Magnus Liam Karlsson

In Memoriam Per Olov Enquist (1934-2020)

Norstedts remembers an exceptional author and human being

måndag 27 april 2020

Per Olov Enquist’s importance in Swedish literature cannot be overestimated. Few other authors have inspired so many other writers, renewed the documentary novel, revitalised Swedish drama and – not least – touched the innermost life nerve of readers for more than half a century. It is also impossible to overestimate his importance for the publishing house to which he remained faithful for so many years, and to which he only ever gave his professionalism, warmth and devotion.

There are many wise words to be said about Enquist, the author, but from our perspective it feels particularly important to emphasise Peo, the person, who often made sure to have an errand to run at the publishing house. He would wander around, talk to co-workers, gossip, discuss writing and the industry in general, and the publishing house, his own and other authors’ works, in particular.

Where to begin when describing his literary career? He never wanted to talk about his first novel, calling it uptight and pretentious. He was not his own kindest critic. On the other hand, he talked with excitement about writing as a profession and the experiences he had made along the way. For instance, the reception of Legionärerna, published in 1968. What a time journey! To hear him talk about how difficult it was to find the right tone, all the hours of research, the difficulty in portraying the human drama in a way so that he could reach the core. The response. The critique and the debate. He did not back down an inch, and why should he? The novel stands as a guard post in Swedish literature history, like so many by his pen: Magnetisörens femte vinter (1964), Nedstörtad ängel (1985), Kapten Nemos bibliotek (1991), Livläkarens besök (1999), Boken om Blanche och Marie (2004), among others. Milestones. To live on forever, find new readers, find new debates and find new life nerves to touch.

And the way he gave to his readers is exactly how he gave to every single one at the publishing house. Stories, anecdotes, always entertaining and inclusive. Humour, that he had in abundance. Comical timing and just the right amount of irony. “A wandering pine”, that is how he described himself in Ett annat liv (2008), the autobiography he impossibly could have written as anything but a novel in third person, and whose truths he revisited in Liknelseboken in 2013. Befitting one who would always choose his own marking posts between fact and fiction, the essence of truth rather than truth itself.

It is impossible to explain the privilege in reading these texts and the joy working with a person like Per Olov Enquist. Never lacking integrity, always keen to hear someone else’s point of view, always interested and curious. And no, he did not want to hear flatter. Straight on. The text always the most important. Always.

Several senior editors and line editors have had the pleasure of working on novels, essays, short stories, children’s fiction, plays and articles by Per Olov Enquist. All will miss him. Co-workers, agents, sales managers, publicists, building caretakers, CEO’s, administrators, receptionists will miss him equally.

He was in truth one of the really important authors of our time, throughout history. He was also one of the finest people who ever stepped through the doors of Tryckerigatan 4, Riddarholmen, Stockholm, Sweden. Eighty-five years the world got to have him. Norstedts got to have him for fifty-nine of those. It is a time of sorrow, but we could not be more grateful for the years we got. We will miss him tremendously.

“One day we shall die. But all other days we shall be alive.” – Per Olov Enquist

But it is not only in Sweden that Per Olov Enquist will be missed. The international publishing world is in mourning, as the quotes below will attest to:

An immense feeling of profound sorrow has struck all of us here at Actes Sud following the loss of Per Olov Enquist, the exceptional author and unique man, who has had such a deep and permanent impact on our catalogue. Since 1985, when we first published the unforgettable Legionnaires, we have had the honour and privilege to follow his enlightened and prodigious literary journey. There will always be a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ PO. We will fondly remember him for his charming wit, his infinite kindness and his inimitable mischievous smile. His work and influence will continue to shine indefinitely. But today, the world seems a little less bright.

Hege Rouel Rousson, Actes Sud, France

P O – who I never heard referred to by any other name – was a giant among European writers: he was a novelist of immense stature and range; he was also all his life a playwright; and he was a spell-binding speaker at literary events. He was the only Swedish writer to win the Independent Foreign Fiction Award — for THE VISIT OF THE ROYAL PHYSICIAN in the translation by Tina Nunnally in 2001.
He described a tumultuous life in THE WANDERING PINE, a partial memoir, translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner. But he was the kindest, most charming, most curious and witty of men: very tall, a lover of dogs. He chose only ever to be published by Norstedts.

Christopher MacLehose, MacLehose Press, UK

P.O. Enquist has been the first of our writers I met personally the very year Iperborea was born, in 1987, when I had just bought the rights for his novel-script August Strindberg: Ett Liv, which was going to be the title number 2 in our list. It was a crowded evening in Paris, but he immediately struck me for the depth and the essentiality he could communicate not only through his conversation, but almost by his mere physical presence. The same intensity of his writings. And an impression which was strengthened through the eight splendid novels that we published since then, and the time spent together in occasion of bookfairs and awards. In the years he has become for me not only one of the greatest European writers we have been so proud to publish, but also a kind of an extraordinary embodiment of everything I always appreciated, admired and loved in the Scandinavian world.

Emilia Lodigiani, Iperborea, Italy

Per Olov Enquist was crucial for us, both as readers and for our identity as a publisher. He was one of Hanser's constitutive authors. His oeuvre signifies the promises of literature – beauty and strength and honesty.

Jo Lendle, Hanser, Germany








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