Sleet by Stig Dagerman. Translation by Steven Hartman. Preface by Alice McDermott. David R. Godine Publisher, Boston, 2013.
This is a new collection that brings together those Dagerman stories that are strongly autobiographical in nature and written in a naturalistic style. Most of the stories are the reflections of a young male protagonist, brought up on a small farm by his grandparents, and, who later moves to live in working-class Stockholm through his adolescent years.
An exception is To Kill A Child – Dagerman’s most famous short story. It is a haunting story about a man who inadvertently runs over a child – written in the context of traffic safety. “It’s a peaceful day as sunlight settles onto the fields of the plain. Soon bells will be ringing, because today is Sunday… This is the pleasant morning of an evil day…” The reader knows exactly what will happen and follows events as they relentlessly unfold toward their tragic ending. The story quickly acquired the status of a classic and has inspired many a short film in Sweden and abroad. To Kill A Child is one of the most read short stories in Sweden ever (Swedish Radio Survey, 2008). It is used in Swedish school curricula as well as in driver’s education to promote traffic safety. Read story with an introduction by translator Steven Hartman on NYRB Blog.
Sleet contains many other gems in Dagerman’s short story production such as the title story Sleet, The Stockholm Car, The Games of Night, The Surprise, Bon Soir, and Where is My Iceland Sweater?—all in new (or first-time) English translation. Many of these stories have also been published in literary journals.
Nominated for Three Percent’s Best Translation Book Award Fiction 2014
“At night, all waking thoughts revolve around one thing, one moment. And even Håkan’s deepest sleep is much too fragile to block that thing out. True, he hasn’t heard the car pull up out front. He hasn’t heard the click of the light switch or the steps in the stairwell. But the key that slides into the keyhole also pokes a hole in Håkan’s sleep. In an instant he’s awake, stricken deep by a flash of delight tingling hot from his toes to his scalp. But the delight disappears nearly as fast as it comes, withdrawing into a cloud of uncertainties.”
—Stig Dagerman, excerpt from the short story The Games of Night, Sleet story collection in translation by Steven Hartman
The Games of Night (Nattens lekar, 1947). Translation by Naomi Walford and introduction by Michael Meyer. Bodley Head, London, 1959; Lippincott, Philadelphia and New York, 1961; Quartet Encounters, London, 1986. ISBN 0-7043-0024-9. Out of print.
Stig Dagerman published one short story collection during his life-time: Nattens lekar/The Games of Night (1947). Seventeen stories in all. About half of them written in a naturalistic style, the other half more experimental with a surrealistic feel. The volume in English by the same name includes nine stories from the Swedish collection but also an autobiographical essay A Child’s Memoirs, To Kill A Child and the introduction to Stig’s last and unfinished novel A Thousand Years With God.
About Dagerman’s Short Stories
“Dagerman wrote with beautiful objectivity. Instead of emotive phrases, he uses a choice of facts, like bricks, to construct an emotion.”
—Graham Greene on 1961 book cover of The Games of Night
“An imagination that appeals to ‘an unreasonable degree of sympathy’ is precisely what makes Dagerman’s fiction so evocative. Evocative not, as one might expect, of despair, or bleakness, or existential angst, but of compassion, fellow-feeling, even love.”
Alice McDermott, preface to Sleet , 2013
“Dagerman knows how to use silence, stillness, the half-said, the understated in order to dramatize states of deep. raw feeling. His emotional seasons are autumn and winter. Short days, cold air, the nervous glance, the glimpse, the night without sleep, are the bricks with which he builds his fictional houses filled with shadows and unresolved pain, but filled also with a stark tenderness, at times a grim humor, in the face of uneasiness and loss.”
Colm Tóibín,The Hard-Won Truth of the North, New York Review of Books July 9, 2015
Dagerman has long been one of my favorite writers. To Kill A Child [the film] was my directing debut. The size of the project was just right, not being ready to really tackle The Snake or A Burnt Child. I was also fascinated by the dramatic arc of the short story, where the terrifying but inevitable ending is clear to the reader already in the first few lines of the story.
– Alexander Skarsgård
The Games of Night. 2008. Short film (20 min), USA. In English. Directed by Dan Levy Dagerman.
Festivals Gothenburg International Film Festival 2008, LA Shorts 2008, Mill Valley Film Festival 2008, Aubagne International Film Festival 2009
Der Mann der nicht weinen wollte (The Man Who Didn’t Want To Cry). 2012. Short Film, Bauhaus Universität, Germany. Directed by Susann Maria Hempel.
Award-winning The Man Who Wouldn’t Cry/Mannen som inte ville gråta, 16 min, Sweden, 2021. Animation, Short, Comedy. Directed by Emil T. Jonsson. In Swedish with subtitles.
A story in the absurd tradition about a young man, who can’t cry following the death of a public figure, in spite of an officially mandated period of grief. (Stig was inspired by the national mourning of Swedish King Gustaf V, a Nazi sympathizer.) Everybody in the office tries to make him conform and cry to show his grief. Finally, his boss locks him in a room with a co-worker, who will do anything to make him shed tears ….
Editions and Translations
- Swedish: Nattens Lekar, 1947 (Norstedts), 1955 (Pan Agency), 1981, 1990 (Norstedts), Collected Short Stories and Prose Fragments, 2014 (Norstedts).
- Arabic: Nattens lekar, 2019 (Elaph – first independent on-line Arabic daily).
- Danish: “At slå et barn ihjel”, teaching material for 9-graders, 2021 (Clio).
- English: The Games of Night, 1959 (Bodley Head), 1961 (Lippincott), 1986 (Quartet Books). Sleet, 2013 (David R. Godine).
- Farsi: 15 short stories in translation by Swedish/Iranian writer and translator Robab Mabab – forthcoming
- French: Tuer un enfant, 1976 (Denoël), 2007 (Agone). Le froid de la Saint-Jean, 1988 (Maurice Nadeau). Notre plage nocturne, 1988 (Maurice Nadeau) Les wagon rouges, 1987, 2016 (Maurice Nadeau).
- German: Die Kälte der Mittsommernacht, 1987 (Verlag Volk und Welt). Spiele der Nacht, 2008.
- Italian: Il viaggiatore, 1991 (Iperborea). I giochi della notte, 1996 (Iperborea).
- Norwegian: Nattens Leker, 1999 (Cappelen).
- Polish: “En mindre tragedi” and “Midsommarnattens köld är hård”, 2021 (Wielka).
- Russian: Panorama, Prose Collection by Swedish Writers, SD second featured writer, 1967 (Progress).
English Translations in Literary Journals
“The Surprise”. Translation by Steven Hartman. Southern California Anthology 8, Los Angeles, CA: University of Southern California, 1996. 60-66.
“Men of Character”. Translation by Steven Hartman. Southern Review 32:1. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University, 1996. 59-79.
“Salted Meat and Cucumber”. Translation by Steven Hartman. Prism International 34:2. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia, 1996. 54-60.
“The Games of Night”. Translation by Steven Hartman. Black Warrior Review 20:2. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama, 1994. 107-117.
“Sleet”. Translation by Steven Hartman. Confrontation 54/55 (Double Issue). New York, NY: Long Island University, 1994. 53-62.
“In Grandmother’s House”. Translation by Steven Hartman. Quarterly West 38. Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah, 1994. 160-167.
“To Kill A Child”. Translation by Steven Hartman. Grand Street 42. New York, NY, 1992. 96-100.
“Bon Soir”. Translation by Anne Born. The Swedish Book Review supplement. UK, 1984.