I decided to read it just after visiting Copenhagen, bc, well, it has Copenhagen in the title. I also remember it being on a NYT list for best books of 2021, so it seemed like a good choice. I wanted to learn more about the life of one of the most famous Danish writers, and generally what life was like for the working class in Copenhagen in the mid-20th century.
I vaguely remember hearing this book is a bit depressing, but sheesh. It's absolutely bleak.
“Childhood” is filled with poverty, traumatizing family dynamics, feelings of depression and isolation, and the feverish writing of poems as a sole respite. In “Youth,” Ditlevsen bounces from shitty job to shitty job, facing constant rejection by men who think she looks and acts strange, more depression, and flickers of hope/validation of her writing. In “Dependency,” the reader experiences a series of unsuccessful marriages and, most potently, a rapid and horrific decline into severe narcotic addiction. The last book is like watching Trainspotting all over again – it obliterates any desire to ever try any kind of narcotic.
The translation is simple but spell-binding. I had a hard time getting into the first book, but the second two, especially “Dependency,” were more engaging, in a watching-a-train-wreck kind of way. Maybe if I had known anything about the author before starting it, it would have been less shocking, but hot damn.