Jonas Gardell is a Swedish writer and comedian, whose works are not (yet?) translated into English. En Komikers Uppväxt (in German: Ein Komiker Wächst Heran, in English: A Comedian Grows Up) is probably his most successful book.
Juha is a twelve year old, growing up in a small town/suburb close to Stockholm. He’s a social outcast at his school, which he tries to compensate for by being funny. Sometimes he succeeds, mostly he doesn’t. His best friend is Jenny, the neighbour’s girl. She’s as unpopular as he is, if not more so, and everytime the popular boys in school give him some attention, Juha drops her like a hot potato.
Between bullying, growing up, choosing sides etc. Gardell sketches the foundation of a person in a story that is clichéd but at least it’s a quick read. I’d say is the perfect reading material for a sunday afternoon, when you really don’t want to think.
The writing is rather simple but it flows easily. I read the book in half a day, in between cooking, learning maths with an 11-year-old and resisting to kill the cats. [I made it!]
Inbetween the actual story, there’s letters from grown-up Juha, showing what a bitter, fear-ridden adult he’s become, although he achieved his dream of becoming a comedian. But the focus is definitely his school year in the 70s.
What bugged me about it was that there were no characters, there were only stereotypes. The bullies, the outcasts etc… Apart from Juha, who – let’s face it – isn’t exactly cliché-free, almost none of the other characters’ reasoning was explained, or even hinted at, especially not the antagonised ones.
Still, it is not a major piece of literature but it’s fine entertainment if you don’t want to engage too much or have some time to kill.