Torgny Lindgrens Hash (Pölsan) is another example of his peerless language and imagination. Split into two timelines it tells the story of an old newswriter who tells the story of how Lars Högström and Robert Maser went on a quest for the ultimate pölsa in the countryside around Avabäck, just after World War II, and find death and salvation.
It’s a fantastic little story, loaded with symbolism and a quiet, sober humour. Highly recommended.
A new teacher arrives in the northern Swedish village of Avabäck; the previous one died of tuberculosis. Lars Högström believes himself immune after a bout with the same disease as a child. He moves in with Eva Marklund, whos husband Manfred is being treated for tuberculosis at Hellnäs sanatorium. At the same time, a strange german named Robert Maser drives around in a bus, selling cloth and clothes. Some believe him to be the escaped war-criminal Martin Bormann.
That is the historical setting of Torgny Lindgrens novel Hash (Pölsan). Historical in relation to the novel’s present, where the nameless newswriter spends his old age in a retirement-home, rediscovering writing after a fifty-year hiatus. He writes a long article, in fact he tells the story of how Lars Högström and Robert Maser hunted for the perfect pölsa in the wake of World War II.
As always, it’s a rich and imaginative vision Torgny Lindgren gives us. And as always it’s difficult to impossible to be sure where the line between reality and fiction is drawn, something that is obviously an important theme. The story developes slowly, interspersed with the old newswriters comments and discussions with one of the nurses at the retirement-home. Once he was banned from writing since his editor didn’t believe that the places he wrote of actually existed. We don’t know either, but it doesn’t matter, as always. Lindgrens language is enough, his precise pen-strokes outlines and enlivens his more or less peculiar characters.
So what is the story that is told? The old newswriter maintains that he is the voice of rural Sweden, that if he doesn’t write these parts of the country would simply vanish. Thereby it’s a story about storytelling, and about truth. Who decides what is true? Is it the editor or the politician who tries to silence the old newswriter? Or is it anyone who tells a story? Who owns the interpretation of reality?
But the search for the ultimate pölsa is also a symbolic one, as revealed in an etymological article about the word ”pölsa” (related to ”balsam”, according to the article). In Ellens of Lillsjöliden pölsa Lars Högström finds peace and comfort, identity and meaning. It is a true version of life, a mish mash of this and that resulting in a beautiful whole; take away one ingredient and it all goes wrong. Ellen suffers from tuberculosis, and her pölsa is infected. She gives every visitor the choice: pölsa or life, and they all choose life. All except Lars Högström who stays with her, is infected and later dies. Ellens pölsa takes on a religious quality, a metaphysical insight that is to die for.
Another marvellous novel by Torgny Lindgren, though a bit more obscure and slow paced than my favourites, Dorés Bible and Klingsor. Apart from an artistic hit, it exhibits Lindgrens humble humour and is in places both funny and provocative.
Read it – you really must! – and find the path to your own pölsa.