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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir


Memories Look at Me

Tomas Tranströmer

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To purchase Memories Look at Me

Title: Memories Look at Me
Author: Tomas Tranströmer
Genre: Memoir
Written: 1993 (Eng. 1997)
Length: 60 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Memories Look at Me - US
Memories Look at Me - UK
Memories Look at Me - Canada
Memories Look at Me - India
Les souvenirs m'observent - France
Die Erinnerungen sehen mich - Deutschland
I ricordi mi guardano - Italia
  • Swedish title: Minnena ser mig
  • A Memoir
  • Translated by Robin Fulton
  • First published (in English) in New Collected Poems (UK, 1997) and The Great Enigma (US, 2006); as a stand-alone, 2011

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Our Assessment:

B+ : charming (but very small)

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Memories Look at Me is a very brief memoir of Tomas Tranströmer's childhood and school days, now (2011) available in a lovely pocket-sized edition (it has also previously been included in larger collections of his poetry). More a collection of impressions than an actual memoir, it's a charming little book that does offer some insight into Tranströmer the poet and the person and what shaped him; beautifully written, it makes one wish he had a go at a producing a full-fledged memoir.
       From his family -- a grandfather seven decades older than him leaving a strong impression, a rarely seen father (his parents divorced when he was very young) -- to details of the time -- he notes moving to a "lower-middle-class tenement" with his (working) mother after the divorce, but they still have a maid-cum-"child-minder" -- Tranströmer paints a vivid picture even in such few pages. From his childhood museum visits to changing enthusiasms ("I was a devotee of wall charts", he reports about school) he shows the progress to his becoming a poet. Library visits played an important role -- especially once he had cleared the hurdle of how to get at those adult-section books. But interestingly:

     Once given free rein of the library I devoted my attention mostly to nonfiction. I left literature to its fate.
       There's only a bit about his turn to poetry -- including the tantalizing closing section about his wrestling with Latin at school, which ends with a bit about his own first poetic efforts and reveals:
Classical meters -- how did I come to use them ? The idea simply turned up. For I regarded Horace as a contemporary. He was like René Char, Oskar Loerke, or Einar Malm. The idea was so naïve it became sophisticated.
       There are descriptions of several pivotal events, including his getting separated from his mother as a young child and trying to find his own way back home (a bit surprised still that all the adults on the street "thought it was quite alright for a little boy to wander by himself through Stockholm on a dark evening. But that's how it was"), or as single word -- "särskilt (especially)" -- from his secondary school entrance exam that still haunts him "far into the 1960s". As a young schoolboy he chose the path of least resistance against one bully, just going limp whenever he was attacked -- and:
     I wonder what this method of turning myself into a lifeless rag has meant for me later on in life. The art of being ridden roughshod over while yet maintaining one's self-respect. Have I resorted to the trick too often ?
       Overall, it's a charming, lovely little book, offering a fascinating glimpse (but only a glimpse) of the man and hints of how he became the poet -- but one does wish for more. A lot more.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 December 2011

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Memories Look at Me: Reviews: Tomas Tranströmer: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer was born in 1931. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 2011.

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© 2011 the complete review

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