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Jan Myrdal, Gubbsjuka

Leopard förlag,  2002. ISBN: 9173430099

Reviewed by Eivor Martinus in SBR 2003:1


I have deliberately avoided trying to translate the title. This sixth part of an autobiographical series is not an auto-biography or memoir in the traditional sense, but a lively monologue which explores every nook and cranny of the human psyche. Jan Myrdal is now seventy-five as he keeps reminding us; if he had been seventy I would have suggested “Three score years and ten” as a possible title in English, but now we have to wrack our brains in order to shun the impossible “Old Man’s Sickness” or the obvious “Dirty old man” or “Old devil”. None of them incorporates the reference to incontinence, prostate cancer or other aches and pains normally attributed to the seventh age of man which the ambiguous Swedish title does. The fact is Jan Myrdal has written a remarkable book. It is ruthlessly honest and as such uncomfortable at times, but at second reading I found it deeply moving and most interesting, not least as a testimony by a staunch left-wing intel-lectual in the last half of the twentieth century. As I was reading the book I recalled an episode when we went back-stage to congratulate an old English actress whom we had known for many years. She had just given a splendid performance and did not show any signs of senility. “I don’t recommend old age,” she said, stroking her poodle. “I don’t recommend it at all.” The words stuck. Myrdal, similarly does not show any signs of weakening intellectually, even if his body is giving him more trouble than before. A heart operation, excruciating sciatica, early signs of prostate problems are charted as annoying obstacles put in his way. There is so much left to do, so many outlines, half finished books, plays, articles; and yet the clock is ticking away, one’s friends and elderly relatives pop off leaving an ever growing vacuum around one. “We don’t belong to a culture where old age is revered,” writes Myrdal. High and low, rich and poor – old age is the great leveller. Ambassadors, Nobel Prize winners and a famous film pro-ducer all end up in elderly care, confused and forgotten. Myrdal’s thoughts and reflections cover the whole spectrum – love in all its forms, sexuality, porno-graphy, politics, linguistics. His knowledge is immense, his linguistic abilities vast and he is capable of as much anger now as when he was as a young man. There was one long moving chapter about the death of his favourite old dog who apparently decided to commit suicide by lying down on the rails in front of an approaching train. Did I detect a touch of envy? A stoical attitude to the inevitable. Animals have a better way of dealing with old age than humans when there is no light on the horizon. But there is a lot of life and passion left in Myrdal still.

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