Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Close encounters with children's writers, part 5

The memories of my deported family brought forward other reminiscences. A couple of times in the early '90s I went to Russia for various children's literature events where I would meet children's writers from all over the world. At one of these gatherings I met Otfried Preussler. He used to be a special favourite, one of those whose books I and my friends read when we were quite grownup and loved: The Little Witch, The Little Ghost, The Little Water-Sprite. The Little Witch was in Russian called The Little Baba-Yaga. Thinking back, I am not sure whether it was a lucky translation. But the books were wonderful. Remember, we didn't have access to much of the Western children's literature, so the many stories about nice witches and scared ghosts were not known to us, therefore Preussler's books felt so different and fresh, and they were humorous and witty and lacked the didacticism we were fed up with. The little Baba-Yaga was a bit like Pippi Longstocking, whom we didn't know either before we were grownup. We used to read the books aloud for each other.

As a grownup, I certainly prefer The Satanic Mill, but that's another story.

Imagine how thrilled I was to meet this great writer. Children's literature gatherings are always lively social events, so there were long dinners with plenty of strong beverages, and at some point I was sitting beside Preussler who started talking Russian to me. Perfect Russian. He had learned it in a Russian POW camp. To that, I could only reply by telling the story of my German family, stating that there was presumably little difference between POW camps and labour camps for deported Germans.

After which we started singing German songs. First children's songs, crying and laughing in turns. But after another shot of vodka, we went over to dirty songs. That a nice well-behaved Russian girl resident in Sweden knew German dirty songs might have come as a surprise, but by that time nothing mattered beside our common cultural heritage.

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