In his novel Pölsan, Torgny Lindgren portrays a number of characters in a village in the Swedish north. In all sorts of ways, they are affected by pulmonary tuberculosis – a widespread disease in the 1940s – which is described with taciturn merriment.
The relationship to tuberculosis (which is death) and to haggash (which can be life) and the longing to discover the most superb, the final hash... these are what drives the novel on.
The novel is in the form of a single long news item. The narrator starts to write this in 1947 when a strange German comes to the northern village. The strange German is really Martin Bormann, the Nazi leader who went underground at the end of the Second World War but now turns up as Robert Maser, who travels around selling ladies’ and gentlemen’s clothing.
A young teacher also comes to the village: Lars Högström almost died of the mischievous tuberculosis when he was a child, but he survived and became immune. He has now accepted a post at the school in this the most infected village in the whole country. The teacher and the German soon find one another and start to travel around the area tasting one local haggash after the other.
Their aim is to find the very best hash, the final hash. The worst one is the wild-game hash from Morken – the main ingredient is fifteen skinned squirrels, boiled and minced. The best, but most dangerous, is the one that Ellen makes in Lillsjöliden.
It is not until 53 years later, that the tale about the village, Bormann and Högström, can be completed. The newswriter is then 107 years old. He cannot die until he has summed up a whole life’s relationship to the disease, to writing, to his fellow beings, and to hash which can mean life. Or...
[Translator’s note: The title of the book alludes to a special Swedish dish made from offal and grain – slightly reminiscent of Scottish haggis – and many of the reviews refer to this … for the sake of simplicity, ‘pölsa’ has been translated as ‘offal hash’ below …]