, he half-Jewish and she Jewish, who eke out an existence thanks to the generosity of a few idealists up and down the social scale.
Strindberg describes in an almost emotionless way how,when Berlin suffers its heaviest bombing attack by the Western Allies in 1942-43, the surviving Jews simply live for one day at a time, looking for scraps of food and a place where they can lay down their heads at night.
The characters are depicted without sentimentality and Strindberg catches the gradual anaesthetized attitude which protects them against the worst excesses.
When the net is tightening towards the end of the war the leading characters finally escape to Switzerland, like the real life Herbert and Lotte.
The book is rich in dialogue which makes it lively and fast moving. It is also eerily prophetic about the capitalist societies in the West.
Jan Myrdal’s afterword adds an interesting coda to an exciting and important discovery. Friedrich Strindberg may not be the biological son of August Strindberg but he writes in the same spirit and with the same passion. Too bad that his Swedish relatives wanted to denounce him and tried to stop him coming into Sweden on a Swedish passport. As Jan Myrdal points out: if they had succeeded Friedrich Strindberg would have met the same fate as most of the Jewish victims in Berlin.
Other reviews by Eivor Martinus
- Lena Einhorn, Siri. Reviewed in SBR 2012:1.
- Theodor Kallifatides, Vänner och älskare (Friends and Lovers). Reviewed in SBR 2009:1.
- Peter Birro, August. Reviewed in SBR 2008:2.
- Nina Burton, Den nya kvinnostaden: Pionjärer och glömda kvinnor under tvåtusen år (The New City of Ladies: Pioneers and Forgotten Women Over Two Thousand Years). Reviewed in SBR 2007:1.
- Christina Bergil, Sja vita vargar i ett träd (Seven white wolves in a tree). Reviewed in SBR 2005:1.
- Oscar Danielson, Siljans konditori (En kärleksroman) (Siljan's Coffee Shop [A Love Story]). Reviewed in SBR 2004:1.
- Jan Myrdal, Gubbsjuka. Reviewed in SBR 2003:1.
- Margareta Wirmark, Den kluvna scenen, Kvinnor i Strindbergs dramatik (The Divided Stage: Women in Strindberg's Plays). Reviewed in SBR 2002:1.
- Margareta Wirmark, Kampen med döden, En studie över Strindbergs Dödsdansen (The Battle with Death: A study of Strindberg's The Dance of Death). Reviewed in SBR 2002:1.
- Bodil Malmsten, Priset på vatten i Finistère (The Price of Water in Finistère). Reviewed in SBR 2002:1.
Other reviews in SBR 2003:1
- Gerda Antti, Livet skriver kapitel (Life Writes its Chapters). Reviewed by Sarah Death.
- Majgull Axelsson, En stad av slott (A City of Castles). Reviewed by Linda Schenck.
- Ernst Brunner, Fukta din aska. C M Bellmans liv från början till slut (Moisten Your Mortal Ashes. C M Bellman's Life from Beginning to End). Reviewed by Birgitta Thompson.
- Stewe Claeson, Rönndruvan glöder (The Rowan's Cluster Glows). Reviewed by Charles Harrison-Wallace.
- Stig Claesson, Efter oss syndafloden (Après nous le déluge). Reviewed by Henning Koch.
- Åke Edwardson, Segel av sten (Sails of Stone). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie.
- Anna Ehn, Man ska vara tyst när man önskar (Make a Silent Wish). Reviewed by Sarah Death.
- Per Gunnar Evander, Plötsligt medan dimman lättar (Suddenly While the Mist is Lifting). Reviewed by Rick McGregor.
- Theodor Kallifatides, Den sjätte pasageraren (The Sixth Passenger). Reviewed by Peter Linton.
- Maaret Koskinen, I begynnelsen var ordet: Ingmar Bergman och hans tidiga författarskap (In the Beginning Was the Word: Ingmar Bergman and his early writings). Reviewed by Annika Lindskog.
- Björn Larsson, Den sanna berättelsen om Inga Andersson (The True Story of Inga Andersson). Reviewed by Tom Geddes.
- Ulla-Lena Lundberg, Marsipansoldaten (The Marzipan Soldier). Reviewed by Silvester Mazzarella.
- Henning Mankell, Innan frosten (Before the Frost). Reviewed by Laurie Thompson.
- Jan Myrdal, Gubbsjuka. Reviewed by Eivor Martinus.
- Cilla Neumann, Dem oss skyldiga äro (Those Who Trespass Against Us). Reviewed by Linda Schenck.
- Håkan Nesser, Kära Agnes! (Dear Agnes!). Reviewed by Stig Olsson.
- Johanna Nilsson, Rebell med frusna fötter (Rebel With Frozen Feet). Reviewed by Sarah Death.
- Elisabeth Rynell, Till Mervas (To Mervas). Reviewed by Irene Scobbie.
- Niklas Rådström, Kvartett (Quartet). Reviewed by Anne Born.
- Jerker Virdborg, Svart krabba (Black Crab). Reviewed by Stig Olsson.
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