Entry updated 26 October 2021. Tagged: Author.
(1935- ) Swedish physician, journalist and author, member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences; active from the 1950s, author of more than forty books, Jersild is a central figure in modern Swedish literature, both a favourite among critics and, with some of his novels, a major bestseller. At the same time, throughout his writing, he has on the one hand utilized science fictional themes and tropes, and on the other, at least within Sweden until recently, has been careful to distance himself from sf: in those cases where his novels are set in the future, depict the End of the World or criticize possible societal changes, he stated that as opposed to sf, what he did was to examine actual, possible Near-Future developments. After 2000, however, he has abandoned this dated formulation, one typical of late twentieth century Mainstream Writers of SF, and has recognized that he has in fact throughout his career used sf themes, although he still insists that he has done so primarily in order to satirize or examine human traits and current events.
After a first short story collection, his first novel was Till varmare länder ["To Warmer Countries"] (1961), in which a disappointed housewife begins receiving letters from a school boyfriend, telling her in increasingly surreal detail of his seemingly endless trip to help people suffering, until the reader, but not the heroine, realize that the goal of his travels is literally hell. Jersild's second novel, Ledig lördag ["Saturday Off"] (1963), a satirical novel in which two disparate office workers, a middle-aged administrator and a typist in her twenties, are forced to spend a week alone on a subway train running blind without stopping beneath Stockholm (see Underground). That book was Jersild's first public and critical success, and he began with his next to attempt to write a huge fantastic novel about an adventurer traversing centuries of human history. However, only fragments were in fact written, and these became his third novel, Calvinols resa genom världen ["Calvinol's Across the World Trip"] (1965), a satirical picaresque of thirteen loosely connected episodes in which the Antihero Calvinol, whose name is borrowed from Italian author Italo Calvino, born in the eighteenth century, is enlisted via Timeslip in the thirteenth century Children's crusade, takes part in the seventeenth century Thirty Years' War and finally dies in a Danish asylum in 1943, during the German occupation – all of the events depicted in almost farcical form, with the 1813 battle of Lützen told as a Hollywood movie shoot, and a World War Two battle reconfigured as a fistfight in a school restroom. Jersild's first orthodox sf novel, the Dystopian Near Future Grisjakten ["The Pig Hunt"] (1968), in contrast was both sombre in tone and naturalistic, told in the form of a diary kept by a highly placed civil servant with the State Board of Animal Inspection, who is handed the task of exterminating all pigs in Sweden, starting with the country's largest island, Gotland, a task he sets about fulfilling without qualms or questions. Through its obvious parallels to the exploits of Adolf Eichmann, a main organizer of the Holocaust whose bureaucratic pedantry horrified the world during his 1961 trial, Jersild's novel accused the Swedish bureaucratic tradition of similar inhumanity and blind obedience; the novel remained controversial, though its implied critique of the inherent totalitarianism of an unquestioning but powerful civil service was generally dismissed as absurd when directed at a humanitarian welfare state – a defence perhaps slightly less convincing after the disclosure that Sweden from 1934 until 1975 practiced compulsory sterilization of "undesired" population elements, including Romanies as well as mentally handicapped citizens (see Eugenics).
In the slight Vi ses i Song My ["We'll Meet in Song My"] (1970), parallels are drawn between the Vietnam war and the mission of a "psychology unit" within the Swedish army to quell via "democratic methods" a mutiny within the engineering corps. Jersild's next major sf novel was Djurdoktorn (1973; trans David Mel Paul and Margareta Paul as The Animal Doctor 1975), a Dystopia set in the Near Future; through parallels between veterinarian research and bureaucratic social engineering, the novel wants to examine the modern state in both animals and humans are imprisoned and experimented upon uniformly. It was followed by Den elektriska kaninen: En midsommar saga ["The Electric Rabbit: A Midsummer Saga"] (1974), a Satire with similarities to George Orwell's Animal Farm (1945) in which animals at midsummer hold a convention to discuss their plight, but turn out to be as self-centred, manipulative, hungry for power and dismissive of those weaker as the humans they accuse of abusing them [for Beast Fable see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. With his next, realistic, novel, Jersild became a major bestseller and by 1977 was one of Sweden's most popular as well as critically acclaimed writers; that year, he left his position as a psychiatrist and social psychologist to write full-time, which he has done since. With En levande sjal (1980; trans Rika Lesser as A Living Soul 1988), he returned to sf; the story is narrated by a discorporate human brain, kept alive in a container (see Brain in a Box), and is also a Dystopia; Efter floden (1982; trans Lone Thygesen Blecher and George Blecher as After the Flood 1986) is a Post-Holocaust tale of some ferocity set thirty years after the end of a nuclear World War Three, where some hope, briefly, flares for humanity on an Island in the Baltic, but where the ferocious brutality and thoughtlessness of the survivors, as well as an undying Pandemic and Ecological Disaster, in the end contribute to the death of humanity.
Less bleak, though hardly cheerful, is Den femtionde frälsaren ["The Fiftieth Saviour"] (1984), where a stenographer in late eighteenth century Venice takes down the tale of a man claiming to be the direct descendant of Jesus Christ and who lives in the future as well as the past, describing such Technological marvels to come as submarines and water toilets. Geniernas återkomst ["The Return of the Geniuses"] (1987) gives a satiric and imagined history of mankind from its inception and into our future (see History in SF), with its emphasis on exterminations and brutality but also on its counterparts in the form of hope, progress, and utopian ideals; in the end, Einstein, Picasso and other "geniuses" are Cloned, but end up in an institution with similarly cloned other "samples" from humanity's past (see Zoo). Holgerssons ["The Holgerssons"] (1991) is a Satire on modern Sweden, letting the adult protagonist of The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (1906-1907 2vols) by Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940) relate in fantasy terms his later travels through the country. Edens bakgård ["Eden's Back Yard"] (2009) is a social Satire as well as a Dystopia, where Virtual Reality and other Computer technology is used to create total control over both individuals and their beliefs and desires. In his currently most recent work, Ypsilon (2012), the author himself meets the aged versions of several of his earlier fictional protagonists, learns of their later lives but also experiences their deaths. Despite the almost uniform bleakness of his both translated and non-translated sf, Jersild's work as a whole is more varied; he has written humorous pieces, autobiographically inspired novels of, plays and essays, and remains a central figure in Swedish literature. [J-HH]
Per Christian Jersild
born Katrineholm, Sweden: 14 March 1935
- Till varmare länder ["To Warmer Countries"] (Stockholm, Sweden: Bonnier, 1961) [hb/]
- Ledig lördag ["Saturday Off"] (Stockholm, Sweden: Bonnier, 1963) [hb/]
- Calvinols resa genom världen ["Calvinol's Across the World Trip"] (Stockholm, Sweden: Bonnier, 1965) [hb/]
- Grisjakten ["The Pig Hunt"] (Stockholm, Sweden: Bonnier, 1968) [hb/]
- Vi ses i Song My ["We'll Meet in Song My"] (Stockholm, Sweden: Författarförlaget, 1970) [hb/]
- Djurdoktorn (Stockholm, Sweden: Albert Bonniers, 1973) [hb/]
- The Animal Doctor (New York: Pantheon Books, 1975) [trans by David Mel Paul and Margareta Paul of the above: hb/Rick Grote]
- Den elektriska kaninen: En midsommar saga ["The Electric Rabbit: A Midsummer Saga"] (Uddevalla, Sweden: Författarförlaget, 1974) [hb/]
- En levande sjal (Stockholm, Sweden: Albert Bonniers, 1980) [hb/]
- A Living Soul (London: Norvik Press, 1988) [trans by Rika Lesser of the above: pb/]
- Efter Floden (Stockholm, Sweden: Albert Bonniers, 1982) [hb/]
- After the Flood (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1986) [trans by Löne Thygesen Blecher and George Blecher of the above: hb/David Gatti]
- Den femtionde frälsaren ["The Fiftieth Saviour"] (Stockholm, Sweden: Bonnier, 1984) [hb/]
- Geniernas återkomst ["The Return of the Geniuses"] (Stockholm, Sweden: Bonnier, 1987) [hb/]
- Holgerssons ["The Holgerssons"] (Stockholm, Sweden: Bonnier, 1991) [hb/]
- Edens bakgård ["Eden's Back Yard"] (Stockholm, Sweden: Förlagssystem, 2009) [hb/]
- Ypsilon (Stockholm, Sweden: Bonnier, 2012) [hb/]
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