Enquist, Per Olov 1934–

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Enquist, Per Olov 1934–

PERSONAL: Born September 23, 1934, in Bureå, Västerbotten, Sweden; married first wife (divorced); married Lone Bastholm. Education: University of Uppsala, M.A., 1964.

ADDRESSES: Agent—PanAgency, P.O. Box 2052, SE-103 12 Stockholm, Sweden.

CAREER: Writer, playwright, and journalist. Uppsala, Sweden Nya Tidning, literary and theater critic, 1960–63; Svenska Dagbladet, literary and theater critic, 1966–67; Expressen, literary and theater critic, 1967–. University of California at Los Angeles, visiting professor, 1973.

MEMBER: Swedish Radio Board (1969–73), National Arts Council, Swedish Cultural Council, Swedish Writers' Association (board member).

AWARDS, HONORS: Bonniers Literary Magazine prize, 1964; Nordic Council prize, 1969, for Legionärerna; August Award, 1999, for Livlakarens besok; Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for The Visit of the Royal Physician (which was published in the United States as The Royal Physician's Visit), 2003; German LUCHS prize for the best children's book of the year, for De tre grottornas berg.



Kristallögat (title means "The Crystal Eye"), Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1961.

Färdvägen (title means "The Route"), Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1963.

(With Torsten Ekbom and Peter Husberg) Broderna Casey (title means "The Casey Brothers"), Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1964.

Magnetisörens femte vinter, Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1964, translation by Paul Britten Austei published as The Magnetist's Fifth Winter, Quartet (London, England), 1989.

Hess, Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1966.

Legionärerna, Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1968, translation by Alain Blair published as The Legionnaires: A Documentary Novel, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1973.

Sekonden, Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1971.

Berättelser från de inställda upprorens tid (stories; title means "Tales from the Age of Cancelled Rebellions"), Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1974.

Musikanternas uttag, Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1978, translation by Joan Tate published as The March of the Musicians, Collins (London, England), 1985.

(With Anders Ehnmark) Doktor Mabuses nya testamente (title means "Dr. Mabuse's New Will"), Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1982.

Nedstörtad ängel: en kärleksroman, Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1985, translation by Anna Paterson published as Downfall: A Love Story, Quartet (London, England), 1986.

(With Anders Ehnmark) Protagoras sats: på spaning efter det politiska förnuftet (title means "Protagora's Theory: On the Hunt for Political Sense"), Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1987.

Kapten Nemos bibliotek, Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1991, translation by Anna Paterson published as Captain Nemo's Library, Quartet (London, England), 1992.

Kartritarna, Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1992.

Livläkarens besok, Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1999.

The Royal Physician's Visit, translation by Tina Nunnally, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2001.

Lewis resa: roman, Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 2001, translation by Tina Nunnally published as Lewi's Journey, Overlook Duckworht (New York, NY), 2005.

The Book about Blanche and Marie, translated from the Swedish Boken om Blanche och Marie by Tina Nunnally, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2006.

Also author of the children's book De tre grottornas berg (title means "The Mountain of the Three Caves").


Tribadernas natt (produced in Sweden, 1975), PAN/Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1975, translation by Ross Shideler published as The Night of the Tribades (produced in New York, NY, 1977), Hill and Wang (New York, NY), 1977.

(With Anders Ehnmark) Chez nous: bilder från svenskt församlingsliv (title means "Chez Nous: Pictures from Swedish Community Life"), Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1976.

(With Anders Ehnmark) Mannen på trottoaren (title means "Man on the Pavement"), Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1979.

Till Fedra (title means "To Phaedra"), Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1980.

Från regnormarnas liv, produced in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Stockholm, Sweden, 1981, published in En triptyk (also see below); Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1981, translation produced in New York, NY, as The Rain Snakes.

En triptyk (contains Tribadernas natt, Från regnormarnas liv, and Till Fedra), Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1981.

I lodjurets timma (produced in Stockholm, Sweden, 1988), Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1988, translation by Shideler published as The Hour of the Lynx (produced in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1990), Forest Books (Boston, MA), 1990.

Tre pjäser, Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1994.

Bildmakarna (title means "The Picture Makers"; produced in Copenhagen, Denmark, at Royal Dramatic Theatre), Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1998.

Systrarna (title means "Sisters"), produced in Fredericksburg, Denmark, at Betty Nansen Theater, 2000.


(Editor) Sextiotalskritik: en antologi (title means, "Criticism of the Sixties: An Anthology"), Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1966.

De misstolkade legionärerna (nonfiction, bound with Ett baltiskt debattinglägg by Arturs Landsmanis), Lttiska nationella fonden (Stockholm, Sweden), 1970.

Strindberg—ett liv (television screenplay; title means "Strindberg—A Life"), Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1984.

Mannen i båten (title means "Man in the Boat"), Carlsen (Stockholm, Sweden), 1985.

Två reportage om idrott (title means "Two Report on Sport"), Norstedt (Stockholm, Sweden), 1986.

Hamsun: en fortaelling (film script), Samelen (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1996.

Jakten på den forlorade själen, Filmkonst (Göteborg, Sweden), 1997.

Also author of Katedralen i München och andra berättelser (stories; title means "The Cathedral in Munich and Other Stories"), 1972. Writings have been translated into more than twenty languages.

ADAPTATIONS: The biographical film Hamsun was published on videocassette.

SIDELIGHTS: Swedish writer Per Olov Enquist is known for his many documentary novels and plays. Influenced by the developments in the French novel, during the 1960s Enquist experimented with its form. In what became known as documentary style, he attempted to report on and reconstruct events based on research and educated guesses. Yet with the complicated nature of his subjects, in both his novels and dramas, he often asks more questions than he can answer.

Enquist wrote his first novel, Kristallögat, while a student at the University of Uppsala in southern Sweden. Although he followed it with Färdvägen two years later, it was not until 1964 when he published Magnetisorens femte vinter that he enjoyed critical and popular success. In this work, Enquist told the story of a character who has much in common with Friedrich Anton Mesmer, an Austrian physician famous for his theory of animal magnetism. During seances he supposedly cured diseases and later, after being denounced as a charlatan, fell into obscurity. Enquist investigated the nature of deception and people's ability to believe in illusions. Hess was Enquist's attempt to clarify another mystery, the life of Rudolf Hess. Hess was a prominent member of the Nazi party during World War II. In May 1941, he flew alone to Scotland, allegedly to appeal to the British for a peace settlement. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London and later held at a psychiatric hospital. At the Nuremburg trials, Hess was sentenced to life in prison.

With Legionärerna Enquist established his reputation as one of Sweden's premier young writers. In this controversial novel, he tells the story of Baltic soldiers who fled from the German army at the end of World War II, only to find themselves deported from Sweden. For this work Enquist won the Nordic Council Prize in 1969, the most prestigious literary award in Sweden.

An accomplished high-jumper, Enquist showed his interest in sports in several works. Katedralen i München is a collection of newspaper articles about sports which he wrote during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. The novel Sekonden, in which Enquist recounts the story of a dishonest athlete and his handicapped son against the backdrop of a sporting event, is a critique of society's need to set new records at any cost. The following year, Enquist lectured at the University of California in Los Angeles, where he was a visiting professor. During this time he began writing his controversial play Tribadernas natt (translated as The Night of the Tribades). He also produced Berättelser från de inställda upprorens tid ("Tales from the Age of Cancelled Rebellions"), a collection of stories.

The year 1975 marked Enquist's debut as a dramatist with The Night of the Tribades. Through this work, En-quist examines in documentary fashion the life of renowned Swedish novelist and dramatist August Strindberg, focusing on the crisis in his marital life in 1889 and Strindberg's play Den Starkare. Strindberg had three unsuccessful marriages during the course of his life. The work enjoyed success at home and abroad, but it also aroused the ire of those who believed that Enquist wrongly portrayed a national icon. The Night of the Tribades was translated into twenty languages and was given more than one hundred performances. According to Peter Vinten-Johansen in his essay in Studies in German and Scandinavian Literature after 1500, The Night of the Tribades "fits the genre criteria of the documentary tradition. In it, he uses his considerable empathetic powers to step back into the past and to interpret it for his own time. It has that fluid boundary between the historical evidence and the personal perspective of the author that makes documentary literature so accessible and meaningful to an audience that shares the world view that is depicted." Enquist followed this work with other dramas, including Från regnormarnas liv, about Hans Christian Andersen, and Systrarna, about Anton Chekhov and his play The Three Sisters.

In the late 1970s, Enquist and his second wife, Lone Bastholm, moved to Copenhagen, where Bastholm worked as the head of dramatic productions at the Royal Theater. With Anders Ehnmark, Enquist penned Chez nous: bilder från svenskt församlingsliv. This play, which borrowed its title from the famous sex club in Stockholm, took shots at sensationalist newspapers, the commercial world, trade unions, and professional sports. Because of its risqué topic, the play attracted a great deal of attention, leading to its commercial success.

In 1978 Enquist published the novel Musikanternas uttäg, which depicted the conditions of nonunion laborers in Sweden in the early 1900s. It chronicles the lives of a socialist organizer, Nicanor, from 1903 to 1973, as he tries to organize a trade union in northern Sweden. Writing about the English translation, Liz Heron, in her collective review for New Statesman, asserted: "What lifts The March of the Musicians well above the level of a worthy documentary fiction drawn from the annals of Swedish labour history, is its concern to invoke historical continuities: to see the past not as closed off from the present, but as always flowing towards it." Heron went on to note: "[This] is a moving and sometimes achingly funny book, resonant with the knowledge that even the frailest, most crushed spirits resist the unjust reasons of their time." Among Enquist's plays to be translated into and performed in English is I lodjurets timma (translated as The Hour of the Lynx). In this work, Equist delves into the psyche of an emotionally disturbed boy who has been committed to a mental institution for murder. Although she found fault with the translation, Scandinavian Studies contributor Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey called the work a "gem" and "a hauntingly powerful play."

Based on his own personal history, Capten Nemos bibliotek (translated as Captain Nemo's Library) tells the story of a boy who has to be exchanged for another at a neighbor's home to correct a mistake that had been made in the hospital of their birth. To cope with the situation, the ten-year-old narrator withdraws into his own world, one based on the fantastic voyages of Jules Verne's fictional creation Captain Nemo. The work garnered praise from Swedish critics and caught the attention of Ingrid Clareus, who noted in her review for World Literature Today that "with repetitions and rhythmic refrains [Enquist] succeeds in producing the right timbre to both everyday situations and more subtle meditations." Although Enquist hinted that this work would be his last novel, he published the award-winning Livläkarens besök eight years later. This new work focused on Johan Friedrich Struensee, who was the personal physician of the Danish King Christian VII. Because King Christian was mentally ill, Dr. Struensee took advantage of his position to change laws without the king's approval and was eventually executed when others took control.

Another controversial work was Enquist's television script based on a book by Norwegian author Thorkild Hansen for the Jan Troell film Hamsun. Hamsun was a Nobel Prize-winning writer who was accused of sympathizing with the Nazis during World War II. "The subject is interesting and difficult. How does one deal with the steadfastness of a man whose views are loathsome?" wrote Stanley Kauffmann in his review for the New Republic. Although Kauffmann judged many of the scenes to be "excellent," he added: "I wish the film let us understand the source of Hamsun's politics as well as it dramatizes the convolutions of his character." He concluded: "In any case—to put the matter mildly—Hamsun deserves to be seen."

Enquist once again returns to the historical novel with The Royal Physician's Visit, which takes place in eighteenth-century Sweden. The mentally troubled but also brilliant Christian VII succeeds his father to the throne of Denmark in January 1766 and within a year is betrothed to the Princess Caroline Mathilde of England, who is thirteen years old. Although their union is not intimate for long, it does produce a male heir. Eventually, the physician Johann Freidrich Struensee is hired to care for the troubled King. Struensee, however, becomes the Queen's lover and essentially runs the country with her, also producing a daughter through what soon came to be recognized as an unholy union. Eventually, Struenesee is arrested and sentenced to death and the Queen sent back to England, where she dies mysteriously at the age of twenty-three. King Christian VII, meanwhile, falls deeper into madness and the country is essentially run by the prime minister. A Booklist contributor called the novel "masterful." Alex Paton, writing in the British Medical Journal, noted that the author's "account reads at times like a film script."

In his novel Lewis resa: roman (translated as Lewi's Journey), Enquist builds his story around the growth of the Swedish Pentecostal movement during the beginning of the twentieth century. The novel focuses primarily on Lewi Pethrus, the revivalist pastor who begins the new religious movement during World War I, and Sven Lidman, the man to whom Pethrus handed control of his church in the early 1940s after experiencing a near nervous collapse and leaving Sweden for Chicago. Referring to the novel as "a huge book in both its novelistic scope and its historical span," World Literature Today contributor Anna Paterson went on to note: "It is also an exercise in literary risk-taking." Commenting that the novel is an analysis of Sweden's political and religious life, Patterson added: "His story line leads you on from one level to the next, constantly shifting between accounts of real events, narrative interludes—fantasy, imaginative biography, introspective autobiography—and philosophical speculation." Leann Restaino, writing in the Library Journal, referred to the book as "thought-provoking and engrossing."

Enquist takes on the historical figures of Marie Curie, the first two-time Nobel Prize winner, and Curie's assistant and later a psychiatric patient, Blanche Wittman, in his novel Boken om Blanche och Marie (The Book about Blanche and Marie). Wittman is eventually disabled by handling the pitchblend that Curie uses to isolate radium, resulting in Wittman losing both of her legs and her left arm. She also ends up a "hysteria" patient of Martin Charcot, a mentor of Sigmund Freud. In his novelistic treatment of the duo, Enquist delves into the close relationship between Curie and Wittman and also the scandals of their lives. Noting that the author includes "personal memories and reflections" in the narrative, Booklist contributor Ray Olson also called the book "absorbing." Writing in Entertainment Weekly, Raymond Fiore commented that the "novel … throbs with a vigorous pulse."



Rossel, Sven Hakon, editor, Documentarism in Scandinavian Literature, Rodopi (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1997.

Vinten-Johansen, Peter, Studies in German and Scandinavian Literature after 1500, edited by James A. Parente, Jr., and Richard Erich Schade, Camden House (Columbia, SC), 1993.


Booklist, January 1, 2002, review of The Royal Physician's Visit, p. 761; February 15, 2006, Ray Olson, review of The Book about Blanche and Marie, p. 43.

Bookseller, February 4, 2005, review of Lewi's Journey, p. 30.

British Medical Journal, August 30, 2003, Alex Paton, review of The Royal Physician's Visit, p. 508.

Entertainment Weekly, March 24, 2006, Raymond Fiore, review of The Book about Blanche and Marie, p. 73.

Library Journal, March 15, 2005, Leann Restaino, review of Lewi's Journey, p. 68.

New Republic, May 19, 1997, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Hamsun: en fortaelling, pp. 26-27.

New Statesman, April 26, 1985, Liz Heron, "Leaving Home," pp. 32-33.

Publishers Weekly, April 15, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of Downfall: A Love Story, p. 75.

Scandinavian Studies, winter, 1989, Peter Vinten-Johansen, "Documentary Fiction and Historical Fiction," pp. 73-77; spring, 1992, Anne-Charlotte Hanes Harvey, review of The Hour of the Lynx, pp. 287-289; spring, 1995, Marilyn Johns Blackwell, "Ideology and Specularity in Per Olov Enquist's Tribadernas natt," pp. 196-215.

Times Literary Supplement, August 31, 1990, Randall Stevenson, "He Do the Piece in Different Voices," p. 923.

World Literature Today, winter, 1993, Ingrid Claréus, review of Kapten Nemos bibliotek, p. 198; autumn, 1998, Lynn R. Wilkinson, review of Bildmakarna, p. 849; spring, 2002, Anna Patterson, review of Lewis resa: roman, p. 210.


Pan Agency Web site, http://www.panorstedt.se/ (May 21, 2006), profile of author.

Pegasos, http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/ (May 21, 2006), profile of author.