The Bird Within Me

The Bird Within Me
Sara Lundberg
Book Island

In this movingly told, inspirational book, based on the paintings, letters and diaries of Swedish artist Berta Hansson, we learn what it would have been like to grow up with her mother always sick in bed with TB and slowly dying, and an enormously hard-working father who calls your desire to express yourself imaginatively through art and beauty ‘ridiculous’.

That was life for Berta whose uncle (with whom she sometimes stayed when her mum was especially sick) managed to combine being a farmer with creating wonderful pictures, and occasionally allowed his niece to paint too.

Berta’s father wanted his daughter to follow his ideas – fit in, be a housewife – but she yearned to break free to live her own life, follow her desired creative path.’To fit in, you have to keep your desires secret. Be silent. And not really show who you are.’

‘When I grow up I’m going to be an artist. Like Michelangelo. But I don’t say that aloud. Because it isn’t a real job. Not something you can be. Especially not of you are a girl.’

Just when it seems her mother is slightly better, she is taken very sick again and dies.

Then not long after, the doctor, an art lover who regularly examines the rest of the family, asks Berta what she plans to do after leaving school. She longs to tell him of her dream but doesn’t, keeping it bottled up inside.

Things get too much and after just a short while, something snaps inside Berta as she stands at the stove cooking pea soup on a wooden stove. She lets it burn

and that precipitates a change in her father and for Berta whose journey might well have gone in a completely dead-end direction.

So beautifully illustrated and affectingly told, this is a wonderful testament to the power of the imagination, Berta’s and that of all who have creative instincts.