A Life in Hand: Tranströmer’s Brief, Resounding Memoir

The size of Tomas Tranströmer’s poetic memoir is initially striking: a book the size of a hand distinguished itself amongst the others at the local bookstore. Then a sticker: “2011 Nobel Prize Winner.” Sold. One could read a Nobel Laureate’s autobiographical montage without spilling out hours necessary for other classics. Maybe in a day.
The first paragraph of the book opens in a burst of lyricism, the author metaphorically comparing his life to a comet as Tranströmer, at sixty, tries to penetrate the nucleus of his deepest and most formative memories. These memories unfold into eight brilliant chapters and a poem, none weaker in comparison. The eight chapters constitute his budding life as a fatherless boy in Sweden, finding his way to his craft. The content is sweet, certainly endearing, and culminates in his blossoming undertaking of poetry: the ninth chapter being a small poem of memories speaking to the author.
Often when I hear “memoir” I lend myself to literary experiences of authors droning garrulously about hardships and death and the formations of their lives (and admittedly I do not read many, solely because my experience has been dry and repetitive). However, this story is a genuine recounting of a youth and Tranströmer tells it with such honesty and precision. His search for memories and the ones that surface create a stir of nostalgia within in the reader, seeking the most pronounced memories of youth and how they mold a person into a personality.
A great feat of Tranströmer’s work is that he captures the subtleties of life and pins them to the page with a conciseness. He takes familiar moments of interaction and states them directly with such conviction that these lines pertain to any human experience. While the plot of coming of age and finding passion is one I gravitate towards, the way he tells the story is far more captivating than the subject material. He portrays the adolescent navigating everything as a new experience with the strangeness of the adult world. Additionally, his poetic prose and imagery drive many moments of the story into the reader’s head indelibly. His vividness and freshness are clear marks that Tranströmer is a deserved poet laureate. I only give this collection praise, citing the sixty pages and my deficit of the Swedish language the only flaws for a ravenous appetite.

Memories Look At Me, Tomas Tranströmer, 2011, 64 pages
Pairs best with winter and something stiff to drink


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