A Moth to a Flame/A Burnt Child (Bränt barn)

A Moth to a Flame/A Burnt Child (Bränt barn, 1948). Translation by Benjamin Mier-Cruz. University of Minnesota Press, 2013, foreword by Per Olov Enquist. Preface by Siri Hustvedt, Penguin UK, 2018

After the international success of his collection of World War II newspaper articles, German Autumn - a book that solidified his status as the most promising and exciting writer in Sweden - Stig Dagerman was sent to France with an assignment to produce more in this journalistic style. But he could not write the much-awaited follow-up. Instead, he holed up in a small French village and in the summer of 1948 created what would be his most personal, poignant, and shocking novel: A Moth to a Flame/Burnt Child. The Swedish title is derived from a Swedish proverb. The 2018 Penguin edition uses A Moth to a Flame to better convey the content of the novel in English.

Set in a working-class neighborhood in Stockholm, the story revolves around a young man named Bengt who falls into deep, private turmoil with the unexpected death of his mother. As he struggles to cope with her loss, his despair slowly transforms to rage when he discovers his father had a mistress. But as Bengt swears revenge on behalf of his mother's memory, he also finds himself drawn into a fevered and conflicted relationship with this woman - a turn that causes him to question his previous faith in morality, virtue, and fidelity.

Written in a taut and beautifully naturalistic tone, Dagerman illuminates the rich atmospheres of Bengt's life, both internal and eternal: from his heartache and fury to the moody streets of Stockholm and the Hitchcockian shadows of tension and threat in the woods and waters of Sweden's remote islands. A Moth to a Flame/ A Burnt Child remains Dagerman's most widely read novel, both in Sweden and worldwide, and is one of the crowning works of his short but celebrated career.

"It is not true that a burnt child fears the fire. It is drawn to it like a moth to a flame. It knows that when it goes near it, it will burn itself again. Still, it gets too close."

—Stig Dagerman, A Moth to a Flame/A Burnt Child

"A Burnt Child was written in great loneliness in a locked room in a sleepy French village with a continent between the writer and those he had betrayed."

—Stig Dagerman, Wedding Worries and Other Upsets, essay 1950

About A Moth to a Flame/A Burnt Child

Book cover of Bränt Barn. Bränt barn, Norstedts, 2010.

"A startling novel of ferocious psychological acumen ...."

Siri Hustvedt, Preface to the English 2018 edition

"A Burnt Child was the first book I read by Stig Dagerman—I think it was in 1949. It overwhelmed me, and for a long time I wrote my own school essays in the same style that I imagined was his. I read everything by him after that, but nothing was like A Burnt Child. … I had read, and still read, a remarkably realistic, clear, and poignant story about a young man who insidiously resembles myself. It is truly a masterpiece."

Per Olov Enquist, Foreword to the Swedish 2010 and English 2012 editions

"You are most often young when you first read Dagerman. You're at an age of melancholy and rising anxiety, at a point when you for the first time turn old … His writing genius … is forever rediscovered by new generations."

—Ulrika Milles, Review 2010

"This is a writer who sees life, and especially family life, under a burning glass; and the result is a novel of extraordinary power. It is an absorbing work."

The Observer, Review 1950

Film

Book cover of Brant Barn.

1967
Bränt barn. Feature film, Sweden. Directed by Hans Abrahamson. Cinematographer: Sven Nyqvist, Minerva Film.
1991
L’enfant brûlé. Filmscript by Martin Pierlot, Sofis-Films Sarl, France.

Theater

Dagerman very likely had the idea for a play based on the novel already while writing A Burnt Child—a play that he himself wanted to direct. In 1949, he adapted the novel (and made some changes to the story) into the play Ingen går fri/Nobody Walks Free or The Game of Truth. Stig Dagerman made his directorial debut with the play in 1949.

1949
Ingen går fri. Directed by Stig Dagerman. Malmö Stadsteater, Sweden.
1989
Ingen går fri. Directed by Göran Parkrud. Borås Stadsteater, Sweden.
1990
Ingen går fri. Directed by Bo Widerberg. Malmö Stadsteater, Sweden.
1989
Le jeu de la vérité. Directed by Patrick Collet. Théâtre de l’utopie, La Rochelle, France.
1990
Le jeu de la vérité. Directed by Daniel Bresse. Théâtre 14, Paris, France.

Scene from Ingen går fri. Scene from Ingen går fri. Scene from Ingen går fri. Scenes from the Borås production of Ingen går fri.

In the News

January 2013 - Little Star, a journal of poetry and prose, featured "Evening Promenades" from A Burnt Child in the then new translation by Benjamin Mier-Cruz.

Availability

  • A Burnt Child. Translation by Alan Blair and introduction by Laurie Thompson. Quartet Books, London, 1995. ISBN 0-7043-0241-1. Out-of-print. Some copies available on Amazon.com.
  • A Burnt Child. Translation by Benjamin Cruz-Miers. Foreword by Per Olov Enquist. University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
  • A Moth to a Flame. Translation by Benjamin Cruz-Miers. Preface by Siri Hustvedt. Penguin UK, 2018.

Editions and Translations

Book cover of A Burnt Child. Quartet Edition, 1990, translation by Alan Blair.

  • Swedish: Bränt barn. 1948, 1951, 1959, 1962, 1968, 1972, 1991, 2004, 2010 (Norstedts/different series); 1985 (Litteraturfrämjandet/Bra Klassiker)
  • English: A Moth to a Flame/A Burnt Child. 1950 (Chatoo & Windus; Morrow); 1990 (Quartet Books), 2012 (University of Minnesota Press), 2018 (Penguin UK)
  • Bulgarian: Noscni igri. 1989 (Narodna Kultura)
  • Czech: Popálené díte. 1985 (Odeon)
  • Danish: Brændt barn. 1949 (Hasselbalch); 1967 (Gyldendal)
  • Dutch: Het verbrande kind. 1962 (De bezige bij), 1987, 2006 (Meulenhoff)
  • Estonian: Kes kõrvetada saanud. 1998 (Periodiika Tallin)
  • Finnish: Äidin varjossa. 1949, 1984 (Otava)
  • French: L’enfant brûlé. 1956, 1981 (Gallimard)
  • German: Gebranntes Kind. 1983 (Suhrkamp, Verlag Volk und Welt)
  • Greek: Kameno paidi. 1998 (Estias)
  • Italian: Bambino bruciato. 1962 (Feltrinelli), 1994 (Iperborea)
  • Lithuanian: Ugnies palyètas. 2002 (Alma littera)
  • Norwegian: Brent barn. 1949 (Tanum)
  • Polish: Forthcoming (Oficyna Literacka)
  • Portuguese: O vestido vermelho. 1958 (Estúdios), 1989 (Antígona)
  • Rumanian: Urme de pasi sub apa. 1977 (Editura Univers)
  • Slovakian: Popálené diet’a. 2005 (Slovensky spisovaltl)
  • Spanish: Gato escaldado. 1962 (Seix Barral)
  • Turkish: Forthcoming (kafekitab)