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Cecilia Cervin’s speech to Jan Guillou


Even seven years after you left Solbacka boarding school, you were “legendary as the ‘cheekiest’ high school student ever at the school”.

You have remained “cheeky”, or refractory as Jan Myrdal usually calls it, i.e., disobedient, defiant, resilient, through a long writing life. You have achieved a lot with it and that is why we pay tribute to you today.

With some understatement, it can be said that you are well known to your audience. Therefore, just a few short stops.

From the beginning, you had intended to study law in order to be able to fight the bullying in the boarding schools. More or less by chance, you got into journalism and found that path at least as effective. An early report and later the novel Evil destroyed Solbacka. Lundsberg remains, but we have good hopes that you will succeed there as well.

You started as a journalist at FiB/Aktuellt, went from there to Folket i Bild/Kulturfront. Now it sounds like a sharp transition. But you have described it as coherent in your development as a writer and political person. While on “the fib”, you did the big scoop: the IB affair. Your revelation of the illegal Swedish espionage activities resulted in you being imprisoned as a spy!! Something that for you became a not entirely unpleasant time for reflection. You were caged as a refractory and remained so in prison even if – if one can believe your autobiography – you were released prematurely because of the sophisticated use of the very same trait.

The experiences and contacts from the IB affair gave you material for the Hamilton books, your great public – and financial – breakthrough. You yourself have described how you set them up. You wanted to “write about the political development in Sweden, within the framework of a spy adventure” and in such a way that you would get many readers.

In your early youth, you dreamed of becoming as cultured and boring as the new French novel, but that never happened. You admired Claude Simon, Le Clézio and the others, but you did not become famous in their tradition. In return, you got large new groups of readers, those who otherwise would never have read a book. “For that I should have received a medal,” you write, “and so I did. But only in France.”

Now you receive the Lenin Award, and it is much finer than any medal. It’s not just for your public education activities in the service of reading. With your series about Arn, the crusader knight, you have created a rarely seen interest in history. It’s not that either, however praiseworthy it may be, that gives you this very award, but your underlying politically refractory consciousness.

From your commitment to Vietnam, you came to work specifically for the Palestinian cause. When you were confronted with the image of Muslims in film and television after the fall of the Soviet Union, you noticed how “the evil Russian was about to be replaced by the evil Muslim” and how a new Holy War was on the way with NATO at the helm. You got the idea to compare the medieval crusades with the ones of today. In this political consciousness the books about Arn were written.

Strindberg once said of his own writing that the audience “took the fine paper, but the fly poison was not taken”. Whether your audience completely absorbed your refractory fly poison or not, I do not know. Likely, it has at least dripped into your readers’ consciousness, at least to the subliminal level that psychologists talk about.

But it is certain that your enormous fictional writing, including the latest series Brobyggarna, has given you a unique platform of trust with your large audience, when in your writing you fight both current and old everyday prejudices. A message from such a devilishly good writer naturally has a special weight.

As a refractory, you have shown solidarity with vulnerable groups. I have already mentioned your widely publicized political stances against the Vietnam War and for the Palestinians. You wrote early on about the injustices against the Sami, as you now write against the eerie racism of our time. The list could be made long.

To Jan Myrdal one can sometimes say: what is now said as news in the debate you wrote about already in the 60s. How one could wish that it no longer needed to be said! And while it still needs to be said: so nice that you say it!

That you both do; we thank you for today!