Here comes a first little taste of Darkday, an animated graphic novel I am working on in collaboratiton with graphic designer and art director Jonas Strandberg Ringh.
Darkday is a story about guilt, dreams of a better life and the way we bend reality in order to justify and live with our actions. It is a dark tale about love, identity and the importance of always wearing a polo-neck sweater right after a head-transplant.

The book Treehouse boy that was the result of a project with 22 Swedish eight year-olds has now been published in the Czech Republic. I have not been in touch with the publishing house myself, but have heard that the translation is excellent.

And take a look at the beautiful new cover:

 

treehouse chech

Just finished the second draft of a new picture book called When we had fruit that I am writing in collaboration with the wonderful Adelaide-based illustrator Danny Snell. The book is a more positive take on Kafka’s the Metamorphosis and starts when young Isabella one morning notices that a plant is growing out from between her shoulder blades.

chair_01_Rmirror_01_Rold_ladies_01_R

 

Sitting in Australia, writing in Swedish is a funny way to make a living. Especially as not one of my books so far has been translated into English. Consequently people here could easily believe I am just making this whole writing-thing up. I mean, they cannot read what I am writing, so how on earth would they know if I am telling the truth or not. (Even though pretending to be a writer seems like a very writer thing to do, and something Paul Auster surely must have written at least one book about.)

As an example, the woman who works in the café where I am sitting this morning (who just referred to me as “Dostojevskij”) suggested that I could just as well be a mass-murder who uses the writer-cover as a front to move freely around town (which of course also would be a very writer thing to do).

Anyway, here is hoping that things might change, as the latest issue of the wonderful Swedish Book Review (whose main aim is to present Swedish literature to the English-speaking world) contains a really great review of Herr Isakowitz’ Treasure.

Those of you who are still unsure whether I really am a writer or if I am just planning my next heinous crime can read the review here (Even though I certainly could have built the web site myself and written a fake review under a pseudonym to avoid unnecessary suspicion. A precaution that incidentally also would be a very writer thing to do.)

 

 

 

 

Herr Isakowitz’ Treasure has long ago taken on a life of its own. Today the book is being released in Italy and France, as Il tesoro del signor Isakowitz and Le trésor de M. Isakowitz.

Happy travels book.

 

omslag

 

Back in Adelaide after a wonderful writer’s festival in Reykjavik. As a writer it was so inspiring to be in a place where the arts still seem to have an important role to play. Where people buy more books per person than anywhere else in the world and where everyone you encounter, it seems, play in at least one band.

The festival was great as well, with a number of very interesting visiting writers and publishers from around the globe, as well as some great Icelandic authors. During my time there I picked up and read The Indian by former Reykjavik mayor Jon Gnarr (a book that took me right back to my own childhood) and the sharp dystopian LoveStar by Andri Snaer Magnason.

Next up is From the mouth of the whale by Sjón.

The festival recorded all the book talks (among them my discussion with Timur Vermes). You can see them here.

Two more weeks in Adelaide and then it is time to pack the bags and head off to the Reykjavik Literary Festival. Among others I will talk World War 2 and the role of satire when writing about sensitive topics with Timur Vermes, author of “Look who’s back” – a novel about how Adolf Hitler wakes up in Berlin in 2011 (and starts a very successful youtube-channel).

The festival has managed to pull together a great line-up of writers. Apart from Vermes talks will be held by, among others, David Mitchell, Dave Eggers, Stine Pilgaard and Teju Cole.

I have always wanted to visit Iceland, so attending this festival will be a real treat.

Here is some more info about my talk with Vermes

 

 

Yesterday I received an email from my grandfather’s younger brother Georg in Argentina who is one of the people I write about in ”Herr Isakowitz Treasure”

I met Georg for the first time four years ago, when he came to Sweden. He made a great impression on me. Not only because he still had such a joy for life and was happy to travel the world at 91 years of age, but also because in spite of all the hardship he had gone through he somehow had managed to stay warm and kind.

Georg certainly had had a tough life. He first attempted to leave Germany at the age of 15, after having had his fingers smashed by the Hitler Jugend on stage during a piano concert, but ended up in a prison in Hamburg where he was severely beaten and abused.

After a year a friend of the family who was a lawyer managed to get him out of prison. Georg was told that he could not go home, as he would be taken straight to concentration camp. The only option was to leave the country. The lawyer helped to hide the young Georg at a friend’s house and the next day he left on a ship to Buenos Aires. As he had no Visa and came to Argentina illegally he was put in prison when he arrived and was to be sent back to Germany. However after some time in the cell he got very sick, fainted and was sent to a hospital. And the moment he woke up he got up and left.

Georg spent the next few days sleeping in parks, dodging the police and being scared of being caught and sent back to Germany. But he was lucky and bumped in to some Gauchos who took him under their wings and he went with these poor people – people who shared what little they had with him – to the countryside to work.

He worked for a number of years on the lands. Did hard manual labour and slept among the dogs and horses to keep warm. And slowly, through hard work and lucky coincidences, ha managed to build up a decent life for himself in Argentina.

Some 65 years later the city of Berlin contacted him to offer him an honorary citizenship. His first reaction was to say no, but curiosity got the better of him and at the age of 89 he returned to Germany and found, to his joy and surprise, a country where he felt welcome and where many of the young people wanted to hear of what he had been through. For a number of years he spent half his life in Buenos Aires and half in Berlin, but this year, at the age of 95, he finally decided that his travelling life had come to and end.

Being the only one who is left of all the people in the family who fled Germany during the Holocaust, Georg’s opinion of what I have written naturally is very important to me. So when yesterday I received his letter saying he now had read the German version of the book (who came out last month) and that he really appreciated the way it told the story of our family I felt so happy. As for me, getting his acceptance is worth so much more than any review.

At the end of his letter he writes these words about what happened to him and my grandfather, two brothers who came out through a horrible trauma in very different emotional conditions. One with his appreciation of life still intact and one a broken man.

“The Nazis stole our youth, the best time of our lives.  We all tried to make the best of the situation, some succeeding better than others.  Take care of your youth. It is the best thing of all, and it doesn’t come back”

Yesterday “Der Schatz des Herrn Isakowitz” came out in Germany (published by Eichborn). As all of my grandparents were German Jews, and a large part of the book is set in pre-war Germany it will be very interesting to see what the German readers think of the book.

Reviews are already starting to come in. Here is one that appeared in the German version of People magazine accompanied by a short article.

people

At a book talk a while ago I was asked by a journalist how you know when it is time to pack your bags and leave. The context was the re-surfacing Anti-Semitism and the fast growing support for right-wing xenophobic political parties that could be observed in many places around Europe.

As I did not know how to answer, I told the journalist the story of my grandfather’s sister-in-law Ruth who grew up as one of five children in a well-to-do leafy suburb of Berlin. The family lived what must have been a good life. They had a big house with maids, went on nice holidays and had many friends, Jewish as well as non-Jewish. Having been in the country for generations, they saw themselves as nothing but Germans.

Maybe that is why no one in the family but Ruth took the growing Anti-Semitism of the 1920s seriously. Not her mother, not her older siblings and not her uncles and their families. She was the only one who thought that this was not a country you could live in as a Jew, and as an eleven year-old she asked her mother if she could join a Zionist organisation that had emigration to Palestine as its goal. The whole family thought the girl was completely mad. No one else was even close to being a Zionist. They were Germans and this was their home.

Even when Hitler came to power and the first anti-Jewish laws were introduced they simply could not believe that this silly little girl wanted to leave. These bad times, they told Ruth, would not last for long. So much hate and evil could not exist in the hearts of men. No, Hitler would soon be gone. And, they added, if he didn’t and things ended up getting even worse they still would not leave until it was absolutely necessary – with the last train that left the station.

Ruth did not listen to them, and when she no longer was allowed to go to school she joined a Zionist movement and started working the lands to prepare herself for a life in British Palestine. The Brits, who wanted the area turned into farmland, had promised to give out visas to those who hade the skills necessary to make this happen, and as a consequence Ruth and many other would-be academics left the cities and lived as farmers in Kibbutz-like dwellings in the German countryside. This was how she met her husband Heinz and his brother Ernst, my grandfather.

Four years they worked their way around the countryside without getting a visa and then, on the Night of Broken Glass, Gestapo came and smashed up their house and took all the men to Dachau concentration camp.

But they were in luck. Through fortunate coincidences and more than a little gutsiness Ruth succeeded in getting all of them temporary work permits to Sweden, and thus managed to get them out in time.

Her uncles and their families, all those people who said they would not leave until it was absolutely necessary, were not as lucky. Sure, they did end up taking that last train out, but it did not take them to freedom but to their deaths.

So how do you know when it is time to pack your bags and leave?
I have absolutely no idea. Nor do I understand how come the only one who got it right the last time things went straight to hell was a silly little eleven year-old girl.

Do you?