Few days ago a lady in a book club I visit from time to time asked everybody “What was your first favorite book you read, liked and remembered?”. My American counterparts shared their favorites, and then it was my turn. I think my first book was what my parents read to me, and it probably was Russian fairy tales and fairy tales by Alexander Pushkin. But when I started reading myself, it was “Pippi Longstocking “by Astrid Lindgren followed by “Carlson on the Roof” and so on. Astrid Lindgren was and still is one of my favorite children’s writers. It’s strange that Pippi is well known in the US, but Carlson on the Roof is not. It is the most beloved children’s book of Russia. I am almost sure I can speak for many. I never met a person from former Soviet who didn’t know and wasn’t in love with Carlson. There are cartoons, movies, theater performances based on this character. I LOVE that Carlson alone with millions of ex-Soviets. It’s interesting though how the book can be so popular in one country but not in another. I partly understand that my husband didn’t catch Ostap Bender’s personality right away… Here is my old post about that https://marriagewithaforeignaccent.com/2013/10/17/to-laugh-or-not-to-laugh/
But Carlson!!! How can he be not popular! Moreover, it is not very popular in Sweden (Carlson’s homeland). My good friend often traveled to Sweden, and she told me that the Swedish didn’t admire Carlson at all. They blamed it on the fact that he didn’t have a Swedish personality and put some shade on the nation. I don’t know about the shade, in my opinion, he put a lot of shine on the nation.
Just for curiosity I checked Amazon reviews on “Carlson on the roof”. Even though the book had almost 5 stars, I discovered some interesting opinions and probably the answer to lack of popularity in the US.
I would like to share excerpts from a few reviews for your attention.
*I am a Chinese. This book was translated in Chinese in 1984 and never republished again. This book influenced me greatly. Every time I read it, I am excited and thankful to Astrid Lindgren. Few people know it is such a good book. It is the best book of all author’s works. Better than Pippi,although I also love Pippi.I want more people read it and love it.
*I love this story. I love all three of the books about Carlson On-The-Roof. I have no idea why this book didn’t take with American readers. Pippi Longstocking is so popular, but this one – no one seems to know about. Carlson is one of those “every-child-must-read-with-parents-to-bond-and-feel-close-to-each-other” books that were on must-read list in Soviet Union when I was growing up. My parents had fun reading it, and I fell in love with it from the first page.
*I consider the publication of this book and its sequels a pinnacle moment in children’s literature. Perhaps I sound overly dramatic, but this book is the ultimate in great writing. Carlson On The Roof is written by Astrid Lindgren, the world’s premier writer of children’s literature with higher book sales than Dr. Seuss. It is certainly a shame that so many of her books are not published in English when she flourishes elsewhere. Karlsson On the Roof is by far the best book by this terrificly prolific author. It is a wonderfully whimsical feast of a book and it continues to sweep me away into greater heights of my imagination.
*These books are in the same league with Winni the Pooh, Mary Poppins, Wizard of Oz. They are must have books.
*This book, beloved since childhood in Ukraine, has turned out to be a total disappointment. This English translation which I bought to read to my son is really dull and outdated. People don’t speak this way in real life (e.g. “Oh, lordy, lordy!” was my “favorite” phrase). And why in the world was Bok (in the next, same low quality book “Karlson flies again”) renamed Mrs. Crawley?
*This book will never be very popular in the US unless some brilliant translator breathes a new life into it. If you are from the former Soviet Union you will never be satisfied with this translation and your English-speaking children will never understand what’s so special about this book.
Here is my favorite:
*I was underwhelmed by this book, as I have been by this author’s other books. Karlson is a self-absorbed, obnoxious, dangerous adult who gets this innocent kid into all kinds of trouble, but where I hoped there would be something clever and redeeming about Karlson he instead remains a shallow and predictable prop in a story that basically goes nowhere. I found myself hoping it would end soon as I read it to my 5 year old, who enjoyed it.
Well, we all know that Carlson is not the best behaved person, but-hey! We are talking about a kids entertaining book which shouldn’t carry a lot of lessons learnt. BTW, America’s beloved comic hero Calvin and Hobbes is not exactly a role model too, but very funny. You laugh and love some books
I was reading Amazon reviews and thinking about popularity magic and why some book became popular in one country and less popular in another. Speaking of Carlson, he went above all possible borders in the Soviet Union. Why? We would never know. Maybe it really was due to great translation. And as they say Astrid Lindgren herself thought that the “Russian” Karlson came out a “better one” than her own. Or maybe it is due to cultural particularities. Anyway, it’s one of the best children’s books ever. Go Carlson! Я так хочу, чтобы он вернулся!!!
P.S. I know that after that book club meeting and my passionate Go Carlson speech several ladies from my club ordered the book for their kids. Any thoughts how it is in your countries?