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Words Without Borders

The Dark, the Mysterious and the Slightly Sexy

All authors have been asked, "Who are your influences?"
All authors have been asked, "Which ten books would you take to a deserted island?"
The more interesting question would be, "What kind of books did you read as a kid?" And, "Which ten books would you take to a deserted island for your child?"
I grew up without television. My father had two enemies: the car and the television. He favored public transportation and he thought that television was the continuation of barbarism with other means.
Since books (and certain movies) were the only entertainment that was allowed, I can testify that my most important influence must have been the author Astrid Lindgren and then especially her books about Karlsson-On-The-Roof.
It’s a shame that Karlsson-On-The-Roof is not as widely known as Pippi Longstocking. Karlsson-On-The-Roof is the best example of a benign anarchist. And benign anarchy is a healthy answer to a not-so-healthy world.
Later, I discovered Roald Dahl. My mother—who was in charge of buying children’s books in our family—hated Roald Dahl, so I was forced to go to the library to read him secretly.
One day, I took a book home by Roald Dahl that turned out to be a collection of stories for adults.
I savored it. These stories were (although some parts were beyond my comprehension) much better than Mr. Dahl’s books for children. The world opened up for me. It was dark, mysterious, funny and slightly sexy.
The next few years, I laid my hands on every book by Mr. Dahl I could get. And as sudden as he came into my life, he disappeared from it when I turned sixteen.
I didn’t need Mr. Dahl anymore for that which was dark, mysterious and slightly sexy.
But a first love—and one can say that Roald Dahl was my first introduction to the world of serious fiction—never dies completely, so I was pleasantly surprised to read an altogether favorable review on Mr. Dahl’s collected short stories, by Joyce Carol Oates, in The New York Review of Books.
Joyce Carol Oates is not blind for Mr. Dahl’s shortcomings, such as his misogyny, but she points also out his brilliance and rightly so: “The first story in this volume, ‘An African Story,’ is a tale of primitive revenge recounted in the most laconic of voices, as chilling as any of Paul Bowles's parable—like tales of North Africa.” For anyone who feels the need for revenge from time to time, burning inside Mr. Dahl is indispensable.


(Words Without Borders, April 12, 2007)