Motorcykel genom Sverige

I’ve mentioned before that my reading habits as an adult have largely moved from “obsess over one author and read everything I can get my hands on” to “sample as many authors as possible in the time I have left on this Earth.” There are a few authors I still binge on, and one of them is Ester Blenda Nordström. It’s nice to have a reliable comfort read in a foreign language, someone you can trust to write in language accessible to your limited capacity, which is probably why the authors I binge on anymore are all not in English.

With Nordström in particular it seems like publishers have yet to really make the bulk of her work readily available to the public. Bakhåll has put out some collections, of which Motorcykel genom Sverige is one, but it seems that her reportage from other trips—Chile and Argentina, Japan and China, France and Spain—hasn’t been collected in the same thematic releases as Amerikanskt or Byn i vulkanens skygga. Indeed, contrary to its title, Motorcykel covers more than just her 1914 motorcycle journey throughout Sweden with her father. It also functions as a “greatest hits” collection from those aforementioned travels, an appetizer or sampler tray before the main course. We catch glimpses of her crossing the Andes on mule, attending a bullfight in Spain, surveying the damage of the 1925 North Tajima earthquake. Arranged in what appears to be chronological order, the collection also rather poignantly includes Nordström’s last published article, a reminisce about life out in the countryside. The timeline seems to encompass most of her active career.

There isn’t much need to review Nordström herself here. It’s a collection chosen to represent the best of her writing, so of course it’s good. Any one piece would qualify as a stand out selection, but the first that springs to mind right now is the account of her “hat pin” tram journey, a small piece of undercover reportage during what the above Smithsonian link calls “the hatpin terrors.” Another really excellent chapter is the bullfight, with no punches pulled about its inherent brutality. If I were a comparative literature professor I would probably assign this chapter as reading alongside Hemingway.

It’s a fun collection, though as an introduction to Nordström it might need extra context or explanation. It’s also a shame that the main course feels so incomplete. While all of Nordström’s reportage for papers like Vecko-Journalen, Dagens Nyheter, Stockholm Dagsblad and so on is probably well archived for academics,  the collections that are readily available for general consumption only seem to be new editions of the ones already published as collections in Nordström’s lifetime.

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Stockholm-based translator and copyeditor of American extraction.

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