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A Burnt Child

A Novel

Stig Dagerman

Publication Year: 2013

After the international success of his collection of World War II newspaper articles, German Autumn—a book that solidified his status as the most promising and exciting writer in Sweden—Stig Dagerman was sent to France with an assignment to produce more in this journalistic style. But he could not write the much-awaited follow-up. Instead, he holed up in a small French village and in the summer of 1948 created what would be his most personal, poignant, and shocking novel: A Burnt Child.

Set in a working-class neighborhood in Stockholm, the story revolves around a young man named Bengt who falls into deep, private turmoil with the unexpected death of his mother. As he struggles to cope with her loss, his despair slowly transforms to rage when he discovers his father had a mistress. But as Bengt swears revenge on behalf of his mother’s memory, he also finds himself drawn into a fevered and conflicted relationship with this woman—a turn that causes him to question his previous faith in morality, virtue, and fidelity.

Written in a taut and beautifully naturalistic tone, Dagerman illuminates the rich atmospheres of Bengt’s life, both internal and eternal: from his heartache and fury to the moody streets of Stockholm and the Hitchcockian shadows of tension and threat in the woods and waters of Sweden’s remote islands. A Burnt Child remains Dagerman’s most widely read novel, both in Sweden and worldwide, and is one of the crowning works of his short but celebrated career.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-4

Bränt barn (A Burnt Child) was the first book I read by Stig Dagerman— I think in 1949. It overwhelmed me, and for a long time I wrote my own school essays in the same style that I imagined was his. I read everything by him after that, but nothing was like A Burnt Child...

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Blowing Out a Candle

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pp. 5-27

A wife is to be buried at two o’clock, and at eleven-thirty the husband is standing in the kitchen in front of the cracked mirror above the sink. He hasn’t cried much, but he has lain long awake and the whites of his eyes are red. His shirt is white and bright, and...

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A Letter in February from Himself to Himself

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pp. 28-33

It’s been a while since I last wrote to you. Last time, I wrote that Mama was dead. Now she’s dead and cremated. Her urn is on a shelf in some building at the cemetery. We were there on Sunday—Papa, Berit, and I. You know what it’s like there. Just a big gray storeroom for the ashes of the dead. Berit cried the...

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Prelude to a Dream

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pp. 34-49

When someone is dead, there is, on the one hand, a big empty hole. But on the other hand, there is a lot left over. You go up to these things and look at them, twisting and turning them. But you don’t really know what to do with them. You start by gently touching them. But after a while, your fingers grow tired. That is why you...

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A Letter in March from Himself to Himself

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pp. 50-55

It’s been a while since I last wrote to you. Some important things have happened since then. The most important thing is that I have seriously decided to stop attending lectures and seminars, though I’ll still take the exam in April. I plan to study at home. That way I’ll save time, and I can be home in the...

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Evening Promenades

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pp. 56-76

At the end of march, the son often goes out for walks in the evenings. The father is also out on these evenings, but he doesn’t take walks. Well, he does, but they are very short. Even so, it’s a long time before he comes home again. He takes the dog out for walks because dogs need exercise. And every evening when he steps out...

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A Letter in April from Himself to Himself

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pp. 77-83

Today at three o’clock it was exactly three months since Mama died. Tonight, while we were eating our soup, Papa suddenly pulled out his watch. After looking at it for a while, he looked at me and asked whether I knew what day it was. I said it was Friday. Then he told me that Mama had died three months...

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Tea for Four or Five

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pp. 84-105

Sometimes we do something without knowing why. And once it is done, we are surprised that we did it. Or sometimes we are even afraid. But from the surprise, as well as the fear, comes an explanation. It has to come. Because the unexplained fills us with a dread that we cannot tolerate for long. But by the time the explanation...

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A Letter in May from Himself to Himself

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pp. 106-115

I’m all alone as I write this, alone in my room. And he’s alone in his. The other night he asked, Shall we play a game of chess like we used to, or a little poker? Come on, let’s go to the other room. He went first and evidently thought I would follow him. When he noticed that I wasn’t coming, he asked if I didn’t like...

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Underwater Footprints

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pp. 116-141

They are at sea for three days. At sea, they say playfully. That sounds like living on a boat. In reality, however, they are not on a boat but an island or, more precisely, two small islands connected by a funny little wooden arch, which they jokingly call a bridge. The open sea encircles them, and the coast disappears into the dark water...

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A Letter to a Girl in Summer

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pp. 142-145

Thanks for your lovely letter. I’m glad to hear that you arrived safely and that your father and mother are doing well. It’s also good to know that I’m welcome up to Härjedalen. But, as you know, there’s unfortunately no way I can come. For one thing, I have to spend the summer studying. Yes, I did do very well on...

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A Twilight Meeting

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pp. 146-156

Hello, Bengt, she says when he opens the door.
He does not say a word. Thirty seconds go by, maybe more. In her red dress, Gun is standing completely still on the cold, gray doorstep. Bengt doesn’t look at her but past her, looks out at the stairs that slowly lead up to the silent and empty attic. But when...

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A Letter to an Island in Autumn

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pp. 157-163

I’ve done what we’ve agreed upon, and I’ll be coming to the island soon. I didn’t enjoy doing it, but I knew I had no other choice. It was harder to forge the draft papers than I thought. In fact, making your telegram was much easier. Of course, I just took an old one and found a new envelope and stamp; ...

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A Tiger and a Gazelle

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pp. 164-181

The sea is high and green during the day and black with flashes of white at night. But the water is clear as it usually is in fall. The six broadleaf trees around the inlet are shedding their leaves, which blow freshly onto the porch every morning. At night, the cool September moon gleams red. When it drifts out of the night’s...

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A Letter to the Father from the Son

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pp. 182-186

I’m writing this letter on Christmas morning. Berit has gone to church with her parents. I had a headache, so I asked to stay home. Besides, church ceremonies are hardly for me. I’m doing very well here. The town is quite solitary, and we have a few feet of snow. So the socks you gave me for Christmas are...

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Three O’Clock

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pp. 187-204

Berit is even afraid of the ice. Not just the ice that has formed overnight, but also the solid ice that has been freezing all winter. This is why she is so anxious as they travel across the ice to the island. She is sitting on the kicksled and Bengt is pushing her. She fears the whole time that the ice will give way. But it does not. It...

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A Torn-up Suicide Note

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pp. 205-207

You ask why. I will tell you why. It’s because I’m tired of living. Tired of living here in this world of little dogs, this dog world of measly emotions, measly pleasures, and measly thoughts. We’re supposed to be content, but I don’t want to be content. I don’t want to be satisfied like a little dog, because there’s...

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When the Desert Blooms

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pp. 208-211

You wake up happily, feel the wound aching mildly, and remember. You tug at the bandage and smile in the darkness at the unimaginable. It doesn’t hurt, and you are glad. You are brave, too, daring to turn on the light with your good hand. This time, you aren’t afraid when you look into your own eyes; there was never...

About the Authors

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p. 225-225

E-ISBN-13: 9780816687008
E-ISBN-10: 0816687005
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816677993

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013