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Lena Andersson, Duck City

Natur och Kultur,  2006. ISBN: 9789127113794

Reviewed by Željka Černok in SBR 2008:1

Duck City is the best place to live – "Fat morgana", as the first part of the book is called. It is evening and Donald D is lying in front of the TV casually following the news about yet another murder of a fat person, but mainly admiring his new colourful jug that can hold more than three litres of fizzy drink. Suddenly, he remembers the book he found hidden in his flat. He is angry. Who is this Celan? And who reads books anyway? He is aware that the book must belong to his nephew, the brainy one who together with his two brothers is fighting for his country in some far-off place.

There is also a war raging in Duck City. The president has launched Operation Ahab, the War Against Fat. Soldiers are coming to people’s houses to measure them up – weight gain or increase of blood sugar may easily result in internment in camps. Donald D weighs over 200 kilos and is well aware he could be next. In which case his only hope would be his uncle, John von Anderson, the most influential person in the country, owner of all the food factories and a culinary wizard who came up with the idea of fried lettuce, and ice cream too. Fried everything, actually. He was the man who increased the standard number of donuts in a box to twenty; and, in a country where 92% of the population suffers from diabetes, he is kind enough to pay his workers in insulin.

Mass hysteria is sweeping the country. The President is starving himself to death, the newspapers are regularly reporting on his fantastic dieting progress. Literature is being re-evaluated according to the body fat index of the writers. Samuel Beckett, with only 4% body fat, comes top of the list of the best writers of all time. And the murders are continuing, yet one more fat person is being pulled out of a canal with a paper bearing the logo of John von Anderson’s food stuffed in his mouth. Underground restaurants are springing up, catering for people who want to eat ordinary food without guilt. Meanwhile, the brain behind John von Anderson’s food revolution has just come up with a new kind of flour that makes one even hungrier.

In the midst of this chaos Donald D is trying to find true love, and he courts Daisy who is so obviously wrong for him. He worries about his nephews not coming home from the war – and about being taken to the camp. But most of all he just wants to die whilst eating donuts, and feeling that mix of guilt and happiness.

Lena Andersson has written a diabolical satire about cravings, mass paranoia and mechanisms of control in a society that calls itself democratic. It ends on a bitterly grotesque note: everything is falling apart but John von Anderson breezily escapes the country and succeeds in establishing his food business in China, and opening a restaurant on top of the Himalayas. At the end, Harold Bell, university professor and the only one who actually read Beckett, tries to explain where it all went so terribly wrong.

Brutally funny and fiercely intelligent, Lena Andersson has written the kind of book that we do not often encounter in contemporary Swedish literature. It definitely deserves to be translated.

Zeljka Cernok

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