Albert Bonniers förlag, 2003. ISBN: 9100581178
Reviewed by Tuva Tod in SBR 2004:2
The story begins at the point where the father of two boys is killed by a falling flagpole. This happens at their home in a suburb outside Karlskrona, the naval base. This incident is used as a vantage point, reflecting earlier events.
Axel, the younger boy, has been the victim of hatred and abuse, verbal and physical, from his father ever since his mother (also neglected) died while giving birth. The father is a “little man”. Axel faces a life destitute of love and prospects.
But on the other side of the garden fence, the Olofsson family is concerned. They bestow on Axel the love and kinship he needs. The Olofsson family consists of Pelle, a house painter and decorator, his wife Linnea and their son Dane. Axel and Dane are the same age and “best friends”.
Pelle takes responsibility for the boys and brings them both up with a smile. Such smiles can conquer any ill. Pelle is a “sunny man”, a man of conviction. He would never try to force anything on anybody, but he has his own way of doing things. In the end this leaves a forceful impression on the boys and on the reader.
Pelle, as a decorator, has a reliable job and a steady income. He is bringing up his family in his own house and garden. One might think he would be a natural conservative, but in fact he deeply regrets the social barriers that divide people in Sweden. In his amateurish but charming way he echoes the call for a fairer education system in the land.
How to sweeten your coffee is important too. Pelle courted Linnea in 1904. In those early days he had tongs for his sugar lumps, which he has used ever since for his coffee. “‘En sockerbit ska det vara. Och en adertondel. Då blir sötman perfekt’, sa han högtidligt.” (“One lump of sugar is required – plus the eighteenth part of another”, he would say solemnly.)
Axel knows both suffering and happiness, both hope and despair, from his childhood. On leaving school he only wants to escape a hateful home, to seek his fortune and a new life in America. Yet, arriving in Copenhagen, he finds himself penniless and afraid to go to the USA.
Line, a Danish lady, rescues him. Line is ten years older than Axel and half a head taller. Axel adores her as his “dronning” (queen). This epithet, she tells Axel, gives her freedom to exercise her own will. To the motherless Axel, both Linnea in Karlskrona and Line in Copenhagen perform the role of mother. Their homes, especially their kitchens, offer physical and spiritual security.