Myrdal, Jan

Myrdal, Jan
   A Swedish novelist, journalist, and dramatist, Myrdal has been a controversial figure in the cultural life of his country—and in the Western world—since the 1960s. Always the radical, and often perceived as being on the extreme left, he has been a clear-eyed observer and a relentless critic of cultural and political forces. His output as a writer is truly voluminous. His books have been widely translated, and he has collected his articles and occasional pieces into 18 volumes of Skriftstallning (1968-1998; Writings).
   Myrdal's greatest significance is as a travel writer who combined the study of an area's geography, history, and economics with extended personal residence and close contact with the common people, whose views he accorded great weight. He became internationally known for his Rapport fran kinesisk by (1963; tr. Report from a Chinese Village, 1965), the first of several books about China. It was illustrated with photographs taken by his wife, Gun Kessle. Other books about China include Chinese Journey (1965), originally published in English, Kina: Revolutionen gaår vidare (1970; tr. China: The Revolution Continued, 1970), Kinesiska fraågor fraån Liu Ling (1976; Chinese Questions from Liu Ling), and Kinesisk by 20 ar senare: Rapport med fraågetecken (1983; tr. Return to a Chinese Village, 1984). All of these books have a focus on politics, and particularly on the revolution of Mao Zedong and its aftermath, which Myrdal admired. Sidenvagen (1977; tr. The Silk Road, 1979) is a more traditional account of a journey.
   Other travel books include two volumes about visits to Afghanistan, Kulturens korsvag: En bok om Afghanistan (1960; The Crossroad of Culture: A Book about Afghanistan) and Bortom berg och oknar: Afghanistan, ett framtidsland (1962; Beyond Mountains and Deserts: Afghanistan, Land of the Future). A similar volume is Turkmenistan: En revolutions overgangsar (1966; Turkmenistan: The Transitional Year of a Revolution). Myrdal also wrote about Albania, another poster-boy of Marxist-Leninism, in Albansk utmaning (1970; tr. Albania Defiant, 1976). His inability to perceive the horrors of Enver Hoxha's regime attests to both his idealism and his penchant for viewing the world through ideological glasses, and it was shared by other Scandinavian writers such as the Norwegian Espen Haavardsholm. Myrdal has also written about Cambodia and the Soviet Union. India is presented in Indien vantar (1980; tr. India Waits, 1984), in which Myrdal attributes the significance of Indian religion to the country's poverty. In Mexico: Drom och langtan (1996; Mexico: Dream and Longing), he speaks less favorably about revolutionary change and seems more inclined to allow the forces of democratic capitalism to do their work.
   Myrdal is also significant as a confessional and autobiographical writer. The child of two Nobel Prize winners, the economist Gunnar Myrdal and the diplomat Alva Myrdal, he has been critical of the influence of the class of intellectuals to which his parents belonged, members of which, in his observation, tended to place career considerations ahead of the idealism that had originally served as the impetus for their intellectual achievements. His most significant effort in this vein is Confessions of a Disloyal European (1968), his own translation and revision of two earlier versions of the book in Swedish. Memoirs of his childhood are found in Barndom (1982; tr. Childhood, 1991), En annan varld (1984; tr. Another World, 1994), and Tolv pa det trettonde (1989; tr. 12 Going on 13, 1995). The story is continued in Nar mongondagarna sjong: Fran glomda ar: En berattelse (1994; When Tomorrow Was Singing: A Tale from Forgotten Years), in which Myrdal's protagonist has reached the age of 17. The book Maj: En karlek (1998; Maj: A Love Story) tells about Myrdal's relationship with his second wife. A sixth volume of autobiography is Gubbsjuka (2002; Old Man's Sickness).
   Myrdal has written a number of novels, which are thoroughly informed by his commitments and his worldview. Some of his early efforts are the satire Jubelvar (1955; Spring of Jubilee); Att bli och vara (1956; Becoming and Being), which tells about the young protagonist's problems with work, love, and family; and Baderumskranen (1957; The Bathroom Faucet), which satirizes the Swedish welfare state. A later satire, directed at the Swedish social democrats, is the novel Karriar (1975; Career). Myrdal's dramatic works include a number of radio plays as well as the screenplay for the television movie Myglaren (1966; The Broker).

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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