But Childhood is first of all a story about the intense experience of childhood stripped of all sentimentality, seen again with a child's naive openness to all of its sensual wonder, fantasies, and anger.
Jan Myrdal's novels about his childhood have already become classics in Sweden, where the most recent history of Swedish literature called them "one of our literature's most remarkable descriptions of how a self is created."
Myrdal insists that this book is "a story about childhood, not an autobiography." And it is not necessary for the reader to know that the Alva in the book is the Alva Myrdal who won the Nobel Peace Prize and the Gunnar is the Gunnar Myrdal who wrote "An American Dilemma" and won the Nobel Prize for Economics.
But it is part of the background of the book that the Myrdals as individuals, not as a family, have had a dominating intellectual influence in Sweden since the end of the 1920s.
It is also part of the background of this book that it was a major scandal. "Childhood" takes you into the private life of Sweden's intellectual and political establishment, showing it to you through the yes of a child unimpressed by its pretensions, a child who was to become "Jan Myrdal, the insolent, the intolerant, the merciless critic of Swedish social-democracy" (Le Monde).
Although Myrdal was already a best-selling author in Sweden, he had to fight to get "Childhood" published, and it was almost marginalized in a small, limited edition. But he circumvented attempts to suppress the book by reading it on the radio and serializing it in a major daily, forcing the controversy into the open. "Childhood" soon became a best-seller and later was accepted as a classic.
The second book in Myrdal's childhood series, "Another World," won the Literature Foundation's Great Prize for the Novel. The Third, "Twelve Going on Thirteen," won the Esselte Prize for Literature and was distributed free to 100,000 of Sweden's middle school children-a strange fate for Sweden's most outspoken oppositional figure.
Myrdal's autobiography about his teenage and adult years, "Confessions of a Disloyal European," was chosen by The New York Times as "one of ten books of particular significance and excellence in 1968." The celebrated French critic Bernard Pivot selected it as one of the Scandinavian classics in his TV series/book/exhibition, La bibliotheque ideale.
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Meanwhile, Myrdal never developed much of a relationship with either of his preferred (and ostensibly planned) younger sisters--not Kaj, who neglected to tell her own daughter of his existence, nor Sissela (Bok), whom he here calls ``as phony as a three-Crown coin.'' Confused and angered by the f...| Read Full Review of Childhood