The Estonian publishing houses have their eyes on the international literary scene but it takes them an eternity to act upon trends. Around two years after the three-part memoir by the Danish writer Tove Ditlevsen appeared in English translation to great praise, it finally made it onto my motherland’s bookstore shelves.
I’ve already written brief reviews of Ditlevsen’s books available in English – The Faces and The Copenhagen Trilogy – both made it to my annual favorite book lists of 2021 and 2022 Now, I also had the lucky chance to review it for the Estonian cultural weekly Sirp.
Published in Sirp, 07.07.2023. Link to the review.
Tove Ditlevsen was born in 1917 in a poor working-class neighborhood in Copenhagen. Through a succession of lucky encounters and polemical decisions, she becomes one of the best-known Danish writers. Ditlevsen’s memoir begins in her childhood home where she shadows her disturbed and desolate mother; its second part reminisces about her youth and her writerly journey into the local literary society. Just as Ditlevsen has achieved her not-really-that-hard-won literary celebrity and financial independence, a new threat looms over her life, annexing her body and mind to an addiction to Demerol and methadone, and draining the mother of two of any esprit de vivre.
The story is moving; just as Ditlevsen’s ever-growing list of confessed disloyalties, her all-encompassing ambition and self-absorption are repelling. As I noted in the review in Sirp: “The only person capable of wounding Ditlevsen was herself, she did it with great efficiency and zest.”