“Remarkable, page-turning, searing”
It’s 1947. Stig Dagerman, the young Swedish author on everybody’s lips, is feverishly working on a play, his third. Skuggan av Mart/Marty’s Shadow, as Stig will call it, will be his best-known play, and the most frequently staged both in Sweden and abroad.
The play is inspired by real people: the Viennese-Jewish writer Etta Federn and her sons Jean and Michel. Stig Dagerman and his wife have visited Etta in Paris just weeks before he sits down to write the play.
Some sixty years later, unknowingly and independently of each other,
Lo Dagerman and Nancy Pick are pursuing research. Lo is in search of her father, the star writer who committed suicide when she was only three; Nancy is in search of her distant cousin Etta, the anarchist, feminist, journalist, force of nature, and role model; both are driven by a need to understand the persons whose absences from their lives bear such significance for their identities today.
The play, Skuggan av Mart, brings Lo and Nancy together on their quests. And the brutality of it almost tears them apart. Why did Stig paint such a cruel and garbled portrait of Etta and her family? Lo and Nancy's pursuit of who Stig and Etta really were imbues the book, and pieces of the puzzle are fitted together along the way.
Skuggorna vi bär is a personal book and winding road back in time and into the minds of two extraordinary and fascinating people.
From the English manuscript:
“She wants a typewriter.
It is November 1945, not long after the end of the war, and she wants a typewriter sent to her in France.
I think: perhaps she is a journalist.
Later I will learn that the reports she plans to type are strange. Later I will learn that her books have been destroyed. Later I will come to obsess over her, identify with her, and invoke her to strengthen me against pain.
But when I first encounter her, as I flip through family files in Chicago concerning relatives no one talks about, all I know is this: she wants a typewriter.
Her name is Mrs. Marietta Federn, but she calls herself Etta. Etta—a Yiddish name, from the Hebrew for hidden. The file in the family office does not contain the request she has sent to Chicago. I have only the reply from Miss Hutchinson, my great-grandmother's secretary, along with the notes accompanying her thorough investigation. Shipping a typewriter from Chicago to Paris in 1945 would be difficult and expensive—and besides, given the scarcity of metal after the war, there are no typewriters to be had.
‘I took up the question of a typewriter with Mrs. Pick,’ writes Miss Hutchinson, who, as secretary to a wealthy Jewish widow, finds herself running an informal charity in the wake of Hitler’s atrocities. ‘She feels that there are so many calls for help during these days that she can not advance the funds. Why do you not buy it on credit there in France, and pay the monthly installments you wish deducted.’
Which is exactly what Etta does. (Later I will find not only a description of her typewriter, but even a photograph of it.)”
– Nancy Pick