Per Olov Enquist. Lewis resa.
LEWIS RESA (LEWI'S JOURNEY) is a huge book in both its novelistic scope and its historical span, a grandiose gesture by a grand old man of Swedish letters. It is also an exercise in literary risk-taking, new in the events he focuses upon if not entirely in his sweeping intent. Per Olov Enquist has attempted to synthesize the novelist's intense interest in the personal with analyses of political and religious performances on the Swedish national and the international stage. His story line leads you on from one level to the next, constantly shifting between accounts of real events, narrative interludes--fantasy, imaginative biography, introspective autobiography--and philosophical speculation.
So what is all this about? It is about the birth of a new religious movement in the first decades of the twentieth century and the people who shaped it. The motif of the journey recurs. There is the narrative idea of the Lebenslauf (curriculum vitae) as used by German pietistic sects: we are introduced to one of these and become co-travelers through the lives of the chief protagonists. The "Lewi" of the title is the revivalist pastor Lewi Pethrus (ne Johansson!), who founded the Pentecostal Church in Sweden during the first years of World War I. He became one of its key figures and contributed crucially to its swift and astonishing growth into a worldwide organization with many millions of supporters (Enquist says 250 million). The clever young man--Enquist writes wonderfully wittily and well about Lewi's sheer intellectual ability--was driven by genuine conviction always, but develops into a deeply ambiguous figure, part gentle father of "The Movement," part ruthless master of Realpolitik.
Pethrus, the successful church leader, traveled a great deal, but one journey late in his life was particularly significant, or so Enquist insists. Fleeing schism at home and close to a nervous breakdown, Pethrus left for Chicago in 1948, handing over his precious church to his colleague and friend Sven Lidman. Lidman, the other central character in this story, is by any standards a strange figure: a writer and right-wing ex-pagan turned religious enthusiast and orator. When Pethrus returned from the States, he had accepted that being a politician and an entrepreneur was unavoidable. One consequence of his determination to rule was his humiliation and exclusion from the fold of Sven Lidman. This was one of the bitterest rows in a story full of vicious conflicts between the brethren. It is in the passages about the relationship of the two men--first close friends ("Lewi and Sven loved each other"), later alienated from each other, and later still victor and crushed victim--that the writing becomes most moving and vivid.
Lewis resa is also a journey through an intellectual territory that Enquist has spent the best part of forty years staking out, starting with the story of Hitler's representative, Rudolf Hess (1966). He has written both history and reportage, but has increasingly focused on novels with this documentary yet very personal tone. The structure--part personal commentary, part historical account, part narrative invention--was eloquently developed in his recent book Livlakarens besok (The Visit of the Royal Physician; 1999; see WLT 74:2, p. 420), about Dr. Strunensee, Royal Physician at the late-eighteenth-century Danish court and, no coincidence here, of German pietistic origins.
Anna Paterson University of St. Andrews (U.K)
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|Publication:||World Literature Today|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2002|
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