Reviewed by Dominic Hinde in SBR 2013:2
Review Section: Fiction: The Past
Jessica Kolterjahn’s attempt to write a fictional account, as opposed to a stylised biographical travelogue, of the writer and poet Karin Boye’s time in 1930s Berlin is a brave project. It succeeds and fails in equal measure, at points perfectly portraying the atmosphere of interwar Berlin and its cosmopolitan and somewhat decadent population but equally often falling into an affected romanticism surrounding both the city itself and the writer who lends the novel a narrator.
One of the bigger challenges for Kolterjahn is to bring Boye alive as a believable enough character: the entire concept of the novel hinges on this. The problem is that Boye’s own voice is already well known through her autobiographical work, Kris (Crisis, 1934). The internal monologues and sexual tension which Kolterjahn attempts to create sometimes feel like pale imitations of Boye’s own powerful self-analysis. Attempting to write like Karin Boye is a huge undertaking, and its mixed success in some ways detracts from an incredibly exciting framework for a novel.
The narrative interlinks Boye’s own insecurity and her flight from Sweden with the dominant cultural forces of Europe at the time. There is psychoanalysis in abundance (the pretext for Boye going to Germany), jazz, bisexual love interests and the ominous spectre of a Nazism readying itself for the leap from political fringe to national movement.
The title itself alludes to Boye’s own poem ‘I rörelse’ (In Motion) from her collection Härdarna (The Hearths, 1927), describing the constant movement required to satisfy a thirst for new horizons and the idea that longing can be better than fulfilment. It is possible to read this both as a commentary on Boye’s own footloose movement and as a metaphor for her often unfulfilled sexual desires.
For people familiar with Boye’s work, The Best Day is a Day of Thirst is an interesting, in-depth exploration of a complex character and a fascinating mind, as well as slotting into a now resurgent and often romanticised tradition of Swedish intellectuals in Berlin. It is perhaps as an example of the latter that it is best viewed, ignoring any attempt to write about Boye better than Boye and embracing the author’s fascination with a certain city.