Per Olov Enquist

P O och Pelle

Per Olov Enquist’s childhood village Hjoggböle in Västerbotten in northern Sweden is the place where it all begins and ends.

“P O’s world never extends further than what you can see from the outhouse in Hjoggböle,” Enquist’s close friend and writing partner Anders Ehnmark has said.

But there is room in that world for everything that really matters. The chapel and the green two-story building that was P O Enquist’s childhood home. A good-luck mountain ash. The heavenly harp, or rather, telephone wires attached to the wall of the green house, wires that sing during cold winter nights. The rosehip hedge. The spring full of frogs that need protecting. The lake named Hjoggböle Swamp and the island full of vipers. The Executioners. The Victims. The Traitors.

One of British political philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s most well-known essays explores the difference between “the fox” and” the hedgehog.” The fox can do many things. The hedgehog can only do one great thing. Berlin calls Balzac a fox. Dostoyevsky is a hedgehog.

So where does P O Enquist fit in? He is a hedgehog who also knows all the tricks of the fox. He basically keeps telling the same story. That’s the great thing. But at the same time he has an amazing ability to always disguise his story in new and surprising ways. He is a master at turning true stories into poetry and making poetry seem like real life.

He finds executioners, victims and traitors all over the world, in history and in literature, and brings them home to his village, to his own articles, essays, plays, movie scripts and novels: Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess; the Baltic soldiers that the Swedish government extradited to the Soviet Union after World War II; neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, his patient Blanche Wittman and physicist Marie Curie; revival minister Lewi Pethrus; Johann Friedrich Struensee, a man of the Enlightenment who became ruler of Denmark; authors like H.C. Andersen, Knut Hamsun, Selma Lagerlöf and August Strindberg. At times using names and others not, P O Enquist has also, time and again, written his own biography.

Betrayal. Guilt. Encapsulation/freezing. Redemption through love. These are the building blocks of the continuously recurring story.

Blocks, that one can easily imagine might have been taken from the foundation of the chapel at home in Hjoggböle. P O Enquist’s poetry is saturated with the pietistic, evangelical Christianity of his childhood. Yet there is also a secret room in the village, a cave. This is where the original betrayal is hidden. What does it consist of? It is where the original guilt is at work. What does that consist of? We never find out. These questions are never answered. Enquist shows us everything in his village, except the secret room.

Like Strindberg, to whom he so often returns, P O Enquist knows that poets are people who not only have something to tell but also has something not to tell. Over the now more than half a century’s writing life, he has methodically and with great skill nurtured this insight.

The result is magnificent.

PER SVENSSON, Culture writer Sydsvenskan

Photographer: Aron Bergerwall Gedin

Kvällsöppet 19/10 1971 (only available in Sweden)


Talk show hosted by Per Olov Enquist in 1971. Prime Minister  Olof Palme and author Vilhelm Moberg in a heated discusion on Aleksandr Solzjenitsyn’s Nobel Prize.


Do you want to read more about Per Olov Enquist’s family in Sjön, Hjoggböle? Here is a link to (in Swedish). 


A Complete List of International Translations

Contact Theater: Nordiska ApS 

Contact Books: Norstedts