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Himlen Nära review

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Issue number: 2024:1


Himlen nära. Stig Dagerman och Anita Björk. En bok om konstnärsskap, livskamp och kärlek.

(Heaven is Near. A daughter’s exploration of the art, love and enduring legacies of Swedish writer Stig Dagerman and actress Anita Björk.)

by Lo Dagerman
reviewed by Karin Filipsson

When Swedish author Stig Dagerman (1923-1954) met Anita Björk (1923-2012), famous Swedish actress, they were both 28 years old, already married with children and successful in their creative careers. When they were finally able to marry each other, the inscription in Anita’s wedding band read ‘Himlen Nära’ (Heaven is Near). They had four years together before Stig’s  suicide when their daughter Lo was only three years old.

Lo Dagerman has lived and worked in the USA for 40 years. As the daughter of Stig Dagerman and Anita Björk, Lo has devoted a significant part of her life to making Stig’s legacy better known in the United States. She runs the English website dedicated to his works and has produced two short films together with her son, director Dan Levy Dagerman. In 2019, Lo Dagerman and Nancy Pick published the book The Writer and the Refugee: Paris 1947. Stig Dagerman and Etta Federn.

With Heaven Is Near, Lo Dagerman has written a captivating memoir that describes her parents’ passionate love story against the backdrop of the literary and artistic scene of Sweden during the 1950s, as well as explores what happened after the tragic death of one the Sweden’s literary giants, still loved and appreciated today by new generations of readers. Heaven is Near investigates the intricacies embedded in the coming together of two creative masterminds, their personal struggles, and the legacy they left behind, for their daughter to bring to life, through her own writing in conversation with her parents’ voices as they come through in personal letters, journals and interviews.

Furthermore, it is the story of their daughter’s journey and her relationship to her mother, which evolves and deepens over the course of her life. Dagerman’s book successfully strikes a balance between personal memoir and literary history, inserting her own narrative voice in between excerpts from her parents’ letters and diaries. In fact, by weaving together these three people’s voices and experiences, Heaven is Near pulls you in as a reader, and allows you to engage with the characters so closely and vividly, it feels as if you are right there with them, through the decades. In a passage titled The Black Box, Lo Dagerman describes finding the only remaining one of her father’s diaries, in a black box, as she is cleaning out her mother’s apartment after her death in 2012. Stig Dagerman had destroyed all his other diaries before taking his life. Despite keeping her father’s literary legacy alive, not least in the United States, Lo Dagerman has avoided telling the more personal story of her parents’ lives until this moment, and she masterfully paints a portrait of two giant cultural legends in Swedish history, while simultaneously writing the story of a mother and a daughter, and their relationship over the course of six decades, and their conversations, letters, and experiences while traveling through Europe and the United States.

Heaven is Near is an intriguing, captivating and moving story of the creative life of both her parents, about family, love, pain and anguish, and Lo Dagerman manages to convey an incredibly moving, detailed as well as intellectually stimulating memoir, without ever coming across as sentimental or tainted by any bitterness.

British author Graham Greene once wrote about Stig Dagerman’s prose: ‘Instead of emotive phrases, he uses a choice of facts, like bricks, to construct an emotion.' Lo Dagerman’s narration in Heaven is Near echoes this description, and she brings us with her on a journey of discovery through the struggles, creative processes, happiness and love of her parents, and through the details of their saga, she connects us to the ubiquitous, human experience.

Lo Dagerman standing in front of brick wall
Lo Dagerman. Photo: Kajsa Göransson.

Himlen nära

Norstedts, 2023

317 pages

Foreign Rights: Lo Dagerman

Lo Dagerman is the daughter of Stig Dagerman and Anita Björk. Having lived and worked in the USA for 40 years, she has devoted a significant part of her life to making Stig’s legacy better known in the United States.