My Friday Book: “The Ice Children” or “Isbarnen” by Camilla Lagerqvist

If you have not read the first part of Camilla Lagerqvist’s books about WWII and a little Swedish community close to the Norwegian border, housing the resistance group “The Black Roses”, then you might want to at least read my previous post called “My Friday Book: ‘The Assignment’…”. Book two, “The Ice Children” very much builds on that one, but of course consists of an entirely new adventure for the three now 13 year-olds, Swedish Maja, Norwegian Hilde and half-Swedish/half-Norwegian Benjamin, who happens to also be Jewish.

imageSix months have passed since the youths crossed the border to find Benjamin’s dad’s resistance group, the Frode group, in order to have them warn a resistance woman, called the Black Rose, that she had been betrayed and was to be arrested and executed. An experience which also meant that Maja, got shot by German soldiers, who were pursuing them back towards Sweden.

It is nearing Christmas and the children are happy and content with their substitute teacher Elin Björnsson, who also happens to be the resistance fighter, the Black Rose. But only Maja and her friends know that. On the first day of the book, none of that is occupying the youths’ minds. They are to spend a day out on the frozen lake, with grades 5-7. Elin is alone in charge and all children get their skates on, according to their fortune. Benjamin or Ben as he likes to be called, in borrowed, too large skates, Maja, in the kind that one tied on one’s feet and Hilde, the metal pokers from her mother’s stove. Elin, on the other hand, has skated in championships, so she dons real white figure skating skates. The girls decide to talk her in to showing them the Salchow jump. Elin hesitates since it has been years, but doesn’t want to disappoint. It all ends in her falling really badly though and putting both her shoulder out and breaking her arm in several places. She is rushed to the hospital and there will be no more school that week, since a substitute can not be found.

Benjamin’s mother Greta has left for Stockholm, to help an aunt, who is so ill, that she has to be hospitalized, and Benjamin has to stay with his mother’s cousin. The woman makes him go to bed way too early and after Elin’s accident, he wants to retrieve his book from his desk in school, so that he can read under the covers with a torch. But while they stand in the classroom, the three of them, a telegram boy arrives with a high priority urgent telegram for Elin Björnsson. They tell him she is in hospital, but persuade him to give them the telegram and they promise to give it to her that very day. First they try to phone the hospital  and talk to Elin in person, but they are told that she is in theater and will not be able to communicate with anyone for days. Since they know it is an important telegram, they decide to steam it open in order to know what to do next. They do not fully understand the telegram which says:

The Black Rose new assignment stop

Ice children discovered stopped

Will be sent to Auschwitz stop

Germans arriving tomorrow stop

Fetch ice children and bring them to Sweden stop



The children don’t know what to do and what the message means. Benjamin’s only thoughts are whether they are Jewish or not, because he knows exactly how dangerous that is, being one himself and having had to flee Norway before it was decided to kill all Jews living in Norway. Maja wonders if he can get hold of his father, who is still in Norway as a resistance fighter. But he doesn’t know where his father is, his mother having told him he is on assignment. Maja still decides that they must try to get hold of him so they walk to her house, where a telephone has been installed, and Benjamin gets to phone his mum. But she doesn’t answer. Maja sees no other alternative than to suggest that they have to cross the border again and get to Benjamin’s father’s resistance group. They might know what to do and what the numbers mean. Maja tells her mum she is sleeping at Hilde’s and Hilde tells her mum the reverse, both knowing that the mothers will not speak to each other, since Hilde’s mum keeps to herself, having given birth to a German soldier’s baby boy. Benjamin on the other hand, writes a note for his mum’s cousin, telling her that he has taken the train to Stockholm, to stay with his mum, since there is no school anyway.

That night they meet by the tall stones by Maja’s house, donned with rucksacks and skis. The temperatures are very low. Maja has packed warm chocolate, sandwiches and apples for all tree, in case the others forgot food, but Benjamin arrives with ginger snaps and soda, the only thing he could find at short notice. The food will be useful later on. They set out on the hunting trail which is the closer route to the resistance cottage in Norway. It turns out to be tough skiing when they get to Norway. Maja is traumatized having to travel the same way, as when she got shot. And they realize the danger in them showing their tracks in the snow. They finally have to travel on the road but doesn’t run in to any trouble until they reach the village before the resistance cottage. Suddenly an angry dog appears and the only way to get rid of him, is for Hilde to throw all her packed food to him, consisting of dried meat. Cold and exhausted, they continue till they get to the place where the cottage should have been. But it is not there anymore. The Germans have burned it down.

The children feel at a loss. What to do with the telegram now? And if they stay out in the cold, they will die. But go back to the village with the dog? It doesn’t feel safe. It is 04:30 and they ski deeper in to Norway, till they see the smoke from a chimney and a farm. It looks like a nice place, with snow shoveled up to the door, between apple trees, but Mrs. Kvarnswärd in Maja’s village, had turned out to be a Nazi spy, so who can one really trust? They decide to knock on the door, and a smiling elderly woman opens. Hilde is the one who speaks and tells the woman that their teacher is sick and they decided to go find Hilde’s grandfather, but got lost.

Bergdis invites them inside and calls on her husband Arne to join them. He sits down in the kitchen observing them from a corner, while they sit down at the table, to eat some of Bergdis home-baked bread. Ben whispers to Maja, to get the telegram out and fold it so that only the numbers will show. Arne wonders where Ben’s grandfather lives (sic the author forgetting what Hilde had said???) and Ben lies and says that he has moved and that they do not have an address, just a code. Arne gets up to look at it, but his breath is so foul, that Maja gets nauseous. She stands up quickly and asks for a toilet and is directed to one, down a hallway. On the way there, Maja glances in to a living room and to her horror, she notices a big portrait on the wall, of Adolf Hitler! Maja panics and doesn’t know how to warn her friends, since Bergdis and Arne might be dangerous. She walks back to the kitchen just to see that Arne is unfolding the telegram. She runs in to the kitchen and snatches the telegram from Arne and quickly says to Ben and Hilde, that now she knows where Ben’s grandfather lives. (Noone reacting over her Swedish?) They get out to their ski boots in a hurry and Maja wheezes that the couple are nazis.

Arne demands to see the telegram, but Maja throws herself out the door. Arne has by then grabbed Ben by the neck. Hilde runs by him and kicks Arne as hard as she can, on his knee, so that Ben can escape his grasp. Arne screams after them but they keep on running with their skis in their arms, till they get back to the forest. They need to find someone who can tell them what the code means and then find the ice children themselves. After skiing several kilometers, they finally see smoke from a chimney again, and this time, they have come to an inn. The owner invites them in for breakfast and after a much-needed visit to the loo, Maja falls asleep sitting waiting for the food.

Aage the owner, treats them to all kinds of food and while they eat, they have to make a decision, whether to show Aage the telegram or not. Who can they really trust? They are running out of time. They write the numbers on a napkin and say that they have been given a homework task which they do not know how to solve. Aage says that it looks like coordinates and go off to try to figure out where it might be. But the children get dressed just in case, since he might have gone off to phone the Germans. Right then, two military vehicles pull up outside and the children panic. They run in to an adjacent room which turns out to be a walk in closet, full of clothes, smelling strongly of moth balls. Ben grabs Maja’s hand and she realizes that he is as scared as she is. That is when the moth balls become too much and she sneezes. The Germans in the dining room, turn silent and Maja can see a blue eye in the key hole and hear a silent order whispered. Aage calls out to the Germans, just as Hilde finds another door. They tumble in to what looks like a living room, just as the door to the closet opens from the dining room. But they do not stop. They head through a hall in to the inn’s kitchen. As they run out in to freedom, Aage enters the kitchen and screams for them to stop  and outside a big man named Aksel, grabs hold of Ben.

While they hear the Germans leave, in front of the house, Aage swears that he is not a sympathizer and he says that he can take them to the place, of the coordinates. But they have to wait a couple of hours. Ben gets to help Aage out, while the girls get to rest in the living room. Hilde tells Maja, why she calls her little brother, “the boy” instead of Olaf, which is his name. Hilde and her mum had had a nice life before the Germans arrived. Hilde had had friends in school and her mother had worked as a seamstress. Then the Germans came and her mother went to a dance, where she met German soldier Kurt. The day it was discovered that Hilde’s mother was pregnant, her mother was fired from her job. And when Hilde came to school, some girls held her while some others emptied one of the barrels from the outhouses, over Hilde. Hilde’s best friend Siv had not done anything to help and had laughed with the others and called her German brat and the child of a whore. Even though Kurt was not her father. Had it not been for him and the baby, they could have stayed in Norway. So Hilde “hates” her new brother.

At 10:00, after the girls have taken a nap, it is time for them to leave in Aage’s lorry. The girls get to sit in the back, on the flatbed, while Ben gets to travel inside. The girls are worried but Ben says that he overheard Aage discuss a sabotage made by the resistance, with Aksel, and that he praised the resistance fighters. Aage drives them to the village of Mossfjord, where he points out two farms and says that they should ask their questions at those two farms, since the people there are nice. But he also warns them, that the village is known for having nazi sympathisers. He tells them that if they are in danger, they must ski over the fields, behind one of the farms, to reach his inn.

The children walk up to the first farmer, who is outside with his horse, and says “we are looking for some children…”. He tells them that the only children he know of, are his own grandchildren. But he points them towards the next farm, which Aage had pointed out to them as well. When they are about to leave, he warns them to not walk around asking questions like this, since there are ears listening. As they walk towards the “safe” farm, they see an evil face pressed towards a window, watching them and they feel very frightened.

They can feel the person’s eyes in their backs all the way to the other farm, but they still walk up to the door and knock. A dark-haired woman opens and Ben says “We are looking for some children who are in grave danger”. The woman closes the door but Ben knocks again and this time the woman opens angrily. She tells them she has no children but Maja decides to reveal all, including that she is Swedish, by opening her mouth. She gets the telegram out as she tells the woman of its contents. The woman reads it and turns white in her face. Then she calls for her husband Espen and asks them to come in, since people are spying on them. They see tiny skiing boots in the hallway and realize that the woman lied. Espen reads the telegram and then sends his wife outside, telling her that she knows what to do.

Espen tells them that it is a terrible thing that the resistance cottage was burned down, after a sympathiser told the Germans about it. And that it is the same person who has now betrayed the ice children, it being his neighbour, who spied on Maja, Ben and Hilde just moments ago. Espen decides to introduce them to the ice children and pulls down a ladder, from the ceiling, leading up to the attic. Up there, they are introduced to the Eisenmans. Sara Eisenman shakes their hands and points at her little 3-4 year-old children Philip and Susannah. Espen tells them that they have to leave quickly and Sara grabs a bag and gets her children dressed in a hurry. As they all descend the ladder, they hear the sound of a motor outside. The Germans have arrived and Espen have them running up the ladder again. Espen tells them that he will do his best trying to get the Germans to leave and if they see them leaving, they must run out the back door and run to the barn, where his wife Mette will instruct them what to do.

Through a little window they can see argumenting Germans, the neighbour coming running out of his farm with his grandchildren and the Germans getting in to their car and driving over to that farm. Ben grabs Susannah and Maja Philip and all six of them stumble out of the house and over to the barn, where Mette waits for them. She tells them to run through the barn to the milk room and out a door there, where they will find their skis and a covered sled for the children. Espen comes in and says that the neighbour helped them, but that they need to hurry. Maja needs to tie her boot laces and puts down Philip. Right then, a cat runs by and Philip runs after it, before anyone can stop him. Outside, someone screams in German at him and Hilde decides to run out to fetch him. Maja orders Ben to get out with the other two and she will wait for Hilde. Ben gives her a hug, which of course means a lot to her, but gets ushered out by a now angry Mette. If you want to read the book yourself in Swedish, you might want to quit reading the blog post right here or jump down to the last four paragraphs. Otherwise, enjoy:

imageMaja sees through a window, how Hilde stands and talks to a German soldier and then she comes in to the barn with Philip. While they run over a field, to catch up with the others, Hilde tells Maja that the soldier was Kurt and that he ordered his men to search the house, so that Hilde could get away. But soon they hear dogs barking. They find Ben, Sara and Susannah and Ben puts Philip in the sled with his sister, and straps the ropes around his shoulders, while the others get their skis on. Maja now discovers that there is no way they can take the open fields to Aage’s inn, without the Germans seeing them and shooting them all in the back. They have to ski through the forest, and ski fast, because the Germans and their dogs are right on their tracks. Which is not easy for Sara, who has been in hiding for six months and have not done any kind of exercise. But she tries her best, knowing that her life and her children’s, depend on it.

After an hour, the sky has gone dark and it has started snowing. Sara keeps on falling but the children have fallen asleep in the covered sled. Hilde takes over pulling it, since Ben is getting tired. Suddenly, they discover that they have lost sight of Ben. And when they call out for him, Philip wakes up and wants to get out of the sled while his sister whines about being hungry. Then they suddenly hear Ben calling for them and he has found a little lodge (used by shepherds) where they can shelter from the snow storm. It is necessary for them to break in to it, but Sara knows how to get in through a locked door with a poker, having broken in to her mother’s larder many times as a child, to retrieve cookies. She has kept the playhouse poker as a memory.

After discovering that the lodge has one wood sofa, table, two chairs and a bunk bed, Maja also realizes that she has lost her rucksack with all the food, at the farm. They have to eat a dinner consisting of Ben’s gingersnaps, soda, real coffee, which Hilde’s mum had received from German Kurt, and parts of the bread they had eaten at the inn, which Ben had smuggled in to his rucksack. When they have eaten, Sara makes a bed for herself and the children in the bottom bunk and the children fall asleep. Storytime! Sara explains that they are called the ice children by the resistance, since their name is Eisenman and Eis in German means ice. Right then Philip screams out the name David and Ben wonders if that is the father of the children. But Sara says no. Her husband was taken to a prison and then sent to Auschwitz with 500 other Norwegian Jews. On arrival he was chosen for a work camp but when he tried to save a mother with her two children, all four of them were shot. The woman’s husband had survived at least long enough to smuggle out a letter for Sara, telling her the fate of her husband. Who is David whom Philip calls out for in his sleep? Sara tells them that he is her little brother, who disappeared two days before the Germans started arresting Jewish women and children. He is 13 years old and was living with Sara, but she had to give up her search for him, when the Black Rose came and took them in to hiding. Sara had known Elin for years, having worked in Elin’s father’s clothing shop since she was 19. She had been home with her children for years, but had just started to work again, when the Germans started to arrest the Jewish men. She had continued working, since she needed the money and her mother’s friend Marit had looked after the children. One day, Elin rushed in to the shop and ordered a customer to leave. She told Sara to quickly pack her things. Elin had borrowed her dad’s car and had driven Sara to Marit, where she fetched the children, and then they drove to Elin’s childhood friend’s parents, Mette and Espen. The next day, the nazis started to arrest women and children of the Jewish people. Maja in turn tells Sara why they came to save the Eisenmans and not Elin.

Sara goes to sleep for a while. They have agreed that one person must guard the fire and also make sure no Germans show up. Ben says that Maja should take the top bunk and he can sleep on the hard wood sofa. But Maja doesn’t want Hilde to get to sit by Ben. Her jealousy and infatuation from the first book, is as strong in this book as in the first. Ben suggests that they can sleep in the top bunk together, head to foot, so to speak and Maja readily agrees. Two hours later, Hilde wakes Maja and tells her that it is her turn to sit guard. Maja gets a stomach ache, when Hilde says “He is so beautiful when he is a sleep, don’t you agree?”. Hilde is so beautiful and Maja is sure that Ben would fall in love with her, if he knew how Hilde feels about him. If he is not already. Maja feels miserable and even more so, when Hilde climbs in to the bed and lays down right beside Ben, contrary to what Maja had done, and as close as she can. The two hours go slowly and when Maja wakes Ben, he gets shocked when he sees Hilde beside him. And a little disappointed? In the morning, Ben gets a compass out of his rucksack and tells them, that they need to ski west, since he thinks that is where the border is.

Sara insists on pulling the sled, but she is a small and skinny woman, and doesn’t have the strength for it for very long. Maja feeling guilty for not doing her part, offers to take over, but also finds it very heavy. The children are by now whining about hunger and thirst and that is when they hear dogs barking. Ben and Maja skis ahead and notices that not only have they come to the end of the forest, but loads of Germans are walking with dogs over the fields, right towards them. Ben decides that they have to backtrack and travel south instead. The children are now crying and the dogs bark louder and louder. Maja skis as quickly as she can, Hilde and Ben being ahead of her and she doesn’t notice the big branch hanging down. She skis straight in to it and gets a large gash across the forehead. Her friends have not noticed but Sara tells her it is bad and that she is bleeding a lot. They push her beanie down trying to stop the blood flow, but Maja feels dizzy. And nauseous. When she and Sara catch up to the others, Ben is signaling for them to be quiet. There is another noise now, apart from the shouting Germans and barking dogs, that of people skiing. They all hide behind some large stones, but Philip starts crying and soon Maja feels a hand on her shoulder and hears Sara crying out for help. Maja passes out.

When she comes through, Hilde is wiping her forehead and Ben holds her hand. Sara sits with her children in her arms and by her stand two men dressed all in white. Hilde whispers that they are resistance and that they are there to help them. Espen had contacted them but they had been stopped by the snowstorm. They inform the children, that the Germans are out searching for resistance fighters, who blew up a weapons depot during the night, who had disappeared in the same direction as Maja and her group. They get to ski after the white-clad men  through the forest, over a road and on to a smaller road, where a lorry is waiting.  They are promised a ride to the border. Ben tells Maja to come and sit inside the lorry with him and Maja sees how disappointed Hilde looks at that.

Ben is about to climb in to the lorry, when he halts and then he jumps in and embraces the driver. When Maja gets in, Ben turns toward her and smiles a big smile, introducing her to his father Harald. He is Jewish and a resistance fighter, so he lives a very dangerous life and Ben has not seen him for years, even though he has been able to receive a letter now and then, smuggled across the border. Harald drives the lorry to a safe house, where a friend of his, Margret, has decked the table with sausages, fried potatoes, meat and big bread cakes. They all stuff themselves full, till suddenly Margret rushes in and whispers something in Harald’s ear. He tells them they must leave at once. The children wine and don’t want to, so they have to be forced. Hilde is on the way to jumping up in to the back of the lorry and Maja wants to tell her, that she can sit inside with Ben this time, but then she remembers how Hilde told her in the lodge, how easily she could fall in love with Ben, and Maja doesn’t dare to take that risk. (Author forgot that she never wrote that when they were in the lodge.) She feels guilty though. Something is up because Margret rush back in to the house, turn off all lights and then pull all curtains shut.

They drive quickly towards the border, till they suddenly notice five or six vehicles, supplied with skis, travelling across the fields towards the lorry. At the same time an airplane is travelling towards them, shooting through their windscreen. The chase is on and Harald drives as fast as he can, till they suddenly have a German lorry blocking the road. He manages to evade it and drive in on another road. The children don’t understand how the Germans can be so adamant about stopping them, till they find out from Harald, that the lorry was used for the sabotage of the weapons depot and that they had no other lorry to save the children with, nor had they had time to change the license plates. Harald drives like a madman and it is a miracle that they do not crash and that the people in the back don’t die. But they manage to shake off the Germans long enough to get out and put on skis and head for Sweden. Harald having to don snow shoes, since there are no skis for him. The Germans soon find the lorry though and start pursuing the group.

The group can not travel too fast, since Harald who pulls the sled, can’t travel very fast in his snow shoes. The snow is falling heavily and they are all cold and tired. Then they hear a car and get petrified, but Harald gets more and more convinced that they might actually be in Sweden. They get out on a road and stay on it, making sure that they can get off it quickly, if a car approaches. When a car does approach, Harald calls out that it is a Swedish one and he stops it. He tells them that the couple in it, has room for three and that they are close to Gullfors, Maja’s home village! Maja tells the driver to drop Sara and her children off at her house, which will be the first one they arrive to. When Maja and the rest of the group arrive to her house, a strange big special branch police car is parked outside.

Harald tells them to not tell the truth when the police is there. That they must say that they got lost and slept in a lodge, which is not that far from the truth. When they enter the house, Hilde’s and Ben’s mothers are both there, as well as Hilde’s baby brother and the police. Hilde’s mum leaves right away with Hilde. Maja finds Sara, Philip and Susannah sitting on a sofa in the kitchen and as they all enter it, Greta says ‘loudly’ “Isn’t it great that my cousin and her children heard from the neighbour that I was here?”. Ben walks up to Sara and shakes her hand, telling her how nice it is to see her again. The police act suspicious and ask the youths if they know that they have been reported missing. They tell them that normally they do not go out on such an errand, but since there was a a sabotage in Norway the night before and they had indications that the youths had crossed the border, they came, since there was a fear for their safety. The police leave reluctantly after Greta tries to explain it all away.

Greta wants to know exactly where they have been, after the police has left and who on earth Sara and the children are. Harald keeps the fact that they were shot at, a secret as well as the information about the sabotage, and Maja and Ben try to say as little as possible too. But Maja makes sure to tell, that Kurt helped them, in order to make Hilde’s mum look a little bit better.

Two days before Christmas the youths meet up to go and see Elin in the hospital. Ben is waiting for Maja and tells her that she looks really nice in her new beanie. She of course would have loved it, if he had kissed her, but he just moves some hair out of her eyes and then Hilde arrives and pushes herself in between them. On the bus they see a mum and her two children and Maja thinks about how Sara now has moved to Karlstad with her children, in to a flat Greta has organized for them. In the hospital they tell Elin EVERYTHING and she is mighty impressed. She also has information for them. David is in Sweden somewhere.  Elin’s sources lost track of him and he needs to be found, so he can be told that his sister and niece and nephew are safe. Maja, Ben and Hilde all nod. It will be their next assignment even though they have promised to never do anything dangerous again.

Like the previous book, the author have added some background information to the book. Like the fact that a lot of resistance groups were formed in Norway, in order to save the Jews, after the Germans announced that the Jews were to be arrested and sent to camps. A newspaper article shows proof of how much was actually known at the time in Sweden:

Dagens Nyheter (biggest morning paper and considered right-wing) 2 December 1942

“Not only in the private houses, but also in the nursing homes, the hospitals and mental institutions, did the city police enter to fetch Norwegian Jews for deportation. There were new upsetting scenes in the harbour, when the Jewish families were hoarded aboard the ships. Women were separated from their husbands and children from their parents. Eyewitnesses explained that what they witnessed on the 26 November where the most horrific things they had ever experienced.”

Did I like the book? Yes, I did. It was very exciting, more so than the first one actually, since they had more to lose this time. A mother and her two children, but also Benjamin. I also do have my objections. The book would have been better, had there been some sort of map to follow. As a person who sees everything in front of me, when I read, I really got confused over how they travelled. It finally sounded like they just went around and around in circles and that they were far away from the border. Which can hardly have been the case. I also do object to the obvious mistakes the author has done, in claiming in latter chapters that people have said certain things in earlier ones, which they never did. And making silly mistakes like saying they were looking for Hilde’s grandfather and then suddenly it is Ben’s grandfather they are looking for. Or how about Maja opening her mouth in Swedish and noone noticing!

My third objection is the same one I had for the first book. The author insists on feeding her Jewish characters sausage. The Jews do not eat pig, no matter how secular they are, they never will touch pig meat and sausage is made out of pig. Benjamin, Harald and Sara would never have touched Margret’s sausages and Sara would never ever have let her children touch them either, no matter how much they screamed. It is such a small matter but if you try to be correct in all other information and try to stay as close to the truth as possible, then this should be changed. Swedish children should be taught that Jewish people do not eat pig. It has to do with common knowledge really and treating other religions with respect and tolerance.

Leave a comment

Filed under What's Up

My Friday Book: “The Assignment” or “Uppdraget” by Camilla Lagerqvist

Finally, I have been able to get a new keyboard for my iPad, so I can create again! My book today, ought to have been “The Thief ofimage Time” by John Boyne, the author of “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”. But while the latter was a daunting yet very good book, which refuses to leave you after finishing it, the previous is just one of the most boring books I have ever read. I force myself to read a couple of pages now and then but it is just not worth the struggle. When I saw this book being recommended to my family, Swedish “Uppdraget”, it was easier than easy to put Boyne’s book down to rest, in order to see if this other book, was a book for any of my children. I have now read it twice! Once myself and once aloud to “Kitty”, my 11-year-old son, who is not too keen on picking up a book. He was slightly bored at first since it is a rather slow book in the beginning. No action on page one, so to speak. That is why I read it aloud, while he ate dinner, so he was a trapped audience. Once things started to happen in the book, he did not want me to stop reading till the end. So a couple of hours later, sore throat and all, I had him convinced that history and these books are exciting! He was thrilled to find out that there are two more published in the series and want us to start on the second today. A little short version for all of you who do not know Swedish (in case they never translate it):

imageMaja is almost 13 years old and it is summer 1943. Her house in the province of Värmland, is the first one which one arrives to, after crossing the border from Norway. She is by now as used to hearing the German machine guns in the forest, as she is to hearing the neighbour’s cows.

Her father has been called up, which means that her mother is trying to run the family nursery by herself, as well as taking care of her three children Maja 13, Gullbritt 10 and Per-Erik. One hot summer night, sleepless Maja notices a pregnant Norwegian woman crossing the border, with a daughter in tow, the same age, as Maja. But they are not the only ones arriving in the community of Gullfors. Maja’s mother’s friend from school, has also arrived with her son. Maja is absolutely thrilled at the thought of new friends, since her best friend was forced to move far away, with her family. Everyone getting called up or having to leave, to find work.

The next day her mother has invited her old friend Greta and her son Benjamin for dinner. A feast on eggs, which she must have traded with the neighbour Persson, who is a farmer, or having used all their coupons, and sausage. Greta tells them how they had to escape from Oslo and first lived in Stockholm, till Greta’s uncle testamented his cottage in the village, to them. While the grown ups chat, Maja gets to show Benjamin the hothouse and the Norwegian mysterious girl arrives, to buy potatoes. She gets scared off  at once though, when German fighter planes fly straight over the house, trying to avoid the radar.

They find the girl hiding by a strangely shaped stone formation in the forest and the three sit down on the stone to get acquainted. Maja doesn’t know what to say to handsome Benjamin, so she asks what it was like to live in an occupied country. Benjamin is the only one who answers and says that his family were forced to close their music shop, but that it was alright, since all glass had been broken anyway. Why, asks Maja. “Because we are Jewish.” Not only did they stamp a J in our passports, says Benjamin, but everyone above 14 was taken to forced labour. His dad had already left by then though, and had joined the resistance.

The next day Maja and Gullbritt are forced to go deliver produce, from the hothouses. Their favourite house is the house of the deceased doctor. His old wife Christin Kvarnswärd lives there and keeps track of everything which happens in the village. As soon as they sit down to feast on cake, which is the ritual at Mrs. Kvarnswärd’s house, she starts interrogating Maja about her new friends, which Maja finds odd.

Another morning,  Benjamin comes by and invites her to go bathe in the lake by his cottage. On the way there, some bullies are being mean to the Norwegian girl, named Hilde. They are  calling her “German brat”, meaning that she is a traitor. Hilde runs off and Maja can’t stop her, to find out why the girls were bullying her. While swimming with Benjamin, he tells Maja of the resistance group his dad belongs to and that a woman has joined them. He does this with admiration and says she is called the Black Rose. She had smuggled out documents from the German headquarters, dressed up as a german soldier and had been able to escape to his dad’s group.

Suddenly Hilde joins them and shows that she has the fancy swimsuit Maja dreams of owning, having seen it in a magazine before. Hilde also has the breasts which Maja lacks and Maja sadly notices Benjamin’s admiring eyes and how Hilde steals all attention. Maja’s sore spot is that she has no female curves yet and being teased in school for it. When it is time to leave, Hilde takes Maja to the side and  tells her that the bullies called her a German brat, but that her dad was Norwegian. He is dead and her mother is engaged to a German soldier, which made life too dangerous for them in Norway. All children spitting at Hilde in school and people being mean to them in general. Her mother is expecting his child. They thought they would be safe in Maja’s village, after the German smuggled them across the border, but their Norwegian neighbour’s relatives, live in the village, and she fears for continued harassment. She has Maja swear that she will not tell anyone, the truth.

Another day, Maja’s mum tells her that the doctor’s wife, has invited Maja and her new friends for cake. Excitedly, the three children head to the cake feast, in the posh house. Mrs Kvarnswärd asks for their names, as they pile cakes on their plates and she is pleased to hear Hilde Langland’s name sounding so Norwegian. But the room grows cold and uncomfortable when Benjamin Rosenbaum introduces himself and Mrs. Kvarnswärd asks him if it is a Jewish name. He doesn’t eat anything more after this. And things get worse, when they are on their way home. His mother comes running, telling him that his paternal uncle, aunt and their children, six and four years old, have all been killed in a concentration camp.

The next morning, Benjamin informs the girls that he wants them to form a resistance group. Both girls are all up for it and come to  the first meeting that evening. But Benjamin is all fired up and thinks that they should start acting at once, by creeping through the forest and spy on the Germans, who have set up a guard post, right by Maja’s grandmother’s blueberry spot. A place her mother has forbidden her to go to, since the Germans took over Norway, the spot being on the Norwegian side of the border. While watching the Germans, they see an older Norwegian man trying to cross the border, him getting discovered and shot, basically right in front of the children’s eyes. Shocked, all three run as fast as they can back to Maja’s, the latter vomiting.

They go on though, having a second meeting, where Benjamin decides that they must make a bomb, which will destroy the weapons’ storage and prevent the Germans from shooting people trying to cross the border. He needs Chlorine, which Maja can provide from her parents’ nursery. But when she arrives to Benjamin’s with it, she finds him hugging Hilde in his tool shed and in a rage of jealousy, the soon to be teenager, screams at Hilde, asking her if she has told Benjamin about her mother carrying a German soldier’s child, intending to marry him. Hilde runs off in disbelief and shock over having been betrayed and Maja hands the Chlorine to Benjamin, and heads home in tears, having betrayed her new friend like this. But she had just had enough, not having any female shapes yet and Benjamin clearly admiring Hilde’s looks and breasts, particularly every time they go swimming.

All the same, Maja avoids her friends. But when chocolate arrives from her father, she realises that she must give it to Hilde and say that she is sorry. It is not Hilde’s fault Benjamin is in love with her. Nor does she tell Benjamin why she did what she did, when he and his mum come to visit. Things sort themselves out four days later, when Hilde joins the two by Benjamin’s little lake. Kurt Behm, her step-father-to-be, crossed the border the night before and had a conversation with her mum, which she listened in on. He told her mum that the Germans had been informed that they had an impostor in the German consulate, a woman, who in reality was a resistance fighter. The informer called her the Black Rose and she would be arrested the next day and executed in public, to teach the resistance a lesson.  Benjamin decides that they have to cross the border that night and warn her. His bomb can distract the Germans.

Maja has a better idea. They need to get to a village near the border, where Benjamin’s father’s resistance group is in hiding. Maja suggests they go there via another village, a village where she has been many times with her grandmother. Her grandmother’s sister Ella lives in the forest with her husband Björn, and they can get to their farm on little cow paths, which the Norwegians and Swedes have used for centuries, to cross the border on, instead of on the official longer route. Hilde and Benjamin think it an excellent plan. Ella’s house can become a hiding place if needs be and from there they can go and ask the Frode-group to contact the Black Rose.

The children set out at 23:00, but do not get very far, before they discover that they are not alone, out in the forest that night. A black car, which Maja has seen before outside Mrs. Kvarnswärd’s house, quickly approaches them on the road they are on before needing to enter the forest, and the children can not hide before the driver and the passengers have seen them. In the moonlight, they see that Mrs. Kvarnswärd is one of them. The children start out on the path but Hilde soon needs to pee. She parts from the group for a minute, and that is when they hear voices in the forest, men talking about having to find the children and stop them. Mrs. Kvarnswärd’s orders. The children start running as soon as Hilde gets back to them, with the men in pursuit. The children arrive to Ella’s just minutes before the three men, and is let in by a surprised Ella, who has not seen her sister’s grandchild for four years. She soon understands the situation and has Ben and Maja hide in the wood bin and Hilde, in another safe spot. They barely manage to hide before there is a knock on the door. The men outside want to search the house for children and Ella, having skin on her nose, answers that they are insane for even suggesting a woman of her age, to have any children. She and Björn manage to get the men to leave.

While the children get something to eat, Björn draws a map to the place where he has heard there are resistance fighters in hiding and he gives them two bicycles. They bicycle as fast as they can, but do not arrive in the village Rimsdal until 04:00. They find the house which seems abandoned but after knocking for a long time, someone finally opens the door. When Benjamin introduces himself as Harald Rosenbaum’s son, they are finally let in and find the small cottage full of resistance men. It takes a while to convince them that they have come to save the Black Rose’s life and Hilde has to admit to that her mum is together with a German, but that she herself hates the Germans. The red-bearded leader, finally gets a radio out and sends the vital message to Oslo and the Black Rose. Benjamin does not get to see his father, who is on assignment, but that is the least of his worries. Now they have to get back to Sweden, and a guide named Hans is sent with them. But they barely manage to get out of the village, before a strange-looking vehicle with two German soldiers arrive, to arrest them.

If you are  one of my Swedish readers, you might want to stop here and buy or borrow the book at the library! But if you can’t wait for the conclusion, please continue:

Hans does his best to distract the soldiers. He screams to the children to run as fast as they can, while he is being beaten. Benjamin gets a homemade bomb out of his rucksack, which he throws on the road to create chaos, which it does for a while, giving them time to run across a smoke-filled field. But soon the air has cleared and the soldiers start shooting at the children. Maja takes a hit in the thigh and runs the risk of bleeding to death. Together Benjamin and Hilde drag her between them while running. The soldiers do not pursue them, since one of the soldiers had qualms about shooting at children. Somehow Maja is conscious enough at times, to guide them in the right direction and eventually they run in to her farmer neighbour Persson and her mum, who are out looking for them. The children have by then concocted up a story, that they must stick to. They were playing too close to the border, not knowing how close they were, and the border guards shot at them.

Hilde shows up some days later with Ben, to tell the group about weird things going on at Mrs. Kvarnswärd’s. Hilde’s mum is now cleaning for the rich woman and there are strange meetings in the evenings, when Hilde’s mum is told to leave early. One evening when she had to go back for her forgotten handbag, she heard shocking things which were bad for Sweden. But that is all Hilde knows. Days go by, and Maja’s dad gets home for a couple of days of compassionate leave. When he has left, a white-faced Hilde shows up and asks Maja if she can manage a walk to Mrs. Kvarnswärd’s. The latter has demanded that Hilde come and when Maja asks why, Hilde answers that Mrs. Kvarnswärd suspects that Hilde has stolen something from her.

Hilde explains all to Maja on the way there. She had listened in to a conversation her mum had with her lover, across the border. Hilde’s mum is supposed to clean the old lady’s house except for one room. The study. But when Mrs. Kvarnswärd was away one day, Hilde’s mum saw the door to the study open and all the dust on the floors, so she felt that a sweep in there would do no harm. While sweeping the floor, she noticed a drawer in the desk open and saw a box in there with the text “The Death Registry” written on it. Her lover told her to do nothing about it, over the phone. But Hilde accompanied her mum the next time, to the house, and snuck in to the study and stole the box, in order for Sweden not to get in to trouble. But when she left the room with her big rucksack, she was observed by the housekeeper Birgit.

The girls arrive at the house and notice the black car, from the night of their big adventure. They enter the house which seems empty, but soon Mrs. Kvarnswärd walks in accompanied by one of the men from that night, who turns out to be German. His name is Klaus. Mrs. Kvarnswärd does not believe Hilde’s lie about having gone in to the study, to try the typewriter and demands her box back. She also tells them to avoid that boy Benjamin “since he is of an inferior race and we don’t want that kind here.” The girls are shocked. Maja realises that Mrs. Kvarnswärd, who she always thought was such a nice old lady and grandmother-like, might indeed be a nazi spy. She is not nice at all but the calculating, cold woman her dad has always said that she is. Hilde is sent for the box, while Maja is held as a hostage. Hilde signals to Maja, as she is leaving, that she will go to Benjamin.

While they wait for the box, Mrs. Kvarnswärd and Klaus drinks and converse in German, but Klaus does take the time to laugh at Maja, being in pain from the gunshot wound. Maja is appalled by the entire thing. Then a lorry arrives and men jump out from it. Mrs. Kvarnswärd and Klaus go out to argue with the people and that is when Hilde sneaks in and tells Maja to come, that they must get out the back way while the resistance fighters from Norway, keep the others sidetracked. Greta has her own contacts and she was the one who got them there so quickly. Maja and Hilde head for Greta’s cottage, where they find not only Greta and Benjamin, but also Maja’s mum. Greta has been able to get the box open and she walks out with it so they can look at what is inside. The box is full of cards and each card holds a name and all the information about that person, as well as  recommendations for the Germans to have the person killed. It is indeed a death registry which was supposed to have been handed to the Germans, had they invaded Sweden, so that they could easily find undesirables and eliminate them in the German camps. Most of the names in the box belonging to Jews. Poor Benjamin finds his own card in the box and realises that Mrs. Kvarnswärd wanted him dead too. They close the box and Greta later hands the box to the Norwegian resistance fighters.

The next morning Gullbritt informs Maja that Mrs. Kvarnswärd has moved to Stockholm, to live there with her son. All her things are to be shipped there and the house sold. When school starts that autumn, Maja is delighted to have handsome Benjamin sit in front of her and Hilde close by. Their old teacher is off for six months, and they will have a substitute for that time. In walks a rather ordinary woman, semi-blonde hair, nothing raving about her, but she does wear fashionable clothes. Her name is Elin and after school she wants to talk to Benjamin, Maja and Hilde. They wonder what is up and is more than surprised when she thanks them for saving her life. She explains that she is part of the Swedish resistance and was working undercover in Norway, when she nearly was arrested. Her code name being … The Black Rose. Maja is flabbergasted. She had dreamt of the Black Rose so many times, imagining her as a raven haired woman with red lipstick, pirate looking and clearly a heroine. Not this rather bland woman who noone takes notice of!

That is where the book officially ends but the author has added how she got the idea for the book. She had read a news article about a very respected headmaster having passed away. In his belongings, his children made the awful discovery of a death registry like the one found by the children in the book. And he was not the only one who made up lists of people who ought to be killed by the Germans, had they arrived. Lots of people did, as well as nazi parties around Sweden. She also adds that even though Sweden was not at war, people could read in newspapers and hear on the radio, about the atrocities taking place in Europe and the camps. And finally that 771 Jews from Norway, was sent to camps and that only 34 of them survived.

What did the historian in me think about the book? It was exciting, if one is willing to overlook some historical mistakes and religious ones. Reading the book, it bothered me that the author put a lot of focus on the food they ate. My parents grew up during the war and all I ever heard of, was of the shortages. How everything was rationed. They had no butter, no eggs and especially no candy and cakes. Yet, both Maja’s mum, Benjamin’s mum and Mrs. Kvarnswärd are able to put plenty on the table. She does talk of dandelion coffee etc. but she should not really have given an impression that for the most part people could eat themselves full, because that was not the case. Nor were there sweets and sugar galore. Secondly, a Jew would NEVER EVER eat the kind of sausage mentioned, since it is made out of pig. Greta sighs and says it has been years since she had sausage. I don’t wonder about that! Being married to a Jew, he would not have allowed it in his house and would have taught his son not to eat it either. A Jew can be a non-believer but he will not eat PIG!

If one wants to be nit-picky, she also has put some politically correct things in the book, which was hardly politically correct or even something one objected to in those days. Boys were boys and girls were girls, non of the feminist crap entered people’s heads, so it is not really nice when the author tries to make today’s children think that they were just like us back then. Boys had clear roles and so did girls. Why not just teach children about that instead, so that they can see the progress which has been made? It is not like children would regress by hearing that!

I do think it important to look at our history though. Especially in these days when the nazi party of Sweden, cloaked in suits and calling themselves “Sverigedemokraterna”, like the  nazis ever stood for anything democratic, has become the biggest party in Sweden with 27% of the votes in the latest polls. Where are we heading? Is it not time to learn from history? What did Sweden really do during th war? Do we really have anything to be proud of? Were we really better than our collaborating neighbours? Or is it time to accept that we are no more innocent than the rest of the world. That anti-Semitism was as accepted in Sweden as in Norway. That Sweden closed its borders just like all the other countries, to fleeing Jews. That many people thought that Hitler was a great man who had straightened out his country and that especially the upper classes and the Royal House, was indeed totally pro-Germany.

Leave a comment

Filed under What's Up

First day of school or where did the summer go?

The following post was written on the 17th August 2015. I could have just trashed it, but since I know my friends want an update and since I spent a lot of time on it, why should I trash it, just because it takes two weeks of nagging to get my husband to help me download a photo? So here it is, two weeks after the fact!

Both “Gubby” and “Boo” were excited about starting school today. I can’t say that I was equally optimistic. I know that we have had a holiday since the 12 June, but this year it does not really feel like it. This summer has not been anything like other summers and needless to say, not at all what I had planned. It started with visits to BUP (ADHD unit of child and youth psychology department), habilitation and to “Gubby’s” kidney doctor. What else? Can’t have a summer holiday from all that, can one? “Cookie” had to have her braces checked and D. had to have his second Twinrix shot, in preparation for going on a mission. Life was very, very hectic till the 26 June when we headed south to France, for a two-week “real” holiday. And we really had a wonderful holiday albeit a couple of altercations between certain elements of the clan. And “Boo’s” meltdowns of course.

No, true hell started on our way home from France. Close to the border between the Netherlands and Germany, I went sliding with the mini bus. Straight in to a round-about and the car was so wrecked that we could not continue to Sweden with it, nor have it back, fixed. We were supposed to have arrived home, happy, content, and continue our vacation by going to Sjöbo fair, paint the house and just relax. Instead we were stranded in our country village, with no transportation to go and buy paint, rent and bring home scaffolding. We had to go out to Sjöbo’s fair on buses, which took hours. And all the time, in the back of our heads, there was the worry about what to do. What car to get? How can we live with being heavily in debt again, over a car, for the next five years? While my husband sat from morning to evening searching for a new car on the internet, not being able to go and look at anything, since you need a car for that, I worried myself sick, was at BUP and habilitation again, going all over on the bus and getting more and more vexed about our situation. Fighting with the insurance company for one, took all life energy away from me. So when the kids suggested that I join them in the game “Hay Day”, I did. Just to escape real life. To pick up a book, was too stressful. I could not concentrate THAT much on anything.

When a week had passed, T. finally decided that something had to be done during the last days of his vacation. He borrowed a high-powered water hose from our neighbour and cleaned the house in preparation for painting it and wonderful members of our church, helped us get some of the paint home and the scaffolding plus some helping hands, for two days. It was a drop in the Ocean, it turned out, but all the same, it got us started and they helped immensely, since T.’s ADHD set in quite a bit, after the car crash. He felt overwhelmed about the painting business and was no doubt going to chicken out of the entire thing. Till our home teachers started to press him on the issue and organised things. He had mentioned the painting back in June, and they had decided to help with it no matter what. I will be eternally grateful for their service and their care because it forced T. to act.

But, when all helping hands were gone, we still had one coat left to do on the entire house and the scaffolding was gone, since we could only afford to rent it for one day. That is when D. climbed up on a tall ladder, we had borrowed, and the ladder just bent over. He flew down and scraped his leg really badly and sprained his wrist. He had to be rushed to the emergency room for x-rays and his eyes were filled with tears, because he was in so much pain. He is such a trooper. He always comes through for me, so I felt so bad and so guilty. I could not help one bit with the painting this time around (last time we painted was August 2005 when I was going through a miscarriage, but still was out there helping) since I just could not handle the strong fumes. One sniff and it gives me a migraine. I got a migraine anyway, since the smell worked itself in to the house somehow. The kids all ruined their clothes out there, including “Boo”, who for some reason brought out his winter jacket! I am not happy about it at all, but what choices did I have? None. The house had to be painted and the little ones could not be kept indoors. The house is now painted but the storage room needs another coat. And D. is still in pain. His ribs and his head hurt, the bruising is still there and his leg is still sore as is his wrist. The sore on his leg refuses to heal. May it all soon be well again!

When we got home from France, in a borrowed car, we discovered that D. had finally worn the sofa covers entirely through. I have had two sets for years, but the green ones are so full of rips and threadbare, that we have had to use the discoloured yellow ones for about a year. Now they were in threads. They had been living on borrowed time of course. So when we finally were able to borrow a car from a member in church, to go and look at a new car, which T. had seen on the internet, we also went to get more house paint and down to IKEA, to buy new sofa covers. We had no choice or the frame of the sofa would have got ruined! We had brown or grey to choose from and I chose the grey since it was the strongest fabric they had, all of 50 000 cycles. (The arm-chair seat is already noppy though, after just one month!) Because you wash these covers yourself! A must when you have children like mine. Forget about dry cleaning. Too expensive in Sweden. The sofa covers were not a cost we had counted on either, of course, for this summer. Money that could have been used to pay off our holiday debt, had to be used for them. But it is a relief to not have to see those ghastly threadbare, ripped covers anymore. One day, I will paint the sitting room walls, so we don’t have to see the children’s art work on the walls anymore, and the yellow grease spot where T. has had his head every evening! But the kitchen walls have higher priority! I will not even mention what the wallpaper looks like out there. I am actually starting to detest wallpaper. Children and wallpaper just do not go together.

So, we went to see the car and had a knowledgeable member of our church, go and look at it too. It was not cheap but it could have been much worse. Or? I will write a separate post on our car purchase I think, because that is not what this post was supposed to be about, but let us say, that after a LOT of hassle, the car was finally delivered to us, Sunday, a week ago (9 August 2015), in the evening. So for one week, I have had wheels.

So, back to this morning. I did not want summer holiday to be over at all. I need more sun. I need more rest. Nothing feels right. But, school started all the same, so I had no alternative but pack little “Gubby’s” rucksack with spare clothes and get him ready for his first day at the Montessori school, class zero, in our neighbour village. He was all excited and happily put on his new T-shirt from Primark in Canterbury. He skipped out to the car and we backed up the car, while T. took his time as usual. One can’t come early to anything, can one! Since I could not clone myself in to two people today, he just had to take the day off. You can’t have two autistic children start two new schools, on the same day, and not be there for them both!

So we were ready for take off, which is when I noticed a light on the dash-board of our one week old car, which should not have been lit. Worried, I had T. get the manual out while I drove. “There is a serious fault with the exhaust system. Drive very carefully to the nearest garage!” This is NOT what you want to see or hear, when it is only one week since you bought the car with borrowed money. This is not what you want to hear when you are totally dependent on that car, for your children’s school attendance! Neither boy can go by bus on their own nor is there a bus that goes to the schools. With moderation. There is a school bus for Waldorf, which is where “Boo” is attending. You pay a set sum each term for it. BUT you can’t have an autistic child his age go on that bus on his own. When he gets his meltdowns, a grown up has to be near by. He can’t be at a bus stop alone and blow a fuse. Either he will harm someone or storm off and miss the bus. So I was mighty concerned when we drove to “Gubby’s” school. I tried to not let him see it though and walked him in to the building and to his teacher. He ran up and stood and hugged her for a long time. This is a teacher he does not know that well, only having met her three times, BUT he felt insecure and then he hugs people. And tells them, that he loves them. I had to help him find his seat on the round mat on the floor, and then he sat there waiting for all the others, T. standing a bit off, and me having to head home to make phone calls.

I decided to phone Volkswagen themselves to ask about how dangerous it is to drive, with the said warning light on. After half an hour of wasted time in a telephone queue, I never was allowed to talk to the garage people, only two receptionists, and both of them told me to not drive the car at all. Right! How was “Gubby” and T. going to get home? Walk 7 kilometers? And what about me having to be at Waldorf, even further away, in less than 45 minutes? I told the women I spoke to that I had no alternative but to drive the car and they in turn said that it might mean more expensive repairs than it would have been from the start. I was told to phone the seller and ask if mobility insurance was included in our purchase. Only he did not open till 10:00! I had no choice but to take the risk and drive.

We drove off to our other neighbour village, where all parents and children had gathered outside the school buildings. “Boo” could not stand still so I had to let him run off and play on the swings, the water canal “toy”, the cableway… At 10:00 it started with teachers having walked off in all sorts of directions, holding gongs of different sizes. (I don’t know what else one would call them? Like a small dinner gong with a mallet.) One would hit the gong and another gong would answer  from another direction and this is how it went on for a while and then the sound of the gongs came closer and closer,  till the teachers carrying them finally gathered in front of the middle school’s building, where they “played” or sounded a melody with the different sized gongs. Then all the teachers sang a song, directed by the new music teacher. No words, just “noises”, but very pretty. Then the headmaster told a little story about the school which missed all the children over the summer, even though a whole lot had happened to it during the summer. Builders having done all sorts of work. Each teacher was presented and there are autistic children in several classes, since there is an assistant for each in grade 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6, so “Boo” does not have to feel odd. There are four others like him!

First the 9th grade teachers started calling up the names of their students. One at a time, they had to walk up to the stairs and hug and shake hands. Then applauds when the entire class was gathered and walked off to a set place in the garden school yard. Then came grade 8, 7, 6a and 6b, 5… “Boo” was bored and was playing, but when the 3rd grade was being called up, it was time to go stand with all the rest of us, waiting for his name to be called. Finally his teacher stood up and started calling out the names. I was standing beside a German Jewish father, wearing a crocheted kippah, whose son was commenting on everybody’s names, trying to figure out if there were more Germans there. This member in our church, has a son starting first grade, and when they called out his name later on, the son took one look at him and guessed “Chile”. I did not want to spoil his day by telling him that the boy’s father comes from Tonga!

“Boo” was called almost last. But he was excited since he had discovered that the girl he had had a fun time with at the council pool, was in his class and now he found out her name. I so much hope that he can make friends. When the 1st graders had been called, the 9th graders walked up and gave them each a beautiful flower as a welcome gift and then all the children formed a hedge. Two and two they stood and made part of the hedge or tunnel, all the way to the 1st graders classroom. I was taking photos so I missed that they started pulling parents to help out, to complete the tunnel. And then the music started. An old folk song from Sweden, which I love. Fiddles and accordion, like it is supposed to be, and “Boo’s” assistant being the one playing the accordion. All that was missing were people in folk dresses. It made me think about my granddad, who played such music on both his fiddle and his accordion, who danced folk dancing and had the right dress for it. And his parents got married in the church opposite this school! Wow!


“Boo” was a little bit bewildered, but went through the tunnel with his class, after the 1st graders. He could not judge the distance so he bent over the entire time, even though he could have walked upright. When he got to the end, we all walked in and took off our shoes at the entrance and walked up the cold stone stairs to his new classroom, with a brand new, pretty, wood floor. Us parents, had to wait outside, and not until the children were let out, were we allowed to come in and ask questions. Everyone went inside and new students were introduced and welcomed, except the teacher forgot to mention my son! That felt odd and I noticed other parents staring at us. Oh well, I guess they will soon figure there is another new boy in the class and that the assistant is for him and because of him. There is a parenting meeting the 26th, which is my big evening, when I have to stand up and explain that my child is autistic and if their children come home and complain, it has its reasons. I already dread that evening since I do not like to talk in front of people and it is a very sensitive thing ,since many people will think “Why did they have to come here.” Of course not realising that this is our last hope!

When all the others had left, his teacher A. and the assistant showed us upstairs, which has a room which “Boo” and his assistant can retreat to, when “Boo” can’t handle the classroom anymore, when he gets restless, when the noise becomes too much, when he needs space. He liked the room and we also got to see the Eurythmy room which had a really nice feeling to it. Then it was time for us to take our leave. The car gave me some trouble on the road, the breaks working poorly in lower gear? I hope it was just a temporary thing! I can’t go crashing in to more people this year or I will never dare to drive again. All of us are nervous wrecks as it is. When we arrived at Montessori, “Gubby” was having fun on the slide, all children being out for lunch recess. T. was in conversation with “Gubby’s” assistant, who they might actually get rid of, if things go very well for him. I listened to that in horror, because he needs someone to be there for him ALL the time! The assistant is used to dealing with kids like “Boo”, so he could not see “Gubby” having any problems, but he does, since he can not speak like his peers, nor understand like them and he lacks all the social skills to function at a school. Just because you do not act out and hit people, does not mean that you have no problems! He needs a person who is there to interpret the world for him and who will be his mediator or help him with communication.

I spoke a little bit to his teacher, who was the one who thought that things had gone so extremely well, and then we all headed to our own village, me getting a report from T. All children had been asked what they had done this summer and “Gubby” had answered “we swam in France and then crashed our car in a round about!”. All the others had just mentioned all the teeth they had lost. But I guess France and the crash is very much on his mind and something which worries him still. And I who thought that it did not really have that much of an impact on him. After all, for the most part, the children had a blast that day, pushing the trauma to the back.

He had actually joined in with all the activities. But when lunch came, he was not impressed with the seat assigned, so he had started flaxing and waving his arms. And the dish, called “pytt-i-panna” did not suit either. I could have told people that. He never eats it at home. He had actually picked out all the meat pieces and eaten them. I was all amazement. He never does that at home! Here he doesn’t touch the dish at all. What is Pytt-i-Panna? Poor-man’s-dish really. When I grew up, my mum would make it with all the left over cold potatoes and left over meat pieces. You cut the pieces pretty small and fry them. But I doubt anyone makes it that way anymore. Now you just go and buy a big 1 kilo bag of it. The potato pieces and meat pieces cut in to perfect little cubes and then a little bit of fried onion among it all. I think that is what is served at the schools as well. Originally one had beats with it and fried eggs, with the egg yolk pouring out over the “pytt”, when cut in to. What do I think about the dish? Yuck! I went on food strike when my mum made it. And she never served it with eggs and beats. I have only eaten beets once in my life and that is when I worked as an au-pair in London. Me and another au-pair, were suddenly dying for pytt-i-panna, even though I never ate it at home! So we boiled potatoes, quick-cooled them down, cut them up as small as we could and fried them with meat. I can’t remember if we used hot dogs or bacon for meat. But we also had bought beets and fried up eggs. That is the only time I let beets, pytt-i-panna and that kind of a fried egg, pass my lips. I hate loose runny egg yolk and of course have not eaten an egg for the past 16 years, thanks to gall stones and not having a gall bladder after 2009. I can not get myself eating something which is magenta coloured either, so beets are a no-no. It feels like the wrong colour for an item of food! I hate the surface of fried potatoes. It gives me goose bumps. And meat has never really been my thing, except in exceptional cases. I know, I sound autistic, describing food in this manner! But I was born a finicky eater and it has not improved with age, since my gall system can hardly handle anything. Forget that removal of your gallbladder is the solution to all your problems! It only aggravates the problems!!!!

T. had to drive off with the car to the closest mechanic, after we arrived home. He tested the motor and could not find the problem but said that if the light stays on, we have to take the car back to where we bought it, for them to fix it. That is what the warranty demands. Great! Easier said than done! So, now I will live in constant fear, that the car will break down on me, out of the blue. I who thought that I would be able to relax on that point and just concentrate on getting in to a routine with the boys, run back and forth to habilitation and to BUP… It’s been decided that “Kitty” must be tested for autism as well. His doctor suspects that there is more behind his problems than “JUST” ADHD.

Update on the 31st August:

The light of course did come on the next day, on the car. Life can not be simple, can it? The car had to be taken back to the seller and we were given a horrible Ford in its place. It smelled strange. And on the last day, when I had to drive it, I could not get the window up on the driver’s side. So we drove through pouring down rain, with the window down. All this, since the AC was broken. We had our own car back for a couple of days and then the light was back on and up to the seller again and a new car had to be borrowed. A car without AC, without radio and only one window which could be rolled down. We got our own car back Friday evening, last week. But I am a nervous wreck. It does not feel like a safe car to drive and I almost freaked out today, when the rain was pouring down. What if I would do some more aquaplaning and have us all killed this time? Or be in a new wreck? T. is taking it in to the car inspection tomorrow. We might as well find out if there are hidden faults, ready to emerge at any time. Something we should have insisted on, before purchasing the car in the first place.

Comments Off on First day of school or where did the summer go?

Filed under What's Up

My Friday Book: “The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals”

imageCan a book about an undertaker be of any interest? Can he be an interesting topic for a novel? Will you put down the book, after finishing it, and say what a great book despite the morbid job of the hero? I haven’t got a clue! Because the author of this debut novel did the lousiest job ever, trying to put a story together. The people in it are entirely flat, without substance. The hero could have been a gardener. It would not have changed a thing in the story. She has put it on the fast forward button as well, like on a remote control, to avoid making it interesting. But of course I appreciated this, so that I did not have to suffer more than 263 pages of her word pooping.

I don’t want to put you off reading my review, but I must say that this book was so terribly predictable that, as soon as Grace, one of the two girls in the triangle “drama”, started having thoughts about a rape she had been through, I guessed who the rapist was and then I had also guessed how the book would end. I don’t like to have guessed everything which will happen in the book, 200 pages before they happen! Reviewers speak of twists and turns, yes, the author does twist and turn, desperately grasping at straws, trying to make the book exciting, but the only exciting thing in this book is if the undertaker will be able to un-tie his pyjamas trouser’s string and find his wife’s vagina! Could possibly bring a cheap thrill to someone out there, but it only vexed me, since Wilfred had asked his wife for an annulment of their marriage. You don’t try to have sex with a woman you hate, when you want to be free to marry the woman you love, just because you can’t control your urges! Honestly, Wendy Jones, stick to your daytime job. It is a scandal that someone published this and let you write a sequel to this crap. I will not read the second book in what threatens to become a series.

Want to make up your own mind about the book? Well here is the entire storyline:

Wilfred Aubrey Price, is 27 years old in 1924 and never went to war, since training as an undertaker was an exempt profession. His father and he lives together, after his four-year apprenticeship far away from home, for master Ogmore Auden, who taught Wilfred everything about life and funerals. Wilfred does not leave any impression at all on the living, including myself. A rather dull and boring man, who is semi-content with being the undertaker in Narberth, a small town in Wales. He dreams of having a wallpaper and paint shop in his home parlour and learning to use more words in his speech. To accomplish the latter, he buys himself a used dictionary and start out learning all the words on A.


During a church picnic, happening before the book starts, he fancies the doctor’s daughter, Grace Amelia Reece, but it is a short-lived passion. As long as the picnic lasts. But all the same, she invites him for a picnic on their own and while they do not speak, Wilfred has a lot of thoughts. He is mighty impressed with the yellow dress she is wearing and can’t figure out how she got in to it. Instead of asking her how a woman gets in to a dress like that, he says “will you marry me?”. He is shocked at himself and even worse, more shocked when she says yes. He tries to break off the unwanted engagement, soon after the shock has settled, but she has already told her parents, so when he comes to talk to her, he is just railroaded by her parents. Unfortunately, I can’t stand people who are like Grace and Wilfred. Wet noodles. How can you like characters in a book, who will not speak their mind. Who will just do as they are told and walk around like zombies? It is one thing, to read about “Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley” not being able to speak outright how they feel about each other in “Pride & Prejudice”. Customs kept men and women so much apart, and social rules forbade open speech, that it can be understood, from the view-point of Jane Austen, that there would be a lot of misunderstandings. But I am sorry, people were not as innocent in 1924, and you just do not act at all like Wilfred and Grace, then or now. The story is not believable at all. From this first chapter, the book just goes downhill like a Harlequin romance. You just want to rip your hair out and burn the book to get over the pain of reading it.

Because Wilfred does not go home and ask his gravedigger father for advice. No, he avoids Grace and hopes she gets the hint. But she and her family spreads around the news of the engagement. At the same time, mr Edwards, the blacksmith in a village nearby, drops dead and Wilfred has to bury him. Arriving at the house to escort the wife and daughter to the funeral, he is smitten with Flora Edwards’ beauty. He can not take his eyes off her and while he behaves like the perfect undertaker throughout, he concocts a plan. He will go to deliver the bill a couple of weeks later and then ask her on a date, tea at a café.

Grace runs in to Wilfred one day, in town, after delivering honey, and asks him why he has not been around. That is when Wilfred somehow gets the courage to tell her the truth. He doesn’t love her and does not want to marry her so the engagement is over. He is so pleased with himself and moves on to the lady he does love. But her mother forbids Wilfred to go out with her daughter. Devastated he goes home but soon he receives a mysterious postcard which tells him to go to a deserted cottage by the coast. He finds Flora there and they spend the day in each others arms. No sex. No words at all. They keep on seeing each other and are happier than happy even though they never say a word to each other.

Then Grace decides to commit suicide since she has been raped. Her much beloved brother, the pride of her parents, have re-enlisted in the army and has received the rank of Sergeant. They are so proud of him. He leaves for his Army camp while Grace chickens out on the suicide and decides to face her father instead. She only goes down to her father’s office and says “I am pregnant”. Nothing else. He draws his own conclusions, rush out of the house and enters Wilfred’s. When Wilfred gets home, he is much bewildered. Why is the doctor there when the engagement has been broken off? Dr. Reece only have a few words for him. He orders Wilfred to be at the registrar’s office a couple of days later, at 9:52 and then storms off. Neither Grace or Wilfred gets to say a word. Wilfred was not born yesterday and realizes that he is being blamed for her pregnancy, the only reason why one is forced to marry in a registrar’s office with a couple of days notice. And Grace has no intention of telling who the father really is.

So Wilfred goes to the registrar’s office, in his funeral suit, looks at his bride with murder in his eyes, says his yes and that is the last time he speaks to her for weeks. They go home for a wedding lunch and suddenly she is so very big with child, according to the author. Imagine a doctor who never noticed that his daughter was pregnant?! That he nor his wife, never noticed the signs. And how about counting on your fingers, how pregnant you can really look after just a couple of weeks engagement???? Wilfred stays on his side of the bed, like a stiff plank, and starts starving himself. Grace actually gets a wake up call when she notices after three weeks, how he has aged and how thin he has become. Not that she REALLY CARES! He hates sleeping in her house and misses his father, his house and Flora.

Three weeks in to the marriage, he is all words! He goes bicycling with Flora, he is not himself anymore. Talkative, charming, flirting… They go out in the ocean, the tide being out, to look at a forest, imageusually underwater, kissing and not paying attention to the tide rushing in. To save themselves from drowning, Flora has to throw away her camera and they throw all clothes except their underclothes and run for it. Flora can not swim and goes under several times but Wilfred has decided to save her, so they finally make it to the beach and safety. They spend the night in the cottage, wrapped in each others arms, declaring their love for each other but Flora also finds out that he is married and that his wife’s baby is not his.

Flora goes home all depressed. She lost her fiancée Albert, in 1918, when his company was going over the top. She has been living like a dead since but now she has come alive, falling for Wilfred. But an affair is not her thing. Wilfred has decided to finally say something though. Even if it means that not a single person in Narberth wants to use him as an undertaker again. He demands an annulment from Grace and tells her he loves someone. He also asks who the father of the baby is. Madoc of course. Her brother. The hero. The man, whose bed and room, they share as a wedded couple. The next day, they go to face Dr. Reece. Grace doesn’t say anything, it is only Wilfred who is pushing for the annulment. A date is set to go to court. The night before, Grace undress though, doing everything to keep her treasure. She does not want to face up to life. She can’t care less if Wilfred is unhappy and loving someone else. She wants to pretend that all is fine. So she sticks her hand down his pyjamas and he immediately becomes a cave man, trying to get the pyjamas off. He has serious troubles, but finally gets them off and starts poking around between her legs. And then I guess it dawns on him, well I hope it dawned on him, that if he has sex with her, he can forget all about Flora. Forever! Because he stops and Grace gets so upset. She almost had him trapped. So they go off the next day to the judge and get the marriage annulled. He heads off on a picnic with Flora, to tell her that he is free to marry her. And Grace packs her bag to leave Narberth for good. Wilfred having given her half of his savings and her dad sends a great bunch of money with her as well. She is off on the train, her parents not wanting to see her off because of the scandal, and them not knowing the truth.

Is this what is called literature? Hardly! I can’t tell this apart from the Harlequin romances I read when I was 12, bought in the supermarket. It was a total waste of two afternoons and I could have spent the money on something nicer. How did I find it in the first place? I found the second part, on sale at the book depository, but did not want to buy that without having read the first book, first. I will never move on to the next. Time is too precious for me. And money.

Like I said above, people on Amazon has given the book five stars because of its twists and turns and because of its humour. I have humour, but nothing in this book was funny. It is a book about a wet noodle of a man and a spoiled, selfish girl. A girl who lets her brother rape her, even though there was no threat of him planning to kill her, if she did not comply. She knows she is pregnant when Wilfred proposes and ends the engagement, but she doesn’t care. She is fine with him being forced to marry her. Is their drama in this book? No. Things like this never happen in life. Sorry Wendy Jones, but the old ingredients of incest, rape and an unhappy marriage, does not spell success. In your case, it just reeks desperation. I think you need to continue your creative writing course for a while and maybe get another teacher, who will be honest and tell you the truth. You can’t write!


1 Comment

Filed under What's Up

My Friday Book: “Can you understand me? My Life, My Thoughts, My Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome”

Can you understand Sofie, because she can not understand you?!

Can you understand Sofie, because she can not understand you?!

A tiny little book, written by an 11-year-old Danish girl suffering from Autism or Asperger’s, difficult to say but I suspect the latter. On the other hand, they are doing away with the latter diagnosis, since not a single person has all the same symptoms. Which means that it is difficult to understand why these people do and act the way they do, all of them being different.

I liked this little book a lot and as soon as the Autism society is back from their vacation, I will order it from them, as well as two other books which habilitation recommended and loaned me. They are good books to keep at home, for refreshing one’s memory and for letting other people read. I have no idea if this book has been translated? It says that it has, but is it still in print and how good was the translation. In case you are too lazy to send for your own copy or can’t get hold of it… Here is my translation of the book:

“I have a physical disability. It is called autism or Asperger’s syndrome. You can’t see it from the outside. But I was born with it and can’t help having it. What it means is, that I have a difficult time understanding others, since they do not think the way I do. I would like to help others. Sometimes I need help myself. I would like for others to understand what my life is like, so they can understand me.

I like when everything stays the same way every day. Every morning I stick to my remember-to-do-list, which sits on the fridge. Then I know what I am supposed to do. I easily get confused, if I don’t know what I am supposed to do, or if I am supposed to do new things, which I have not done before. I really need things to be explained to me in advance.

I watch the children’s programs on TV every afternoon at 17:00. But I have a difficult time learning the clock. If my mother forgets telling me that it is 17:00, and I miss the cartoons, I get very angry. If it was just a film about humans, which I missed, then I do not get angry. I have a note in the living room, which has pictures and text, explaining how the remote control works. I have tried to learn how it works for years. I can get very angry, when I can not do things as easily, as other children can.

I can not always find the right words for things and it makes me very vexed and sad. I have a difficult time remembering the names of people and things. It is very difficult to find the words for how things are. I find it very difficult to explain how I feel. I prefer short conversations.

Yes, what are strawberries called in Swedish? The options become very funny, when it is supposed to be "Jordgubbar". But it is hardly amusing to the child when the person opposite looks like a question mark or gets a troubled look.

Yes, what are strawberries called in Swedish? The options become very funny, when it is supposed to be “Jordgubbar”. But it is hardly amusing to the child when the person opposite looks like a question mark or gets a troubled look.

I can not remember the names of my classmates and there are some teachers whom I don’t know the names for either. I almost know all the names for every cartoon figure, because they are easier to remember. Mum says that I speak differently than others. Sometimes I use lines from films and cartoons, but I am not aware of doing so. Sometimes my mum laughs at me which makes me angry. My mum says she is not laughing at me but that she laughs at what I just said. She means this in a loving way. But I feel stupid when others laugh. My mum also says that I talk like an adult. This means that I sometimes sound like I want to decide over others and educate them. I feel that I talk the same all the time.

I get confused if one asks me to do several things at the same time. I prefer to do one thing at a time. If the teachers say many things at once, then I will sit and draw till they come and tell me what we are supposed to do. When too many things are happening at once, I get stressed out. When it is too noisy, I just walk out of the classroom.

I think it is difficult to know which side to pass people on the street, when they come walking towards me. I expect them to walk straight, but they do not always do that. Mum says that it is because people get confused and irritated when they can not read any body language from me. I don’t use it. And I do not see or notice body language. Mum also says that people can not see what I want because I do not use that many facial expressions. Others think I am angry or sad, when I just feel normal. I can not see if people are lying or if they are joking. I think everything they tell me is true. I also find it very difficult to understand jokes. It helps me a lot, if people tell me exactly the way things really are. They should not use a lot of confusing words and expressions. You should only use words that mean exactly what you want to say.

I have quite a bit of help in school. I am happy about that. While I am good at languages, math, biology and technology are very difficult subjects. When the other girls tell me that I am good at reading and writing and that I ought to become an author, I become very happy. The best teacher in school is Ida. I feel secure with her and she is kind towards me. Ida always have time for me. Ida is calm and she can explain things so that I understand them. If I cry and am sad about something, she helps me. Before, when I did not have an assistant, I could not be part of gym class. I got confused the entire time. I like gym class when my assistant is there.

My mum says that I am stubborn since I am not goood at changing my mind. Because of this I can not work in a group. If we work on a project in school or do team work, then the assistant has to be there. I love going to the library and swimming pool. I love music. I like Elvis the most and Peruvian pan flute music.

I have a difficult time joining the other children in school. I do not understand the rules in their games. For the most part they ignore me. Then I get sad and ignore them. Some of them join forces and pick on someone. That someone is for the most part me. Then I feel like vomiting. It is difficult to understand the other children, because to me, they seem unnatural. At school it is mostly the younger children who want to play with me. Sometimes I read to them. I would like to play with the children in my class. I wish they would ask me to join them some time. I do not know how to ask them in order for them to say yes. I keep to myself for the most part. The few times I get to play with some of the girls in the class, I feel very happy.

It is difficult for me to be with many people at the same time. It works better with just one person at a time. I prefer children who are calm and peaceful. Most of the time, it doesn’t matter that other children are noisy. Only when I read. Then I get angry and scream in order to get peace and quiet. There is one girl in school, Lisa, whom I play with sometimes. She is a year older. The others in her class, finds her weird, but I find her normal and very kind. Lisa is my best friend.

I wish others would be like Lisa and me. I don’t like when people swear and speak ill of each other. Lisa and I do not do that. I think a lot about how the other children act. The other girls are interested in the boys because they want them for boyfriends. I am not interested in boys. Only as playmates. Some of the girls wear bras, even though they do not need them. I think that is ridiculous. The girls keep diaries. I do too. But there is also one boy who keeps a diary. He is not like the other boys. He is calmer and doesn’t swear as much as the others do. Some girls and boys are not like the other girls and boys. That is difficult to understand.

I often get confused about my schedule. I have a deal with my mum, to phone her when school is out. I always carry my mobile phone. Then my mum can tell me if I am phoning too early. It has happened that the others have walked off to music, sewing class or wood shop, without me noticing. Then I think school is out, pack my things and phone mum. Then mum tells me that she will come and fetch me, or she will tell me that I have forgot to go to a lesson with the others, which is not held in our classroom. Some of the girls sometimes help me to go to the right place. I like that.

I love reading so I am at the library all the time. I read cartoons as often as I can. I think I have read all the cartoons they have at the school library. I also read a lot of books. For the most part, I love adventure books like Harry Potter. Words like brain, slime and intestines make me nauseous. At the doctor’s, there is a model with all body parts. I can’t look at that, since it makes me feel like I am going to vomit. I can’t stand the thought of us having those things inside of us.

I think it is very strange that it says “door’s open” at the school’s doctor’s office, when the door is closed. One day, my mum said that the door closed itself and I saw in my mind the door having hands, closing itself, but what it meant was that it just blew shut. I get angry with myself when I do not understand things. I really appreciate when people tell me things so that I can understand them. One day one of the girls in the class told me “I was only joking Sofie. You can handle it!”. She smiled and laughed kindly at the same time. It meant that she was not teasing. It helped me that she said what she did.

I am not good out in traffic. I can’t read a map and I do not know which way to walk. I do not like difficult things and when things are hard to solve. I also have to be very careful when it comes to people I do not know. I can’t tell if people want to harm me or not and that can be dangerous. My mum takes me to school and fetches me, every day. She has told me that when I am in sixth grade, perhaps I will be able to take the bus on my own.

I sometimes misinterpret things. Mum and I was shopping and I saw a little purse which I wanted. Mum answered my request in such a way that I thought she had agreed to buying it for me. I put it on the counter with all the other things we were buying. Mum did not notice until we had paid and left the shop. She had not meant for me to get it after all and I felt very sad and cried, since I had misunderstood her. My mum felt sorry for me, and went and bought something small for my brother as well, of equal value. As to be fair. Everything was fine. I really want things to be fair and that everyone get an equal amount. I become very sad when I misunderstand or others misunderstand me.

When others say things wrong, I correct them. My mum has told me that it is not nice to correct adults. But I do not like it when people do the wrong thing. What I love the most is to be at home and sit curled up in an armchair, reading. It is extra nice if my cat Bamse, is there with me, as well and if I have something to eat and drink beside me. I feel the most safe and secure at home. I have a happy family. We have a swing in the living room that one can swirl around on. I can swirl the fastest, since I do not get dizzy.

I have a very heavy quilt. It is full of balls. I have it because my skin does not feel things the way others feel. The balls make my skin feel what it should feel. Before I received my ball quilt, I could not stand if people sat too close to me. Or if someone touched me before I was prepared for it. It happened that I hit people if they touched me, because it felt so gross. I like soft clothes, since you don’t feel that you are wearing them. There are many clothes which irritate your skin. I can also get very irritated at strong light and strong smells. Some sounds and smells make me hurt inside. Then I try to get away so I can concentrate again.

I love being in the forest and on the beach. I find nature beautiful and I hate little grey houses. There are too many houses in the towns. I love beautiful things and have a small collection of treasures. I have chosen some beautiful white furniture for my room. It feels good when things are in order and pretty.

Twice a year, my mum takes me to a camp. There we meet families with children who also have autism. I have many friends at these camps. I understand them and they understand me, and for the most part we play well together. Noone teases you. We are served nice food and homemade cakes every day. Last time, we made a film and I played a grumpy old lady. That was fun. I get very sad when it is time to leave. Then I look forward to the next camp.

I often dream that I am in my own world. Sometimes I visit my grandmother. She lets me bathe in a bathtub. Then I dream of Greece. At my nan’s and granddad’s, there is a cupboard with candy for the children. That is nice. I would like to live in their little white house when I grow up.

The best thing about my cat Bamse is that he is so calm and peaceful. Bamse is almost my best friend. I find it more easy to understand cats than humans. I would like to run a cat pension when I grow up. But you can probably not support yourself on that. I look forward to getting old and to retire. Then I want to live in the countryside, in a white house, surrounded by cats. I will be home every day looking after all my cats.

Sometimes I wish I did not have autism. But I can still like myself the way I am. I wish others could like me just the way I am, as well. I so much wish that the others in my class could teach me to understand them. ”

My first thoughts after or while reading this book, was that life is not fair. That it is a very unfair thing to be born with, this thing called autism. Because us human beings are so dependent on other human beings. For our wellbeing. For companionship. In order to learn things. To feel safe. For everything really. We are flock animals. But these people who are born with autism, they are basically made to feel unwanted. They do not fit in since they do not know the human code and can’t fit in to the model we have built up for centuries and millenniums. They have to live and function in an alien world and spend their entire life, trying to understand US. Trying to copy us. And what says that we are right and they are wrong?

I felt sad when I read this book, since this is what my boys are struggling with and in many ways, are probably feeling, even though they do not have the IQ which Sofie has, to say so. I know that “Boo” has been bullied terribly at school for being so different. Neither of my three autistic children, I think, would be classified as having Asperger’s since none of them have really normal or higher than normal IQ. And all three of them have had language problems and still do. But Johannes does get fixated with one thing and can’t handle other things around him. “Gubby” has certain likes, but he can like several things at the same time so…

The one, who really needs to know what is going to happen and who gets distressed when he has to do new things or not planned things, is “Gubby”. At the same time, the worse which happens, is him flaxing about and doing his seal impersonation. And him showing us that he is distressed, by hugging us extra much and asking the same question over and over. “Boo” shows it by being naughty and hitting people. So he shows signs of this classic symptom as well, but more disguised, in an unacceptable mannerism. We need to get in to a routine of trying to prepare both boys for things, and not just “Gubby”.

“Boo” knows how to handle the remote control but does get very upset when he misses a program on TV. I have shown “Gubby” what to do a thousand of times, when the TV says it will shut itself down in 4 minutes, because I has been on the same channel too long. He gets equally stressed out every time and never remembers which remote control goes to which device and how to push the buttons.

When it comes to language, “Gubby” of course comes up with his own names for things, since he doesn’t remember the correct ones or did not know them in the first place. And he did not know the names of his classmates at daycare/pre-school. He did eventually learn the teachers’ names though, while for the first year or more, he called them all Eva, after his favourite teacher. The boys do not really use sentences from films and cartoons, but it can happen that “Gubby” does so. But not in a sentence or conversation really. Just because he likes to say this or that particular sentence. Like “Sniff my butt” from “Scooby Doo”. And mostly to himself, not to others. But I do laugh at some of his sayings and he wonders why. Like Sofie’s mother has to explain why she laughs at her daughter, I have to explain to “Gubby” every time I laugh. Some of the things are so clever or profound and then I laugh because he has beaten the world and showed that he has intelligence after all. And some things make me laugh because he looks so cute saying them or it sounds so cute coming from him or most of all, I laugh because he is the cutest thing there is and I laugh because I love him so very much and has just been reminded of that fact. He is the most precious child there is. I love him “to the moon and back”!

Sofie’s mum says that Sofie sometimes speaks like an adult, like she tries to chastise people or educate them and bossing them around. That is what “Boo” does and EVERYONE objects to it and gets angry with him for it. The book explains that Sofie does not even notice that she does this and I fear that “Boo” doesn’t know either. His voice even changes, to a deeper, scolding voice that is not that of a child.

Johannes just shut down the machinery when we asked him to do things. He could not handle more than one instruction at a time and needed to be told exactly what to do since he could not think by himself at all. No wonder the military told him at the recruiting office that he was an idiot and should get out of there. He can’t think for himself at all. “Boo” and “Gubby” both need simple instructions and one at a time. And like I try to tell people around them, do not use unnecessary words, only the words needed to instruct and get the job done. Even if it sounds robot like and goes against a normal person’s want and need for using  their full vocabulary. This goes for my child with ADHD as well. He needs the same sort of language and instructions! He also needs to be prepared in advance and routine and order.  In many ways, ADHD is just another form of autism! The similarities are too many to overlook.

When things got too much in school for Johannes or here at home, he just escaped in to his own nothing box. He shut down the machinery. “Boo” walks out and “Gubby” flaxes around. They all seem to find what works for them. Their own escape.

The facial expression and body language bit must be the most difficult for them all. For the most part, we humans do not say how we feel, we signal to each other with our bodies instead. One of the reasons being that it is not proper socially to reveal how you really feel. One of the things I hated about living in the US, was that I felt that people were so insincere. They asked me “hi, how are you doing?” but they did not really want to know how I was doing. If I started to say “I am having a tough day today or I feel sad”, they would grow impatient with me and show in their body language that they did not REALLY want to know how I was doing. It is just a salutation phrase that means nothing. In that respect I guess I am autistic in my thinking because I feel that you should not ask “how are you doing” if you are not interested in the person’s feelings or well-being. Find another salutation phrase instead. Salve! Greetings my friend! Pax vobiscum! You choose.

When Johannes came home from his mission in Germany, which had lasted 25 months, he was on collision course with everybody again. Nothing had changed. He asked me one day, “What am I doing wrong? How can I get along better with my siblings?” I tried to tell him that he must accept that a child behaves like a child. That he must allow them to be children. That they do make noise. That they do make a mess. That he had to try to see things their way and not just his own way. I was talking to a wall of course, which I had not understood by then. I had no idea that all he had shown me, all the behaviour I had seen since the day I first held him, fresh from my womb, was that of an autistic person. He can not read other people at all, he can only see the world from his own viewpoint, so all my advice was pointless. We ended up being scared of him and counting the days till he moved out. His selfish behaviour alienated us all and even though he tried to be more social and caring, after his move, it did not go very far. If nothing else, his eccentricities were fuelled away from family, who kept a check on them, I think. He can not read people at all now, nor follow the social codes. He is running his own race and he is too old to be told what to do, by his mother or father.

His brothers are in another situation entirely since we know what they have from an early age, and can work with them. “Gubby” laughs when someone falls or hurts themselves. It offends the hurt person, but it does not help to yell at him that he is being rude. According to books, he laughs because he thinks it looks funny. And he can not imagine what the other person feels. That is up to me as interpreter of social situations, to explain to him. I must explain the hurt, the person is feeling and draw parallels to himself, so he can understand. The same thing goes for “Boo”. That is why both boys need assistants in school and constant supervision when being around other human beings. They have to have a mediator, who also acts as an interpreter of the world around them, a world they do not understand, thanks to their brain damage. I have my job cut out for me, for the rest of my life time.

Facial expressions. Johannes have none except two, grumpy face and a smile now and then, but as a grown up he has grown long hair and beard in order to hide his face from the world. Everyone has always determined that he is angry. Always angry. But I do not think that he always was. On the other hand, I can understand that his mission companions did not want to walk around with him, but behind or in front of him. They did not understand him, nor his behaviour, and probably thought he was constantly angry about something. “Boo” is all smiles really. Too much smiles sometimes. And “Gubby” will imitate facial expressions from cartoons and minecraft, which confuses people. I have to tell both boys to alter their faces when the expression does not fit the occasion or when I see people getting restless by it.

I love satire and good jokes. But my boys understand none of it, so we all have to think carefully about what we say. They take everything literally and their sister E. who use irony in everything she says, has a lot to learn. Even if it goes against the way you usually speak to people, friends and family, you have to alter your speech when it comes to autistic brothers and people. Joking, as fun as it is for the person pulling the leg, is just out of the question. From you is expected the truth and nothing but the truth and told in a dry, boring manner. Be like God, don’t waste your words, only use as few or many as you really need.

These children and people do not change their mind. Not even when convinced that they are wrong. They ARE stubbornness itself. It is not just “Boo’s” red hair that does it. “Gubby” will listen to reason and might go along because he is left with no other alternative, but he will not change his mind about things . “Boo” will not even go along for the sake of it, nor did Johannes. In his case, we thought it was because he was born a Capricorn. Known for being stubborn. But it was more than a horoscope sign! Makes me wonder if my mum is autistic? Unreasonable stubbornness has always been her trademark. At the moment she refuses to move to an old people’s home, even though she is afraid of the dark, don’t go to bed but sleeps in an arm-chair and can’t take care of her hygiene at all. She needs care but refuses it. And all the years when we tried to tell her to change car, since her car was a regular money pit, a bucket with a big hole in it. She knew best and spent thousands after thousands on a car that should have been scrapped years before the mechanic ordered her to get rid of it. And what about this thing of living 380 kilometers from family, just because it is cheap to live in the house. Surrounded by strangers, that is better, than living closer to old friends and family? It scares me to think the thought, but I wonder if my mum has not been autistic all along. Perhaps not 100% but enough to make mine and her own life a hell.

I have always thought that “Gubby” did not mind that other children excluded him from their play and games. He seemed happy just doing his own thing and flaxing about. But the book says that she wanted to be part, but is ignored and that it hurts her. This last year, “”Gubby” has matured and has wanted to be part. He met me crying, the last two months of the school year, saying that he was not allowed to be part. And it has made my heart ache for him, because he is now becoming aware of that other children do not want to play with him. I did not want him to come to that realization. He was happy before when he did not know. But I understand them. He does not understand the rules of the game or the play. Same goes for “Boo”. Not welcome and him acting out destroying for the others, just like Johannes did. And the children ganging up on him just like they did with Johannes. Born outsiders. Never welcome. Unless one can find someone like oneself or someone younger to hang out with. That is what has worked for “Boo”. The younger children accepted him in school and now he is starting a grade lower than the one he was supposed to have been in. Autistic children, contrary to Asperger’s, are on a level younger than they really are. Question is always how far behind they are. “Gubby” turns seven this autumn but is on the level of a three-four-year-old.

Visiting the Waldorf school in June, was good for “Boo”, but showed that he can only get to know one person at a time and can only play with one person at a time as well. It was so clear to us all. His future teacher did say that the autistic boy she has taught before, was the same, but through his nine years with her, he did get better and better at including more people in to his life. Rome was not built-in one day, so there is hope out there.

In a way these children are mentally retarded when it comes to the social sense, which they lack. They constantly show poor judgement and when it comes to trusting other people, it gets really dangerous. Mean children have got “Boo” to do really stupid and mean and bad things, him not even understanding that it was wrong. There are always bad people out there, ready to prey on the lesser knowing. I do no know how to protect my children from this. Especially “Gubby” who thinks well of everyone. He gets devastated when he finds out that he has done something wrong and sadly I must say, that it is often “Boo” who has got him to do the thing in the first place, since he never is able to think up those things himself. He is like an innocent angel and I worry myself sick about people taking advantage of that. At the same time, I worry about “Boo”, because he can think up bad things himself and he can be told to do things by manipulating people, who can threaten him with things like “or you will not get to go to my Birthday party” or “you will not get any candy…”. People soon find out his weaknesses and use that.

“Boo” is very fair. He shares. Just like Sofie wants things done. And he also always misunderstand that he has been promised this and that. Wishful thinking would be most people’s reaction or thoughts. Selective hearing says others. Hearing what he wants to hear. Yes, I think so, because he can not see why there might be a no to some things. Even when one explains why not. Like I do not have the money. You can’t eat that because it will make you fat in the long run. No we do not have the time to go there. He explodes every time there is a no and says that his dad promised. And I can see why. Because his father has not learned the skill of speaking clearly to his children, so that there will be no misunderstandings. He was raised with clouded messages and his own mother misunderstood him so many times, it made me furious. He is too scared to be honest and lay down the law in clear, non-mistaken language. I am the opposite. There is no way to misunderstand my no or yes. I am a very clear language person. Sure it hurts some people’s feelings, but my father raised me to be that way.

Both boys will correct you and others if you do something wrong. “Gubby” has an eyesight like a hawk. He notices everything, nothing escapes him and he will point it out. No barriers there. But he does things in a cute way and not in an abrasive manner, the way “Boo” does it. He creates enemies, since he points out people’s wrongdoings in an accusative tone, which offend most. Especially adults who don’t like their shortcomings pointed out to them. They keep on forgetting that he is ONLY a child, and how to speak to a child, and they forget that he is autistic. He should not have to have a sign around his neck with the information.

The topic of the senses can not be ignored. My youngest sons do not have a ball quilt, but their brother with ADHD has a chain quilt, since he liked that better, than the noise from the balls, moving in the quilt. But his brothers are very sensitive to sound, light, touch of people and clothing. “Boo” is like Sofie in the book, he likes to be prepared for touch. If he is upset, he screams that it hurts and that you are trying to kill him, if you barely touch him. At the same time, he wants “Gubby” to be available for a hug at any time, and “Gubby” is restrictive with his hugs and how much he allows. If me and E. both ask for hugs at the same time, he will hug me and tell her that that is enough for now. So his affection can be rationed. Both boys love hugging and kissing though which is where they differ from Johannes who could not stand to be touched at all from day 1. With all these boys, I have had to be careful with what kind of clothes I have bought for them. Johannes not being able to feel temperature. Wearing long johns in summer. “Boo” going out without a jacket in the middle of winter, not understanding that this is not alright. And “Gubby” only liking certain fabrics and colours. I have had to buy expensive boxer shorts from “Polarn’ & Pyret” because he would not keep regular ones on, changing three-four times a day, trying to find a comfortable pair, complaining, pulling at them, walking weirdly… But clothes is just one chapter. “Gubby” will not eat fruit because of its consistency. He loves yoghurt, as long as it is smooth without pieces in it. Every morning since he was 5 months, he has had porridge with mango purée. That is what he still eats. Baby porridge and baby puréed mango. But at least he eats! And no lumps or grain to complain about. Smooth! I could go on and on, but will stop here.

Our house is cluttered. We lack storage space for most of our things. Today’s houses are not built for storing things. And when we go on holiday and rent a flat or house, “Gubby” wants to move there permanently. Because it lacks clutter. He loves his toys but is a minimalist at the same time. He likes order. At the same time, none of the boys can create that order themselves, but it has to be created for them. Sofie said that she collects little treasures and so does “Boo”. Both boys love bling. But “Gubby” does not really collect it. He is more in to a passion of trains and cars. He can’t have enough “Thomas the Tank Engine” trains and from what I have seen on YouTube, with him, there are plenty of adults on the American continent who have gone overboard in their “Thomas” enthusiasm. Living rooms full of it. He can not watch enough of those videos. Absolute heaven in his opinion.

I could talk of “Gubby’s” passion for animals next, but, I will just say that I know that both boys do not really understand that something is amiss with them. Both want to be loved for who they are, because they do not understand that they are different. And would it not be wonderful if everyone read a book like this, and understood that these children are not mean, they do not misbehave on purpose, that they can’t help that they are the way they are, and that people would come to the decision, that it is alright to be different and help, when help is needed, instead of chastising?



Comments Off on My Friday Book: “Can you understand me? My Life, My Thoughts, My Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome”

Filed under What's Up

My Friday Book: “Crampton Hodnet” described as Jane Austen but hardly even close

imageOpinionated, 70 year-old Miss Doggett, insists on giving teas to undergraduates at Oxford and dutifully they arrive, suffering through it and escaping as soon as they can. Suffering Miss Morrow, her paid companion, has to put up with every sort of verbal abuse, but what else is there for a 35-year-old spinster to do, with no fortune of her own?

The place of course livens up when the new curate comes to live with them. Used to have all women flocking about him, trying to catch him for a husband, the house is a welcome reprieve for him, in the beginning. Miss Doggett pampering him and Miss Morrow hardly noticing him at all, seeing through all the women and Mr. Latimer, as being ridiculous and false.

He is not the only ridiculous person in North Oxford. Miss Doggett’s nephew, Francis Cleveland, have taught literature for 25 years without altering his jokes or lectures at all. Now he is going through a midlife crisis and his young student Barbara Bird shows up right in time to boost his manly ego, making him feel young again. After all, what is wrong in that? His wife is no longer exciting and have a life of her own, not relying on him anymore, nor admiring him. And his daughter finds him equally ridiculous, being completely absorbed in falling in love with the students he brings home to dinner, ignoring the fact that her father wants to be worshipped.

After a long walk on a Sunday afternoon, Mr. Latimer misses evensong and when the vicar’s wife comes around to find out why he wasn’t present, Mr Latimer doesn’t tell her the truth, that he was out for a walk with Miss Morrow and they could not find a bus to take them back in time. He is embarrassed over the notion of having taken a walk with her and tells Mrs. Wardell a lie about having to bicycle out to a parish called Crampton Hodnet, to fill in for a vicar friend out there. He lives in mortification after that, that anyone will find out the truth and start thinking that he and Miss Morrow are an item. On the other hand, he feels that people talk too much about love in this place and that perhaps he should consider marriage to keep the women off his back. Some sensible woman his own age. Miss Morrow perhaps would not be such a bad choice after all?

He is not the only one caught in a lie and afraid of getting caught. Francis Cleveland is falling passionately in love with pretty Barbara and wants to show it in a physical way. This man is no longer a puppy, showering his beloved with 18th century poetry, which is what Barbara really wants out of this school crush. She wants to admire from a distance, have intellectual discussions about romantic poetry, nothing physical. So Francis passion really disappoints her.

On a particularly depressing spring evening, Jessica Morrow puts on her new leaf green dress, which she has not dared to use in case of Miss Doggett’s disapproval. The latter does highly disapprove of the dress but Mr. Latimer decides that he must propose that night, even though he has avoided speaking to Miss Morrow ever since their walk. With her usual sense and logic, Miss Morrow doesn’t even suspect what he is up to. After all, she does not have particularly high regards for him, but sees through all his falseness, which so impress all the other ladies. The proposal is not received the way he thought it would be received. When he suggests they escape the house together, she thinks he means going out to the pictures. When he says that it is a proposal, she suggests that he should have a glass of ovaltine before bedtime since he is obviously ill. She also tells him that marriage is a rather drastic escape from terrible lodgings, that respecting someone does not promise that you will come to love the person eventually, and regretting the marriage one day is as bad as a divorce. Mr. Latimer is shocked at her refusal. But what did he expect? She wanted love, not respect and esteem, she wanted to be happy not that they MIGHT become happy.

When Mr. Killigrew from the Bodleian, goes up to the British Museum, his mother’s suspicions are confirmed. He sees Francis Cleveland with Barbara Bird and he overhears their conversation, when Francis tells Barbara that he loves her and she confirms that she loves him. Barbara doesn’t dare to tell Francis that her love is the kind you do not act upon and she contemplates how to tell him that, on the train back to Oxford. Meanwhile Francis sits and contemplates divorce, remarriage and what life will be like in a small house, no money and having Barbara to care for all his needs. He will sort things, he tells himself, even though he always avoids nasty things and lets his wife Margaret deal with them. But she would not deal with this mess would she?

When Mrs Killigrew, invites all people who need to know about Francis Cleveland’s indiscretion, the news are received in various manners. Several people have testified to having seen them both hither and thither, hiding in bushes, being seen in public and so on. Everyone is raising an eyebrow. But the person who should have done something about things, thinks that it is all alright. Mr Freemantle, the Don of the college states to all of them that men must be allowed to cheat on their wives, he has done so many times. His poor wife is in shock. Miss Doggett goes home having decided that Mr. Latimer must talk to Francis, but Mr. Latimer is not interested in anything but himself so he refuses. He heads off to Paris instead. So Miss Doggett heads off to speak to Margaret Cleveland. As things turn out, Francis is present as well and while his wife had already heard rumours about him, she had not believed them. But now Francis declares his love for Barbara in front of both Margaret, Miss Morrow and Miss Doggett and then leaves.

Anthea Cleveland, who has been dating Lady Beddoes’ (widow of an ambassador), son Simon, has started worrying about their love. After the term was over, he has not been in contact. Her mother also feeling somewhat disillusioned, they both go up to London. Margaret to think and Anthea to try to find out where Simon is and why she has not heard from him. Francis can’t believe how cold his wife is, to just leave him instead of having an open confrontation. So he decides to first have a romantic punt on the river with Barbara and then head off to Paris with her. While he is excited, Barbara has to persuade herself that this is what she wants. But when they arrive in Dover, the last boat has left and they have to take in at a hotel. Sitting on the bed, Barbara panics and decides to flee the scene. And when the other hotel guests ask Francis where his daughter has disappeared to, he starts realizing how foolish he has acted. He starts driving home, but his car dies on the road. That is when Mr. Latimer appears in his car, coming from Paris.

Arriving at the Cleveland’s house, Anthea is in hysterics since Simon has written to her that he has fallen in love with someone else and is practically engaged. Miss Doggett is devastated since it had been such a good match for Anthea. Noone really takes notice of Francis, which makes him mad. And then Mr. Latimer exclaims that he is in love and practically engaged to Lord Pimlico’s youngest daughter Pamela, 19 years old and just out of finishing school in Switzerland, having met her in a cathedral in Paris. Noone raises an eyebrow even though he is 16 years older than the girl!

When the new school term starts, Margaret is back to pampering her husband as usual. Anthea has found a new young man to go out with, Simon’s best friend Christopher. Miss Doggett is planning new tea parties for bored students. Mr. Latimer is spending all his time in London with Pamela. And Miss Morrow continues being the grey little mouse she has always been.

To compare this book to Jane Austen is an outright insult. It has nothing of her quality, nor any of the witty dialogue which Austen has become famous for and this book is more of a parody of the middle classes of the late 1930s, than a social observation, like all of Jane Austen’s works are. While she has become a classic and never out of print, Barbara Pym’s novel is dated. There is no way about it. It would make a moderately fun film or theatre play, but noone would really laugh out loud. It’s more of a smirk novel. A tiny bit cozy but more of an irritation really at some of the characters’  flaws and bad ways. It’s an alright read compared to some trash things published today by modern authors, but unless I am given some of Pym’s novels for free to read, she is not an author I will return to. Except, I do have her biography based on her diaries and letters, and THAT I think I might enjoy because I suspect she herself was a much more interesting person than her novels are. Especially since she served in th WRNS during the war.

Comments Off on My Friday Book: “Crampton Hodnet” described as Jane Austen but hardly even close

Filed under What's Up

My Friday Book: How a woman lives an entire life in fear of discovery: “My Name is not Miriam”

My name is not Miriam

My name is not Miriam

My book club, had this one in their magazine, soon after publication and at first, I was interested but not enough to go and borrow it at the library. Then two weeks ago, I had my nails fixed and the woman who does them said “You who read so much. I just had a book recommended to me called something like ‘my name is… I forgot the name!”. I told her “It is called My Name is Not Miriam”. I decided to go and put myself up in queue for it after all. It was a fairly quick read even though it covers over 400 pages. Was it good? Well, it depends. Would I recommend it to others? I don’t know. Depends if the person knows anything about the Holocaust or not really. It is good to a have a good dose of pre-knowledge. That said, the author has done a lot of research for her novel but as she leaves a lot out, you need to fill in the gaps yourself.

My first problem with the book is that it leaves a sour taste in your mouth, not because of the topic, but because of the point in time, that it is appearing. The Roma or Gypsy beggars are becoming an increasing problem in this country, people resenting them more and more as they flood over our borders. 3400 this year! But I really doubt the authorities really know how many are here. Since one fat Roma woman is driven out to our village every day, it means that there are more than they think. If you can start flooding villages, after already having flooded towns, then it is bad. And to write a novel like this one, to make us feel sorry for the Roma, is not entirely kosher in my book, as they say in the US. It is not going to create compassion or sympathy for the people of Romania, that has chosen to come here only to beg and pollute, doing nothing to contribute. Because there is a difference between them and the novel’s Miriam.

My second problem with the book, is the way it is written. Jumping back and forth in time, between 2013, 1948, 1944 and with glimpses of the time before that. One paragraph can be in one decade, another one, in another decade, and I really like order and also to know how old a person is at said times. I need a sense of time and I think this way of writing has become a cheap trick by authors, to make their books more interesting. But in my view it really does not make them more interesting. If the story can not be told in a more organized manner, then there is something missing.

My third problem is that I get bored with Miriam and her fear of being discovered. It gets to become like listening to a scratched record. And at the end of the book, I sat and felt like a question mark, since at that point, it felt like a pointless book! So when I rated it on Shelfari, I could not give it more than three stars. I am not going to say it is a bad book, but it is not great either.

While Majgull Axelsson’s books apparently have been translated in to several other languages, I haven’t got a clue if this one will be, so in case it doesn’t, here is the storyline (and to make it easier for the reader of this post I WILL TRY to write things chronologically, except for the beginning):

It is 2013 and Miriam is turning 85. Her husband has been dead for several years, probably over a decade. The beginning of the book is so confusing, with her doing and thinking insane things, so you sort of lose the time frame and forget to pay attention. But this day, Midsummer’s Eve, she is waiting for her family to celebrate her, some of them living in the same house as is tradition in the family. As usual, they treat her to breakfast in bed and a gift, which her stepson’s daughter Camilla has chosen. A Gypsy bracelet which brings back such strong memories to Miriam, that she  suddenly tells her family that her name is not Miriam. After taking a shower, she scolds herself, telling herself that she must never let the truth slip out again. That she must stop dwelling on the two years she spent in the orphanage and the two and a half years she spent in the concentration camps. That she must focus on the other 68 years when she has been happy. (But has she?) She must not even let people know that her birth date of 21 June 1928, is an invented one, that she has no idea when she was born. She must not let anyone find out that she pretended to be Jewish when she arrived to Sweden and that she had no idea what that faith involved, when she decided to “convert” to Protestantism, in order to be able to marry Olof in the church and not in a civil ceremony, and subsequently becoming an agnostic, like her husband and his parents before him. This is how things are thrown out all over the book. You look in to the truth, the past, the lies, and wait for the author to come back to the events in more detail. Sometimes she does, sometimes she does not.

Yesterday, there was a debate on TV, saying that a party leader had committed a great sin by calling the Roma people Gypsies, since a couple of years ago, it was determined that that name for them, is degrading. Honestly, I have no idea what all the fuss is about. So, the Gypsies want to be called Roma. I don’t want to be called a Mormon, but noone cares about what I want. And through this book, the author goes back and forth calling them Roma and Gypsies, so I might as well just call them Gypsies. The major part of the book is set before the decision on the name Roma, so…

Who are the major players then? Miriam Goldberg or Malika without a surname. Thomas her step-son. Camilla her step-granddaughter. Side characters in the home 2013, is Thomas’ wife Katarina who is neurotic. Afraid of everything. Her husband resents her. Early on in the book, you find out that the only time she is happy is when she is taking care of her grandchild Sixten. “Noone must know how angry she really is, how sick and tired she is of her husband, how tired she is of her daughter and how she hates her mother-in-law upstairs. Noone must find out how she really wishes for them to all disappear, the entire bunch. Because she has no options. She is her husband’s dentist nurse, she lives in his house, she has no relatives and no money of her own. In other words she is forced to wait on everyone in this house, till the day she dies…”. She enters the book in the beginning and at the end, as just a sad, sad character. And Sixten does not really appear much more. Only being two years old, shuffled between his two parents, who no longer are a couple. His mother Camilla is not that important for the story either, come to think of it. But at the same time, she has an important function to fill in the book, since Miriam has to tell part of her story to someone:

Camilla and Miriam have a very strange relationship. They don’t disclose anything to each other, really, always holding something back. On Miriam’s Birthday, Camilla asks Miriam to go for a walk in the park with her and the two set off. This is when the book really takes off. The first thing which happens as they get outside, is that Kaiser, the German shepherd belonging to her neighbour, starts barking as usual and Miriam gets so tense, that Camilla notices. She asks her so-called grandmother if she is afraid of dogs and Miriam answers, “no just of German Shepherds, since they were used in the camps”. Camilla decides to suddenly give a confidence and tells her that she has failed an exam and that she had a strange episode on the underground one day in Stockholm, where these football hooligans, who are of course losers, became very powerful as a group and they knew that and that the police were scared of them. Miriam told her that one should always stay away from young men in a group. Not anything that made sense to Camilla, at that point, nor myself.

Camilla then wants to know more about Miriam’s camp experience and Miriam says she doesn’t really want to talk about it, that she has been scared ever since the war, even though she has been physically safe. For some reason she tells Camilla that Nässjö used to have another refugee from the camps too, who one day came home to her, thinking she had seen SS men in a black car. The poor woman was mad and had been institutionalised after that. Camilla wants to know why that Krystyna went mad, and not Miriam. Miriam says she thinks that it might have been because of the experiments made on the Polish political prisoners. Them being cut in their legs and then injected with something in the cuts. Krystyna had gone through those experiments. Miriam also mentions how she met the candy doctor in Auschwitz, Dr. Mengele. Camilla wonders why she called him that and she tells her that he walked around and gave the Gypsy children candy, in the Gypsy camp, because he liked them. Now she really has opened a can of worms. How does Miriam know what went on in that camp, asks Camilla and Miriam answers that she was in that camp.

How could she be? Finally Miriam, in a bitter voice, tells Camilla that she is a Gypsy and that she had to pretend to be Jewish when she came to Sweden, since Gypsies were not allowed to enter Sweden until 1954. Camilla is shocked and even worse so when she hears the reason why Miriam took the Jewish girl Miriam Goldberg’s dress on the train from Auschwitz: Because she wanted to be a complete corpse. She had not wanted to throw herself on the electric fence in Auschwitz, since when they pulled you off from there, the fingers remained on the wire, all black. Likewise, she did not want to be beaten to death, since then her corpse would be broken… She really had not tried to survive, since she had lost her little brother Didi and her cousin Anuscha, the only family she had. She just had this idea of not wanting to be an incomplete corpse or an ugly one.

For hours, she and Camilla walk in the park, and what she actually discloses to Camilla is not clear, but she starts thinking about her family. How her grandfather never thought anything would happen to them because he had a permanent living, actually two houses, one kilometer outside the village, somewhere in Germany. So what if the courtyard was full of caravans belonging to visiting relatives, he had been a German soldier once, so surely they were all safe! They were till the day when Malika, as her Gypsy name was, her little brother Didi and her cousin Anuscha, were fetched by uniformed people. 14-22 gypsy kids were fetched from her grandfather’s place that day, all screaming, being dragged from their parents, to be raised by proper people.

At that point of time, Himmler was convinced that Gypsies were the original Aryans. And the nuns at the orphanage were considered better qualified for raising Gypsy children, than their parents. Malika was no ordinary Gypsy child though, but was called Mischlinge. Mixed breed, which is what they also called Jews with mixed parentage. Her dead mother was not a Gypsy in other words.  Malika did not really mind the orphanage, considering it way better than home, since she no longer was forced to do laundry, cook and boil coffee, all day long. Instead, she actually got to go to school and to learn how to read and write. Something which partly saved her life. There was also order around them, which she appreciated. But it did not last. One day, they were told that they were going to be sent away from the bombs, to another orphanage, which was safer. Himmler having changed his mind about Gypsies being Aryans. She, Didi and her cousin Anuscha climbed off the train in Auschwitz, all confused. Malika and Didi did as they were told, but Anuscha, who had been afraid from day one in the orphanage, suddenly refused to do as she was told, refused to get undressed in front of the SS-men and the naked gypsy boys. They all got showered, including Anuscha’s dead, but dressed body, on the floor. The SS had shot her for disobedience. What then met them, after the tattooing, was a world of horror. Two small children in the Gypsy camp, where all families stayed together, and noone took them in, since they were not family.

Dr. Mengele gave orders for her to be in the group digging ditches. Jews were marched by every day and never coming back, the Gypsy camp being right by the gas chambers, them taking everything in. Every day, Didi waited for her by the gate, getting thinner and thinner, then he got diarrhoea and he started to complain about a pain in the mouth. Soon he had a hole through his cheek which showed the teeth and gum through it. The disease being called Noma. That is when Mengele gave orders for the Noma children to receive milk for breakfast, margarine for the bread, fruit as a snack and three slices of ham per week. All the Noma children started to get well and got back the will to live. Then Mengele started phase three and all the extra food was withdrawn again, right when the sores and holes had almost healed. Within weeks Didi died, his entire face having been eaten up, by the mouth gangrene caused by starvation.

When Malika was loaded on to the train which would take the women to Ravensbrück in July 1944, her little brother Didi had been dead for six days. She had saved a piece of old bread for the journey , which she had no idea how long it would last. Standing on a ledger in the cattle car, she pinched off a piece of the bread in her pocket and put it in her mouth. A Czechoslovakian woman saw her chewing and started screaming that Malika had stolen the bread from her, being a Gypsy. Even though the woman stood many meters away from her, them standing packed like sardines so that no movement had been possible, all the women came to behave like animals, not thinking logically, pulling her down from the little ledger she was standing on, ripping her dress to pieces and beating her. When they arrived in Ravensbrück, she knew she would be punished for the ripped dress, so she stole a dress from one of the 13 dead women, on the floor. When she stepped out of the cattle car, she realized that the dress had a Jewish star on it. The dead woman’s number, 389, matched Malika’s middle numbers, on her arm. One young woman discovered that Malika was a Gypsy wearing her friend Miriam’s dress, but told Malika, “You are now Miriam Goldberg, and don’t think they will go easier on you because they hate us more than the Gypsies”.

By now, Ravensbrück was collapsing. The card file system did not work any longer, too many prisoners arrived every day and the SS did their best to get rid of them, by sending them to weapons and ammunition factories, as well as to often bombed building sites. Food had become really scarce of course, with too many prisoners, and more and more died of starvation and disease. But when Miriam stood waiting for lunch, for the first time after being quarantined, she was impressed, since they got a piece of sausage and a piece of bread, with no sawdust in it, some artificial marmalade and margarine, plus coffee made from beats. The woman dividing it between 16 people, introduced herself as Else Nielsen, political prisoner. Else asked her if she knew how to read and she said yes. Where did she learn that? In a convent. Else said that she was lying, because convents in Germany did not take in Jews, and she wanted to know the truth. She never did find out though.

Miriam had spent the days in quarantine scratching hard at her number, to get the Z away from before her number, in order to get exactly the same number as Miriam Goldberg. Nothing more indicating that she once was a Gypsy or Zigauner. Else decided to take her under her wings, even though Miriam didn’t reveal the truth. Else helped her to get a good bed and enough sleep, making sure that she cleaned herself in the morning, like a mother would, and finally she made Miriam stand in a safe spot during the morning roll call. Sadist Kapo Irma Lunz, who obviously had a screw loose, beat a young girl to death, because one girl was missing, during the first morning roll call, which showed Miriam exactly what a dangerous place this still was. The missing girl had been selected for war-factory work the previous day, which was why she was missing, but noone could tell the Kapo this without being beaten to death. Irma Lunz was an absurd character of her own, chubby, wearing lipstick, summer dresses instead of prison outfit, black socks and brown shoes which fit. She swore and behaved abominably, which shocked more than one woman in the camp.

Else also managed to get Miriam a job in the sewing factory, where they were safe from bombings, since it was situated inside the camp. Miriam learned quickly how to sew and did a good job, but Else could not do a thing right as far as sewing went, but since she spoke four languages, she got to stay and translate and carry out supplies to the sewing inmates. She spoke Norwegian, French, Russian and German. Miriam was happy with all of Else’s attention, till she received competition from Else’s friend Lykke, who arrived back from detention one evening together with another starved Norwegian, Marie. At the same time as they arrived, Else also broke Miriam’s heart, after a gypsy girl got attacked having stolen an onion and Else having snidely said “Well, everyone knows what Gypsies are like…”. Miriam realized at that point that she was truly alone. Not just because she had no family among the Gypsies anymore. Also because she was falsely pretending to be a Jew. She started getting really depressed because of what Else had said, but Lykke and Marie noticed her changed attitude towards Else, and told her that she must live and keep happy for Else’s sake. It turned out that Else had got stronger because of Miriam, having someone to look after, instead of her own daughter Åse, who was hidden somewhere in Norway. Her husband having been Jewish, he had been sent straight from Norway to Auschwitz, and Else feared he must be dead. Miriam realized after Lykke’s and Marie’s disclosures that she had to stop thinking about Malika, about being a Gypsy and just get on with being Jewish Miriam and act like Else’s daughter Åse. She never stopped thinking about it though! Never!

Disaster then struck when Norwegian Bente received a package from home. Her family had sent her a pretty apron and while seasoned Else told her not to wear it, since it would create envy in the sewing factory, Bente decided to wear it anyway. She left the factory that day, all beaten up and someone had ripped off the pocket, frills and ties on the apron. The camp was overfull and there were tons of new guards that day. Lykke and Miriam had to carry Bente back to their barracks between them, while Else walked in front, telling them where it was safe to walk. But they still got stopped, ordered to drop Bente, and the three had to go outside the camp, to help raise a tent, for the surplus prisoners. The hungry women out there failed, over and over again, to get the tent up and Else got beaten up for it. They got one hour of sleep that night and when they woke up, Bente was dead and Else’s spirit was all broken, as was her front tooth.

When Lykke and Miriam tried to keep an eye on the depressed Else in the factory, Lykke managed to sew things wrong and Miriam got so panicked when it was discovered, that she accidentally sewed herself in the finger. She got beaten up and put in the punishment block for sabotage on SS-uniforms. She got to share cell with ultra-thin Sylvianne from France, who had been in there for two weeks, let out for a couple of days, and now was back for no reason at all. During the first inspection, Binz, a terrible guard,  told Sylvianne that she didn’t have to be sent to Auschwitz for sonderbehandlung, that she had been chosen to get special treatment in Ravensbrück. Sylvianne didn’t want to be the first to be gassed in this camp, so she started starving herself, and there was nothing Miriam could do. After Miriam had received her 25 lashings, she got thrown out of the punishment block, in to a strangely darkened camp. The bombings had left the camp without electricity for days at a time, which meant rest for the increasingly sick population. When Miriam finally located the barrack in the dark, Else was one of the ones with fever. Then suddenly one day, Red Cross buses arrived with care packages for almost everyone. Miriam grabbed one for herself and one for Else, but Else had very few hours left to live. In the morning, after the treat of chocolate, fatty cheese, crackers etc. she died.

After that Miriam spent a while being unconscious till she was woken by Lykke one day, standing wearing a real coat, screaming to her that she must get up because it was their last chance of getting out of there. Marie showed up from nowhere and Lykke and she carried Miriam between them, clad in a nice coat as well. They told her that when they got to roll call, the Red Cross would be there and she must stand on her own and look healthy, even though she now had caught Else’s typhoid. Lykke and Marie somehow managed to get her on board the transport to Denmark and someone gave Lykke medicine to give Miriam. Miriam was brought to a Swedish hospital after that, till she was well again, and then she was sent on another train with Jewish women, who could not understand why she didn’t understand Yiddish. They were all on their way to the small town of Aneby. The arrival became traumatic for them since the entire community went out to see the refugees arriving, including the men in their brown uniforms, from Swedish Steelwool or SS. The women from Ravensbrück assumed they were to enter a new camp, seeing the uniforms with SS written on them.

They were all put in the concert house of Aneby. The Jewish women were having nightmares, they were bored, angry, behaved poorly but Miriam had a plan. She was not going to behave like them. Instead she set out to make a good impression on everyone, doing everything to melt in, learning Swedish, copying facial expressions from the Red Cross nurses and so forth. Noone must ever know she was living a lie and that she was a Gypsy. Concert pianist Jozefa talked to her one day and told her exactly what she felt about Gypsies, which made Miriam stay as far away from the other women as possible, who were all Polish Jews. She stayed with the Red Cross sisters in the kitchens instead, learning more Swedish, since contrary to the others, Sweden was were she wanted to stay. After the four weeks in quarantine, the refugees were finally allowed to move around more freely and Hanna Adolfsson from the Red Cross committee, showed up to make a registry. She was so impressed by Miriam, who was learning Swedish very quickly and who claimed that she had no relatives. Miriam had concocted up a nice story for herself, having been born in Berlin, grown up in München and whose family was taken to the Polish ghettos, while she went to Auswhitz and Ravensbrück, her father Josef dying in a transport. All of it except the camps being a big lie.

Hanna was a teacher of German and English, at a girls’ school in Jönköping and also worked for the Red Cross. The reason why Hanna took Miriam in, was that she thought that Miriam was a Jewish girl from a good family. To Miriam, Hanna, became everything. Hanna, unknowingly, became the model for everything not Gypsy. For one, she became Miriam’s style icon. When Miriam’s hair had finally grown out, she had shaped her bangs to a 6 with sugar, and Hanna told her how vulgar it looked, making her look like a Gypsy. Miriam never did that mistake again! Hanna was also the one who told her to always wear blue, because the blue colour is never wrong and stylish. But Hanna, was also her first employer, whose maid she became for two years. Like Hanna said, it was an opportunity for her to learn manners and etiquette, which should have been her mother’s job to teach her.

Miriam continued being petrified two years after arriving to Hanna’s. She studied as what was called a privatist, at Hanna’s school, to catch up on other peer’s education. (Only the rich getting to study, back in those days!) She tried to behave like the lady Hanna wanted her to be. But still she was scared of people finding out somehow, who she really was and sending her back to a destroyed Germany, to be hunted, hated and despised again. It didn’t help when Hanna went on vacation for a couple of days and Miriam experienced a traumatizing event, when she dutifully went out to buy milk for herself. A group of young men stopped her on the street, while trying to catch a “traveller” and the lady in the milk shop made fun of her German accent. She returned home and looked in Hanna’s encyclopedia under the letters T (Traveller), G (Gypsy) and J (Jew) and what she learned made her mad. The Gypsies were not allowed to enter Sweden, not even the ones who had escaped the gas chambers. A couple of days later, she heard of the uprising which had occurred in the town, and walked down to the area herself, to see if it was true. A team of vigilantes, were still going  after travellers and when they saw her dark skin and black hair, she got chased by them, she tripped on Hanna’s dog’s leash, and while laying down, five young men kicked her all over. She found out that day that Sweden and Småland was no paradise after all, that it was almost as bad as in Germany. She never told anyone what happened to her that day though. Just stored the experience, getting more convinced that she must continue lying.

At that time in 1948, she had also got better acquainted with Hanna’s brother Olof, 10 years younger than his sister. He was a dentist living far away from “dangerous” Jönköping, in little Nässjö. He never paid any attention to her really, but was told to keep an eye on her, when Hanna was on her vacation, which he gladly did, since he had his wife ill with toxemia, in the hospital anyway. It did not end well though, since his wife Marianne died after giving birth to Thomas, hers and Olof’s son. That death affected Miriam in a big way, since ten days later, Hanna and Miriam took the baby home to Hanna’s flat, because Olof would not have anything to do with him, deeply mourning the loss of his wife. Six weeks later, Hanna took Miriam and baby Thomas, to Nässjö, where Olof lived, for Miriam to be Olof’s house keeper and Thomas nanny. Olof did not want to think about the past and did not want to deal with his son. He tried to escape it all and expected that Miriam, who had been through so much, would not want to talk about her past either. So they stayed silent and went about their lives, till he four years later, saw her in a beautiful turquoise dress, made for her by a seamstress, for Olof’s new brother-in-law’s 60th Birthday do. He fell in love with her. But he still spent the rest of his life running away from himself by travelling further and further away on their vacations. Going to Italy, the Canary Islands and Mallorca in the 1950s and Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, India, Thailand and Mexico after that. He wanted to visit all countries except Poland and Germany, since he did not want Miriam to be reminded of her past. But that was not all. He would not let her have a child either, not wanting to lose her in child-birth as well, and she really did not mind, after not being able to save Didi. She became the doting mother of Thomas instead, spoiling him rotten. Nässjö became her little safe haven where she could hide with her enormous lie, but also hiding her personality, as well as all her desires and dreams, knowing that if Olof ever found out the truth, he would have her thrown out of the country. So silently, she waited on him hand and foot, just like Katarina. Did she love Olof? One never finds out.

How did it all end then? Olof never found out the truth, dying from Alzheimer’s. Thomas did not really find anything out either, at the end of the day. All he said when she got home from her’s and Camilla’s walk, was that he had known all his life that she was hiding something. That for years, he had looked in her things to find a clue as to what was going on, why her face was always full of fear and something else. And Miriam continued being scared of being found out but having accepted that she is both Malika and Miriam. The book really leaves you sort of empty. None of the characters are happy and are all living their own lies!


Comments Off on My Friday Book: How a woman lives an entire life in fear of discovery: “My Name is not Miriam”

Filed under What's Up