Sunday, 28 February 2016

When I met Olof Palme

Everybody in Sweden today shares their memories of Olof Palme, the Swedish Prime Minister who was assassinated thirty years ago. A bit similar to J F Kennedy: everybody - old enough - remembers what they did. I am old enough. But that's another story.

On the day following the assassination, Staffan and I were going to a city in Sweden where a play he had translated was opening. I was still in bed when Staffan stormed in, screaming: "I am not going to any f*ing opening night!" My reaction was that the author had said something stupid or the theater had misspelled Staffan's name on the poster or something mundane like that. Instead, he threw the morning paper at me, with Palme on the front page.

The opening night was of course postponed, and Staffan and I, together with the rest of Sweden, spent the following days in front of television.

Inescapably, I remembered my only encounter with Palme, which I will share now. A couple of years earlier, there was another opening night (now you will get the impression that we didn't do anything other that attend opening nights, which is very true since Staffan was much involved with theatre in those days). It was a musical which Staffan co-authored and which featured a very famous actress in the main role. It so happened that she had participated in Palme's election campaign, and therefore he was a guest of honour at the performance and the following party.  I happened to sit next to him at the party, and when he realised I was Russian, he looked at me, took a deep breath and started reciting one of the best-known Russian poems by Alexander Pushkin:
          Буря мглою небо кроет,
          Вихри снежные крутя...

There he stopped, and I picked up without thinking and finished the whole poem, which ends by a proposal to have a drink, which we did.  

Staffan thought it was hilarious when I told him. Not that the Swedish Prime Minister could recite the first two lines of Russian poem, which he had likely learned as a child from his Russian nanny, but that I could immediately pick up and continue. I didn't find it remarkable at all. Every educated person in Russia can recite poetry for hours.  

Monday, 15 February 2016

How to recycle a hero

This is a column I wrote for a Swedish daily in February 2007, when the world lived in anticipation of the final volume of the Harry Potter saga. I feel it still holds true, so here it is for your amusement.

There are speculations about whether J K Rowling intends to kill Harry Potter off in the final book of the formidable series. The author seems to have said that it is appropriate to let the protagonist die so that nobody can pinch him and write a sequel.
As if it has ever stopped literary thieves.
For a start, a couple of books about Harry's life before he learns that he is a powerful wizard. Nice books about everyday adventures with the abominable cousin. They will probably be less exciting than Harry's breath-taking escapades at Hogwarts, but it's child's play for a good writer, and the fans would love to know more about their darling. If Scarlett's Childhood can satisfy Gone with the Wind fans, why not Harry Potter's Childhood?
           A set of at least five volumes can be devoted to Harry's parents, including his dad's pranks mentioned in passing throughout the series. Details about his friendship and rivalry with Harry's teachers will doubtless be welcomed by many readers. It might be permissible to add some erotic flavour that Harry is spared.
           Hermione, Ron, Ginny and the Weasley twins will all get a series of their own. Unfortunately, Mergione's Private Mission and Sen Awesley's Twelve Deeds have already been published by two quick-minded Russian writers, but otherwise the sky is the limit. Moreover, Hermione has a time-turner which allows her to be in two places at the same time, to attend twice as many classes. If she lets Harry borrow the time-turner, all his seven years at Hogwarts can be repeated, in a parallel dimension.
Harry Potter's Cook Book and Harry Potter's Feng Shui are guaranteed bestsellers. Huge success can also be predicted for The True Confessions of Harry Potter and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Harry Potter.
If Harry necessarily must die in the end of the final book, there is always hope that he would do it with Hermione just before he dies, and then Harry Jr, or possibly Harriet, can take over. There is of course something Da Vinci Code over it, but it is surely within fair use. This plot can be stretched for at least twelve volumes.
However, it would be much nicer is Harry lives, becomes Head of Hogwarts, introduces a democratic student union and initiates international collaboration with other wizard schools in a true Bologna spirit.
It may be hard to do all this before the interest fades, but there are many examples of large teams of ghost writers who will easily produce three-four books a month. Although they should preferably be well educated and well read in myths as well as world literature to maintain the level of Rowling's witty allusions. A couple of unemployed professors of English literature may run workshops.
But if Harry really dies in the end of the final volume, don't mourn him too long, dear friends all over the world. There are many stories in which the hero dies and is resurrected, from The New Testament to Sherlock Holmes

PS. All ideas in this column are copyright protected and available for best bid. Nothing under six-digit will not be considered.