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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Ulf Stark
Age Range: 9-11
When Gottfried Junior’s grandpa suffers a bad fall he finds himself confined to hospital with a broken leg and a weak heart. He hates being in hospital and is cantankerous and foul-mouthed to the staff. Gottfried’s dad avoids visiting because he finds the situation so stressful, but Gottfried Junior loves his Grandpa, visiting as often as he is allowed, and even when he’s not, he goes anyway.
Grandpa can only think of the place he was happiest – the island where he lived with Grandma until she died. He wants to go home, to the house in the Stockholm archipelago one last time as he has one or two things to attend to, however, getting out of hospital is the tricky bit. Being kindred spirits Gottfried and Grandpa decide to take things into their own hands. A secret plan is put into action with every detail meticulously planned: Gottfried lying to his parents about where he’s going overnight, organising supplies, enlisting some help and the transport that will spirit Grandpa away from the hospital and take him home.
The Runaways by one of Sweden’s best-loved authors Ulf Stark, translated by Julia Marshall, was one of the last books written before his untimely death in 2017. Stark’s prose are refreshingly honest and straightforward in their dealings with old age, infirmity, family tensions and the closing stages of life, all of which are so beautifully encapsulated. This is not the first time that Stark has written an intergenerational novel: Can You Whistle, Johanna?* (2005) also tackled similar themes.
Heart-warming and humorous Gottfried Junior’s narration is often insightful, especially his father’s relationship with his father, who cannot cope with his father’s decline, but it also demonstrates the deep bond he has with his Grandpa. Discussions about death and heaven are also dealt with in a conversational matter-of-fact way. |There is much vivid detail in the descriptions of their adventurous escapade together as well as symbolism, such as Grandma’s last jar lingonberry jam “part of her is still in it” says Grandpa which makes it so special that he is reluctant to share it even with his grandson.
Illustrated by award-winning artist Kitty Crowther, the vibrant coloured-pencil drawings capture the emotion between the characters charting Grandpa’s expressions of irascibility superbly. Stark asked for Crowther to illustrate this final book and there’s no doubt it was the perfect choice.
A touching, gently humorous story with hidden depths from a master storyteller dealing with life’s bigger questions of love, loss and death in such a witty and eloquent way.
*Reviewed on the Outside In World website.