Is there a way out of the deepest depression?
We’re increasingly reading about young people who are affected by a darkness that overwhelms body and soul, a state where everything feels meaningless.
Although much has been written about this, particularly in so-called self-help books, it is rarely accomplished with such intensity and touching power as by Zandra Lundberg (born 1987) in her debut book Konsten att inte hitta sig själv på Bali (“The art of not finding yourself in Bali”, not published in English), which is Åland’s nomination for the 2023 Nordic Council Literature Prize.
Lundberg started out as a journalist in the local Ålandic press at the age of 15. A few years later, she joined the evening newspaper Aftonbladet in Stockholm as a high-profile entertainment reporter. Rarely has a young writer established themselves so quickly in the world of media.
But success can come at a price. Zandra’s childhood home in Mariehamn was marred by violence and alcoholism. Behind her facade of self-confidence, she carried memories that threatened to destroy her. In different periods of her life, even as a teenager, she sank into depression and destruction, something that was reinforced by relationships with violent men. The hectic work rhythm of the newspaper world, where Zandra’s main task was to dig into the private lives of celebrities, created an anxiety that she was unable to overcome. She turned to meditation, especially yoga, to strike a new balance in her life.
Like so many others, she dreamed of freedom in remote Bali, as portrayed by Elizabeth Gilbert in the popular book Lyckan, kärleken och meningen med livet. However, her experience of several trips to Bali and Indian Goa were completely different: she was longing frantically for security, but constantly on the verge of mental breakdown. Momentarily, her concentration on yoga provides relief. But she soon falls into a black hole of anxiety and suicidal thoughts. The people she meets turn into shadows in a desolate landscape. The text takes the form of a psychological depiction of hell, where she travels from Bali to a somewhat mixed-up movement in the Netherlands whose programme features truly demeaning exercises. She’s looking for herself but she’s close to drowning in tears: “I’m afraid of myself. Afraid of my darkness.”
Lundberg narrates in a concise and effective literary style. The autobiographical material is shaped as a novel, its dramatic monologue taking firm hold of the reader. Utilising the full value of the written word, she skilfully portrays not only how the fragile membrane of the human psyche threatens to burst, but also, on the final pages, how dreams of a brighter world are emerging by way of the child she will soon give birth to.
The book is about sorrow and surrender, about a cry from the wilderness that commands all the senses. Yet in Zandra Lundberg’s search for relief and reconciliation, there is also a defiant warmth. And sometimes glimmers of an absurd humour,
such that that Konsten att inte hitta sig själv på Bali can also be read as a sort of tribute to life – the tragic, the magical, and the wonderful.