Sunday, July 20, 2008

Agneta von Koskull: Mandala

From: The same friend who gave me the previous volume
When: At the same time
Verdict: Still really good, although not quite as personally affecting
Fate: Passed on to an aunt with the other book

This book is in Swedish. I read it in Finnish.

Since Agneta is older in this book, her story proceeds without the joyful presence of the child narrator; luckily the author has a pretty entertaining view on her older younger self as well. The two are not as easy to separate in this book as the previous one, where the child felt like a character at some distance from the writer channeling her. Key relationships, social and romantic, in one's late teens and early twenties are reflected in a perhaps more urgent way in the grown self, and so Mandala has a tone of authorial self-evaluation to it. Between the lines the grown woman, painter and author, is reconstructing and considering her foundations in the teenager who ran away to Hamburg to be a maid and ended up homeless, a political radical and in art school.

The student world in which young Agneta moves is peripherally connected to the Baader-Meinhof group and the reader is allowed glimpses of its radicalization through the eyes of, as it were, a contemporary eye witness. If this view is at times very naive, von Koskull makes sure that we know that so was she; we can hardly expect stringent and distanced analyses from a young woman who nearly dies of malnutrition after having decided that her vegetarianism will be based on only eating beautifully coloured food.

There is even something naive about her adventures in the naughty pictures trade, in her wild sex life and in her heavy drinking; I am convinced that some of these choices, even in the seventies, put Agneta in very dangerous situations. But something – an angel; a spiritual yearning, the Moomin valley adventure spirit – keeps Agneta alive for the reader to deposit with a distinct and complex sense of relief at a Swedish ashram at the end of the book.

She is in her fearlessness at times exhausting company, but I am hoping for more sequels all the same. Did Agneta ever master the art of yoga flying? Why did she choose Sweden, of all countries? What is all this I read on her publisher's homepage about winning a green card in a lottery and moving to the US? What is her relationship to the bourgeois family at home (I as gratified to read of their welcoming attitude to Agneta's foreign boyfriends, one more eccentric than the other), and what has happened at Apollogatan during her life-long exile?

I obviously care about these specific things because some of her choices (and some of her background) remind me of my own. Were von Koskull to continue writing and focus on something else entirely – or indeed to move away from the autobiographical genre – I would be sure to remain loyal to her skill of observation and mastery of the turn of a phrase.

Highly recommended, a fairly quick and very satisfying read; but do read the previous book first.

Buy Mandala in Swedish from Schildts Förlag.

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