Forgive Yourself by Jonas Gardell

The Swedish author and comedian Jonas Gardell is one of my favourite writers. There is a gentle beauty and disarming truth in his deceptively simple Swedish writing. Alas not much of his work is translated into English, but it has been translated into a number of other European languages.His novel “En Komikers Uppväxt” (A Comedian Grows Up) had a profound impact on me when I read it almost 30 years ago, and it has stayed with me ever since. It was introduced to me as an undergraduate in college by a visiting lecturer from Sweden, and such was the effect of reading it (in the original Swedish language), that I ended up writing my entire undergraduate thesis about Jonas Gardell’s novels. The entire book is magical, but it is the opening page of the book that I often turn to again and again. On that page sits this simple, elegant, beautiful poem. It says so much with so little and sets the tone for the entire novel.

För allt du hatar hos dig själv – förlåt dig själv
För allt du älskar hos dig själv – förlåt dig själv
För allt du skäms över
För allt du är stolt över
För allt du vill dölja
För allt du vill visa upp
För allt som inte blev som det skulle
För allt du är
För allt du vill vara
Förlåt dig själv

For everything you hate about yourself – forgive yourself
For everything you love about yourself – forgive yourself
For everything you are ashamed of
For everything you are proud of
For everything you want to hide
For everything you want to show off
For everything that did not turn out as it should
For all that you are
For everything you want to be
Forgive yourself

The book then closes with an equally beautiful, poetic and enigmatic piece that manages to capture the magical innocence of youth and all that it brings. A perfect bookend, literally. I have read these pieces many times at live spoken word events and they always get a huge response. There is something about hearing the musicality of the foreign tongue at first, and then the translation that unveils its beauty. While there is always a little bit of magic lost in any translation (my own translations here included), these pieces still retain the majority of what made them special.

Allt ska vi glömma och allt ska vi förlora.

Och någon annan dag, men inte nu, ska jag visa dig

den hemliga grottan, den porlande bäcken

jag aldrig fann som barn.

Everything we shall forget and everything we shall lose

And another day, but not now, I will show you

the secret cave, the babbling brook

that I never found as a child