cover image Astrid Lindgren: The Woman Behind Pippi Longstocking

Astrid Lindgren: The Woman Behind Pippi Longstocking

Jens Andersen, trans. from the Danish by Caroline Waight. Yale Univ., $30 (360p) ISBN 978-0-300-22610-2

Andersen’s lively biography, the first of Astrid Lindgren (1907–2002) to appear in English, reveals the Pippi Longstocking creator to be a Pippi-like force to be reckoned with: a loving mother, gifted writer, marketing genius, and influential editor. In the process, Andersen tracks Sweden’s transformation from a conservative, hierarchical society into a more open, inclusive one. The author describes how in 1926, Lindgren, then 19, unmarried, and pregnant with her first child, traveled to Copenhagen to give birth in secret and avoid social stigma. He follows her through her work (what she called “my dirty job”) censoring overseas mail for the neutral Swedish government during WWII. He then describes how, in the optimistic period following the war, Lindgren conceived of the independent, fair-minded Pippi (“Is it possible to imagine a greater contrast with the sinister Nazis?” Andersen asks). Andersen also introduces a number of powerful and influential women—e.g., Lindgren’s editor Elsa Olenius, her friend and confidante Louise Hartung—who together were determined to liberalize society through children’s literature. The first Pippi Longstocking book was a hit, not only rescuing Lindgren’s publisher from near bankruptcy but providing a new symbol of child empowerment. Filled with photos and remarkable details from Lindgren’s voluminous diaries, Andersen’s biography is a delight. (Mar.)