She was best known for creating the mischievous, red-haired, braided-pigtailed character known as Pippi Longstocking, but before Swedish author Astrid Lindgren wrote her beloved Pippi books, she penned a tale of a very different sort: 17 volumes of diaries recording her experience, as a wife and mother, enduring the horrors of World War II.
Thanks to Lindgren's daughter, that unique account of the war has been published in Scandinavia for the first time.
"Krigsdagböcker," or "War Diaries," documents Lindgren's experience of the war and its effect on her family and two young children from September 1 1939 to the war's end in 1945.
“The family has always known about her diaries. We have always thought, what a pity it was that we couldn’t show them to more people, but we considered it impossible on account of their cumbersome size. At last we decided that her notes without the cuttings are interesting enough to publish. They make a coherent story,” Lindgren’s daughter, Karin Nyman, told the UK's Guardian.
“They make fascinating reading, these records of happenings in a neutral, non-belligerent country, squeezed in between Hitler- or Stalin-attacked or occupied countries. Spared, but often in anguish,” Nyman added. “It seemed timely [to publish this year], 70 years after the peace of 1945.”
According to the Guardian, it took a team two years to turn the 17 handwritten volumes into the published book, which includes facsimile images of the pages, press cuttings, and unpublished family photographs from the war years.
"Oh! War broke out today. Nobody could believe it,” writes Lindgren on September 1, 1939. “Yesterday afternoon, Elsa Gullander and I were in Vasa park with the children running and playing around us and we sat there giving Hitler a nice, cosy telling off and agreed that there definitely wasn’t going to be a war – and now today! The Germans bombarded several Polish cities early this morning and are forging their way into Poland from all directions. I have managed to restrain myself from any hoarding until now, but today I laid in a little cocoa, a little tea, a small amount of soap and a few other things.”
A “terrible despondency” is “weighing on everything and everyone”, she goes on. “The radio churns out news reports all day long. Lots of our men liable for military service are being called up. A ban has been imposed on private motoring. God help our poor planet in the grip of this madness!”
Six years later, on May 7, 1945, she is exultant: “The war is over! The war is over! The war is over!” describing the “wild sense of jubilation” on the streets of Stockholm, where “everyone’s behaving as if they’ve gone crazy."
With this book Lindgren, who died in 2002, offers a entirely new and different perspective on the war. According to reports, reviews in the Scandinavian press have called her "War Diaries" an “unparalled war narrative,” “unprecedented,” and a “shocking history lesson."
After keeping her war diaries, Lindgren went on to write her Pippi Longstocking books, originally created to amuse her children. They sold more than 60 million copies around the world in 70 different languages.