Correspondence

The Nationalism of Jan Myrdal

Letter From Sweden

Jan Myrdal, the brooding bad boy of Swedish letters, agreed to meet with me on a Sunday afternoon, at his home near the village of Mariefred. I went to ask this iconoclastic celebrant of China's Cultural Revolution (Report From a Chinese Village), merciless public critic of his famous parents Gunnar and Alva (Childhood), and author of 70 other books (including Confessions of a Disloyal European) about nationalism and modern Sweden. In my own volume on his parents' role in shaping the Swedish welfare state in the 1930's, I had noted Gunnar Myrdal's "mild" nationalism. But I was unhappy with my characterization, feeling I had missed something important. I hoped Jan Myrdal might help solve the puzzle.

Heavy snow was falling when I arrived, and the narrow country road proved treacherous. Gun Kessle, artist, photographer, and Myrdal's companion for several decades now, stood at the door, waving to warn me about the sharp dropoff to the lake below. Then Myrdal, dressed in German hunting knickers and a heavy Norrland sweater, strode out into the snow, a character out of Strindberg.

He guided me into his cottage, painted the Falu red common to the Swedish countryside. We sat in a room with pine paneling, pine ceiling and floor, and he waited for me to start. I asked about the remark in his book Childhood that anyone wanting to understand Sweden's Social Democrats, the architects...

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