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Christina Bergil, Sja vita vargar i ett träd (Seven white wolves in a tree)

Natur och Kultur,  2004. ISBN: 9127098214

Reviewed by Eivor Martinus in SBR 2005:1

On the surface, this is an intriguing and mysterious book. Its cover is sumptuous to the touch and a small picture of two butterflies serves as a romantic window on the front, standing out clearly against the plush red velvet. “The Wolf Man” – Sergei Pankeyev – was Sigmund Freud’s most famous case; he was born in Ukraine in 1886 and grew up in a well-to-do family on a large estate with a neurotic mother and a vindictive sister who committed suicide before reaching adulthood. Anna, his sister, once told him a story about a hungry wolf who would come to their window pretending to be their mother but who wanted to eat little children. Later on he had a dream about seven white wolves in a large walnut tree, who were staring at him through the window. This terrifying image haunted him all his life and when, later, he was asked by Freud to relate any dreams he had had as a child he recalled this one most vividly. Freud used this dream as a blueprint for his psychoanalysis and Bergil shows how fixated Freud was on an explicitly sexual interpretation. On the basis of this dream Freud implies that on some occasion Sergei must have watched his parents having anal intercourse, and this act frightened him and became the cause of his sexual ambivalence. Sergei’s childhood is summed up in seven short pages and Bergil notes down his youth in a similarly laconic, shorthand fashion: “Now to his youth, which is immediately more difficult. Anything can emerge from a child-hood: a thumb-sucker and a bed-wetter grows up and becomes a minister or a plump paterfamilias, or a painter with weak nerves. In this case, the latter, but you can’t predict simply by studying someone’s childhood. With adolescence it is a different matter. If, towards the end of one’s adolescence one is constipated every day, feels as if a veil covers the world, and the only relief comes when someone gives one an enema, then danger is imminent, then one can hardly straighten up. In this case that is so.” Sergei was psychoanalysed throughout his long life by a number of doctors, and Bergil highlights the almost farcical treatment he under-went. In the end, he became so dependent on psychoanalysis that he was unable to form an opinion or make any kind of decision without consulting his analyst. It is, presumably, this exaggerated veneration of psychotherapy that the author is criticizing. Bergil is a priest and she also has a PhD in Literature. Whereas, in the past, people relied on the church to give answers to existential questions today they seek out a therapist or psychoanalyst to alleviate their angst, she seems to say. And the result: the human being ends up a total wreck. Although we are not offered a conventional narrative there is a freshness about the rendering of the story but Bergil’s style is sometimes almost apologetic in tone. Occasionally, this approach works, but frequently the lack of commitment on the author’s part has the unfortunate effect of disengaging the reader and creating a sense of alienation instead. Sergei Pankeyev is, in the final analysis, an uninteresting character who never really comes to life and who left me unmoved.

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