Guest-Post: Landscapes by Karin Tidbeck (Author Week #5)

Last night I dreamed of a landscape by the sea. I had traveled there to investigate a ruin that once was a sorcerer’s tower. I had lost most of my tools in the transition to this place; I’d managed to create a makeshift wind shelter out of an old sheet, and was sitting on the flagstones counting my coins, which at that moment was important. The sky overhead was purple with swollen clouds, the air heavy and still, waiting for the storm.

A man came walking along the beach and up the stairs to the tower. He was dressed in clothes from the Italian renaissance: two-coloured hose, doublet, a little cape, no hat, but an unfriendly sneer.

“We entered from there”, he said, and gestured down the waterfront. “This is our territory.”

“Who are ‘we’?” I asked.

“The rest of us. We’ve made camp in the forest. Come.” He started down the steps.

Down in the surf, the waves rose up in the shape of a lion’s head, glowing in red.

“Mind the beasts”, said the man.

Thinking about it, this is the first time I’ve met another traveller.

The stories in Jagannath were written over the course of ten years, and have very diverse origins. Coinciding with the release of the collection is the publication of my first novel in Swedish, Amatka, the result of a process that has run parallel to the creation of the stories in Jagannath. Since I’ve mostly talked about the collection to the English-speaking audience, I’d like to mention some things about Amatka. It’s about mapping an old continent.


I spent about three years recording my dreams. I wasn’t interested in analysis or symbolism, but instead if my dream realm could be mapped as if it were an external place. What were these reoccurring places? Where were they in relation to each other? Who were the people and creatures populating them?  Over the months, patterns emerged, although in ways difficult to map: it was a country or continent, with cities, villages, flora and fauna, all shifting depending on what time it was in the dream, what time it was in the waking world, in what order they appeared, how they related to each other.

There’s a great plain, and a village where the houses have eaten their inhabitants and extend lanterns above their doorways to lure passers-by in; other parts of that plain are covered in enormous skeletons of long-dead migrant insects. An ocean to the west is dried out, all its water held in clouds above, and bright lights weave in and out of them. Further to the west there’s a forest of enormous trees from whose branches dangle sperical bathyscaphes. To the east, the celestial bodies crowd the sky and the giant orrery that holds them up becomes visible (and audible).

After some experimenting, I found that the best way to describe this world was boiling the images down into poetry: a process both uncontrolled and very much so. The resulting collection was partly published in Lyrikvännen, a Swedish poetry journal. I then laid it to rest on the compost heap and collected what seeped out a few years later:

Amatka is the story of colonizing a world where physical reality is mutable, and language both a tool and a threat. Vanja, a researcher who has failed to fulfill most of the duties expected of a good citizen, travels the distant colony Amatka to map hygiene habits. What she finds during her research leads to something quite different, unraveling the truth about the colonies and their history.

The idea for the novel partly originates in the dream project, with a series of dreams I had over the course of a couple of weeks. In the first one, I found a row of trucks on a dirt road, the drivers standing outside smoking. They were delivering goods to a town that lay far north and that no-one ever visited. The drivers refused to tell anyone what went on up there. In the second dream, I woke up in a town built entirely out of concrete, and knew in the fashion one knows things in dreams that this was that northern town the drivers visited. In the third dream, a copse of cast-iron pipes stood on a plain. Some of them were bent at the top like periscopes, others torn, like something had exploded out of them.

Amatka isn’t set in the dream world, but has borrowed some of the geography: the placement of the colonies that correspond to existing cities; topography, occurrences, elements, but above all, the fact that the fabric of reality, its base matter, is entirely controlled by language. The story itself is the result of plonking a socialist commune down in that universe and taking the consequences of the clash between them and the world they encounter. How would living in a mutable world change their way of thinking about reality and themselves? What would happen to social structure, philosophy, language? How much would they allow the world to change them?

By the time I’d finished the novel, I realized that the world I had mapped no longer resembled the landscape I now visit at night. The project is over. All that remains is to translate the story into English, so that I can show you what I mean instead of just talking about it. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll enjoy Jagannath.


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