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Linn Ullmann–UNQUIET

“My father had the rare ability to make others feel as though they were the one and only.  That they were seen, heard, chosen.  He would take you by the hand and say, ‘Come with me,’ and for a brief or a long moment you might think you were the first person he had ever said this to….Even when he was very old and one-eyed and frail and forgetful…when he was no more than a heap of skin and bones stuck in a wheelchair…even then he had this ability.  ‘Stay with me.  Don’t abandon me.  You are the only one I let come close.’  Linn Ullmann, on her father Ingmar Bergman.

cover unquietIn this quotation from the ending of Unquiet, author Linn Ullmann summarizes her feelings about her father, Ingmar Bergman, and her complicated relationship with him.  The book, which she calls a “novel,” is more like a memoir, containing descriptions of many intimate family events, the instinctive reactions of her father and mother, Liv Ullmann, to life’s circumstances as they face them, and her own thoughtful exploration of her own identity, which dominates the body of the narrative.  Age forty-eight by the time the novel ends, Ullmann presents an honest and realistic depiction of her life from the time she was a tiny child to the present, and she is so determined to be honest with herself and her reader and so hopeful that her commentary contains elements of universality that she does not even mention the names of her famous parents until well over a hundred pages of narrative have elapsed.  She clearly prefers that they be regarded as real, ordinary humans living their lives as lovers and parents, and not as the famous film and theater professionals that they have become.  As a result, the reader sees her parents facing what were, to her and to them, seemingly “ordinary” family situations and dealing with them from their own perspectives. 

Linn+Ullmann+Dinner+Gala+Agora+12mgG7QNb4JlWith all their other commitments, however, Linn Ullmann’s parents were not typical, of course, nor was her childhood.  As a pre-schooler, she felt left out at home when she wanted to be loved unconditionally.  She wanted to be recognized as important, at least to her parents, part of a real family, however different it might be. The ninth of Bergman’s children by four different wives and additional lovers, Linn was the littlest child in the entire extended family, significantly younger than all Bergman’s other children, and perhaps less interesting to him. Linn was also a mystery to her mother Liv Ullman, who seemed not to know what to do with her, and Liv’s frequent absences greatly exacerbated Linn’s feelings of isolation and alienation.  Linn was begging for attention and was smart enough to do whatever was necessary to get it for much of her childhood.

Linn Ullmann and her mother, actress Liv Ullmann.

Linn Ullmann and her mother, actress Liv Ullmann.

Unquiet reflects the author’s approach to life through its very title, as Ullmann moves around and through time and place, telling her story through incidental flashes of memory.  She is writing, she says, a story of love, and this involves three different kinds of love.  “You can never know much about other people’s lives, least of all your parents’, and especially not if your parents have made a point of turning their lives into stories that they then go on to tell with a God-given ability for not caring the least about what’s true and what’s not.”  Still, she regards the “first love” as that between her parents.  The second love is that of “the lovers who became parents and the girl who became their daughter.”  Her parents were opposite in personality, she says, and “considering that they, too, wanted to be children, things sometimes got a little difficult.”  She adds, “I was his child and her child, but not their child, it was never us three.”  Attesting to this is the fact that “There isn’t a single photograph of the three of us together.  She and he and I.  That constellation doesn’t exist.”

Hammars, along the coast of Faro. The house here is several hundred feel long and one room deep, extended horizontally, and never vertically

Hammars, along the coast of Faro.  From the air, the house looks several hundred feet long but is only one room deep and one room high, an unusual pattern for any home.

Ullmann’s view of the third kind of love centers around Hammars, a house which stretches seemingly hundreds of feet along the ocean on Faro Island, in the Baltic Sea just east of Sweden. “Hammars was his place, not hers, not the other women’s, not the children’s, not the grandchildren’s,” but it was still a place which felt more comfortable to Linn Ullmann than her own name.  Her parents had met when Liv Ullmann was on Faro during Bergman’s shooting of the film Persona, in which Liv Ullmann was one of two female leads.  It was the first of ten films they eventually made together, and Linn Ullmann believes that the two fell in love immediately.  While Bergman was on the island for this film, he also became so enchanted with a site on the ocean that he built his permanent home, Hammars, there, and eventually lived there in retirement and died there in 2007.  From the time she was a young child, Linn Ullmann visited there alone, living for a month with Bergman and any of her brothers and sisters who happened to be around, seemingly a summer camp combined with an effort to be a family.

Museums on Faro Island.

Museums on Faro Island.

By the end of this introduction, the reader is familiar with the basics of this impressionistic family story, which becomes increasingly specific as the author revisits and re-explores the ideas she has proffered so far.  It is on a visit to Hammars in 2005 that her father suggests that Ullmann interview him, spending an hour or so each day making tape recordings.  He has become forgetful, and he is losing his words, but he likes the idea that he might one day make a book tour with her.  He starts recording, eventually creating six tapes, but a book tour is impossible.  He is not healthy enough, and Ullman has many responsibilities. Having earned plaudits as an actress and director, Ullmann in recent years has become a well-respected literary critic and columnist in both Norway, her home, and in Sweden, and she is also the author of five successful books, nominated for many prizes.  When her father dies in 2007, Ullmann looks for the tapes and discovers they are almost useless, so full of static they are nearly impossible to understand.

Faro, an island off the coast of Sweden, where Ingmar Bergman made his home.

Faro, an island off the coast of Sweden, where Ingmar Bergman made his home.

Here Linn Ullmann puts her life into honest perspective, with all three kinds of love being featured – romantic love, love of children and family, and love of home. As her sense of independence and her determination grow of necessity, as she grows from childhood to adulthood, she makes mistakes, ignoring well-intentioned advice from people who have paid little attention to her when she needed them, but she lives with the results and accepts them.  Ultimately, her growing independence and her sympathetic depictions of both parents win hearts despite the sad failings in communication and connection. It makes no difference if this is a memoir or fiction.  Linn Ullman has created a work memorable for its authenticity, its insights into parents and children, and its forthright depictions of the struggles that even caring people have in showing love.

ALSO by Linn Ullmann, reviewed here:  THE COLD SONG

Faro Island is in the Baltic Sea, between Sweden and Latvia

Faro Island is in the Baltic Sea, between Sweden and Latvia. Click to enlarge.

Photos.  The author’s photo appears on http://www.zimbio.com

Liv Ullmann with her daughter, author Linn Ullmann, are from https://www.rogerebert.com

Hammars, Ingemar Bergman’s Faro Island home for much of his life, may be found here:  http://1.bp.blogspot.com/

The Bergman Center and the Faro Island Museum appear on https://www.globtroter.pl/

The lighthouse on Faro Island appears on http://www.museyon.com

The map of the Baltic with Faro Island highlighted is from http://www.worldeasyguides.com

REVIEW. PHOTOS. Autobiography/Memoir, Book Club Suggestions, Exploration, Literary, Norway, Psychological study, Sweden |
Written by: Linn Ullmann
Published by: W. W. Norton
Date Published: 01/15/2019
ISBN: 978-0393609943
Available in: Ebook Hardcover

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