I have been reading, The Wartime diaries of Astrid Lindgren, Author of Pippi Longstocking, having finished Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession. These two books are completely different however they made perfect reads for lockdown. It may be that, because of lockdown, I have been more alert to sounds, smells, nature and so, therefore, more able to be absorbed by books as I have had less distractions. Whatever the reason I have really enjoyed both of these books.
Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession
This book has an unremarkable story. It is just the lives of two ordinary young men however, through the telling of their personal stories, it makes the reader realise that we often overlook ordinary people who in actual fact are totally extraordinary. We have much to learn from them if only we would spend the time.
Leonard and Hungry Paul do simple things so well whilst the rest of us are seeking out a more complicated life as we believe it will be more fulfilling. The detail in this book is quite exceptional and so much of it made me laugh, not because it was really funny, but because it was just everyday life that these two young men made so special.
Leonard has recently lost his mother and lives on his own in the house he shared with her. He works in a regular office where his job is to draft encyclopaedias for established authors but he gets no recognition for his imaginative writing. He wants to make these books more interesting and appealing to young children as he understands what will captivate and engage children. Meanwhile he has little experience with girlfriends so when he does meet someone he approaches this in quite a simple and honest way which gets him into some trouble.
Meanwhile Hungry Paul (no idea why he is called that) lives with his parents and is a substitute postman, but only on Mondays, a job that he does to the best of his ability and would never let anyone down. I assumed that this character was slightly autistic as his gentle honesty was quite refreshing and very perceptive. He has a sister, Grace, who is about to get married and the book is set during the build up to this event.
Leonard and Paul are the best of friends and regularly meet to play board games, often joined by Paul’s loving parents.
As I said the story is delightfully simple but as I read it during lockdown when we were all discovering the simple pleasures in life it was even more poignant. It reaffirms your belief in humanity and what life can be about if you let it. I truly loved this book.
A World Gone Mad by Astrid Lindgren
As I said in the introduction the author, Astrid Lindgren, went on to receive global fame with her books about Pippi Longstocking. However her wartime diaries were more recently published and show a remarkable portrait of a country, Sweden, trying to remain neutral whilst war raged all around them.
There is the grand drama of the war which Astrid relates very succinctly and descriptively in her diaries but she intersperses this with tales of her domestic life and its subsequent dramas.
Again this was a book that was perfect for lockdown as people tried to compare what we were going through with World War II. A brief shortage of loo paper and eggs, whilst sitting on our sofas watching Netflix is hardly comparable. And for the first year of the war it was similar for Astrid and her family living in their home with few food shortages. There were some restrictions but the fall out was mainly the loss of the friendship of neighbouring countries because of the way they allowed Germany access through their country.
The following paragraph from the book struck a chord as I thought about this new norm of mask-wearing and queueing for shops.
‘It’s extraordinary, the way one can grow accustomed to simply anything! I was wondering the other day whether a time will ever come when it strikes us as unnatural to see a ‘Shelter’ sign down in our peaceful entrance halls. At the moment it actually feels perfectly in order that there are rooms everywhere whose sole function is to protect human beings if other human beings happen to start chucking bombs at them.’
I thought I knew my WWII history but reading this from the perspective of a passionate and curious Swedish woman aged 32 yrs married with 2 children was fascinating and illuminating. Chamberlain was loved – ‘the man with the umbrella’, and the British performance early on in the war was not admired. However there was much sympathy for the British people and their suffering. Meanwhile the fallout amongst the neighbouring Nordic countries caused such deep wounds.
This book is a rare Scandinavian perspective on the catastrophe of the Nazi war. I shall never forget it.
For more book reviews click HERE