cover image The Copenhagen Trilogy: Childhood; Youth; Dependency

The Copenhagen Trilogy: Childhood; Youth; Dependency

Tove Ditlevsen, trans. from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-0-374-60239-0

This astounding trio of memoirs by Ditlevsen (1917–1976) comprises three pivotal periods in the writer’s life. Childhood covers the author’s darkly humorous disclosures on her misfit nature and the “chaos of anger, sorrow, and compassion” instilled by her mother as she struggled to become a poet despite growing up poor. In Youth, Tove celebrates the publication of her poetry and regrets several divorces. Dependency tracks her turbulent adulthood, accented by pregnancies and periods of feverish, prolific writing yet marred by a backroom abortion and a third marriage to a physician who introduced her to opioids in the 1940s, sparking an addiction that would endure until her suicide. Though freely flowing with the cadence of diary entries, Ditlevsen’s narration nonetheless maintains intensive focus, demarcated with razor-sharp prose. She describes her father as “big and black and old like the stove” and revels in the way the “festive and exciting” street of her childhood “envelops me completely, as if it were created to satisfy my personal need for self-expression.” Though the author died by suicide at 58 after a series of relapses on morphine and mental breakdowns, these volumes coalesce around her defiant will to create. This confessional masterpiece stands as the crowning achievement of Ditlevsen’s fiercely adventuresome and maverick legacy. (Jan.)