Odium

see: definitions of Odium, if you don’t know the word.

Kurjus (original title in Swedish: Ondskan)
Jan Guillou
Translated into Estonian by Vladimir Beekman
the book in Wikipedia
the movie in Wikipedia

Last night around 3AM I finished a book, something Wikipedia says is the first book that a majority of people who in their teens first become interested in reading, choose to read. Those who saw me choosing it didn’t mention it to be read by them so that might be true only in Sweden or something. I hadn’t even known such book existed, not until on Valentine’s Day we were donating blood and this was one of the books you could choose as your thank-you-gift. This was the book I chose. Mostly because of its stylish black-and-red cover on this Estonian issue, it reminded of an painting I lately saw in Kumu.

And now I am absolutely happy that I have read it, horrifying as it is. Don’t let yourself be scared off by the fact, that teenagers allegedly are the ones to read it – it is serious reading for grownups, too.

I would like to tell something what I didn’t see on those Wikipedia pages. Erik, the main character in this book, is exceptionally intelligent and not at all the thoughtless bully, that would just use his musculature to get what he wants, as might seem by the descriptions. He is very good at reading and using body language, psychology and precise hits to make the actual fight as short as possible. He plans everything precisely from how to make the other fear – to make it worse for them -, how to invite him to use one or other blow – to turn the fight the way he wants it to go. Even sometimes letting himself be beaten to shame the real bully by not defending himself. What is also exceptional (and hard to believe, really) is how he is able to put up with that much pain. But as this book is autobiographical (as I thought it to be when reading – but I thought the author’s alter ego would be Pierre, smart kid and friend of Erik, who in the book also mentions that he wants to become a writer), it might be true. I am not that much of a expert on pain, luckily1 🙂

Other thing notable are his altruistic motives in both schools.
In the first school, where he is the head of the bully gang, they are providing services and the beatings are just to make debtors pay (and others be afraid of not paying) – and they know beforehand, that these will come when they do not pay for the services2. They don’t do it for the fun of it. He is organizer, the brains behind making the world a better place (by his standards, of course). For example – he makes life hell for the teachers, who resort to physical punishments, but doesn’t let anyone disturb the lessons of the good teachers. He always stands up for his friends (who betray him afterwards) even when that means getting beaten himself.

In the second school, where he is just another lower-class student, and a new and “uppish” one at that, he doesn’t act up to protect only himself (and his nerdy roommate) from regular sanctioned beatings (though it starts out that way) – he wants to do something to change this absurdly violent law of the school, where grownups always watch the other way and children are regularly sent to hospital in close-by town because “they have fallen from some stairs”. He wants away from the violence, but the book shows that sometimes nonviolent means are not possible to end it. That is, when law is on the side of the violence (and schools act under their own law not the law of the country).

Anyway, not much to add – everyone should read it, starting from children really that age (12(?)-16) to (would-be) parents to people working with children. I am trying to hide myself behind the belief that in contemporary schools things cannot be like that (any more) – neither one of those ways that is pictured in that book. That is something similar to what I had to repeat to myself after watching the movie Klass as well – things are not as bad in real life. Now I’d like to see the Oscar-nominated movie as well. In this book the things were explained very well from the point of view of Erik, but I’d like to see it in action. It must be good.

Somehow movies and books about violence towards kids and between them happen to slip to my path these days. And they frighten me, I grow afraid for my son, that lovely, naive and good-hearted boy… He will definitely keep on going to his judo classes, if I can do anything about it!

1 Though I avoid crying because of the pain as well. Come to think of it, it isn’t that hard on those rare occasions it has happened to me – for example I go to play volleyball each Monday with colleagues and there have been some tough hits for me. I might have “leaked water from my eyes”, but I haven’t cried out. And it was hard for me to force myself to cry out when I was birthing my son – though the pain, when something ripped because I was pushing so hard, was the biggest I’ve felt my whole life… And I haven’t had such hate as he had to help me.

2 Oh I am not saying that it is OK to beat other children (or grownups as in mafia) if they owe you, but in that world he is in, it is accepted. In the manner he has been brought up, beating is the only applicable punishment, and it is given for even the slightest of mistakes, it is a daily endurance test. He sees and uses other means as much as possible, but in that world the violence is unavoidable. In some places it is even hinted, that it is because of World War II, the echoes created by that war. How people believe in physical punishments and beat their kids; how even schools use physical punishments (which is quite unthinkable these days).

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