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Fredrik Lang. Vagen, vandringen och livet: Om platser, resor 1990-2000.

Helsinki. Schildt. 2001. 194 pages. ISBN 951-50-1218-X

BORN in legendarily pugnacious Narpes in 1947, Fredrik Lang has been an offside yet constantly interesting player in Finland-Swedish literature since his debut with Ockupationen (1978), about the invasion--actually rather mild--of Helsinki's Old Student Union ten years before. He has gone back and forth between fiction (semiautobiographical, one suspects) and sociopolitical reflection. Back in 1986, his Aterblick-nu, a collection of poems, aphorisms, and epigrams, opened with a phrase about "having wandered in the borderlands between analysis and experiencing," which can surely be applied to the present collection of essays, all five previously printed--in the defunct Ai-Ai, in Ny Tid, and in Kontur. "Havsmonolog" is from an isolated August stay in the skerries. "Tysk host till fots--the title alludes to Stig Dagerman's classic of 1947 about postwar Germany--tells of a trek, on foot, from Danzig to Lubeck in 1991, following the fall of the communist regimes in Poland and East Germany. "Ambulando solvitur" is a re-creation, in 1995, of Petrarch's ascent of Mont Ventoux in 1336 ("the first tourist since antiquity"); always energetic, Lang also decided to climb Mt. Sainte Victoire, a tribute to Cezanne, and found his car vandalized in a parking lot. "Asnebryggan till litteraturen" takes Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes as its model, but Modestine is replaced by Escortine, the faithful automobile; it also contains a bow to Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, a poodle. "Se manniskan" goes on a bus ride and hike from Corinth to Thebes, in honor of Hesiod's Works and Days; modern Thebes, like Athens, is a terrible disappointment, yet gives rise to extensive ponderings about Sophocles' Oedipus Rex.

Lang is a very learned and contemplative author, and never lets the reader forget it; it was just this urge to overload with long essayistic inserts that made his Bagges italienska resa (1991) founder. Just the same, his heart is in the right place--he is a biophile, in Edward O. Wilson's term--and he persistently warns against the destruction of nature by industry and its products. His historical asides (e.g., on the camisards) show an attractive irony not always evident as he plunges into the murky waters of personal freedom's meaning. (The swimming image is suggested by his own daily swims, like his father before him, in the Gulf of Bothnia, and his public baths in handy French brooks.) In defense of Lang's digressions: Goethe's Italienische Reise and Hamsun's I aventyrlandet have them, too.

George C. Schoolfield

Yale University
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Author:Schoolfield, George C.
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 2003
Words:413
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