Kati in America (Kati i Amerika, 1950, translated by Marianne Turner) was the final book I read about Kati, although it is first in the series. I feel that this edition ought not to be read last, for my very favorite part of the series has been Kati’s best friend Eva, and Eva is barely mentioned in this book. Instead, Kati’s aunt provides the comic relief. Eva is much cooler. Had I read this book first, I wouldn’t have known what I was missing.
Kati decides to blow her inheritance on a trip to America, partially because her dumb boyfriend Jan won’t shut up about it. She leaves him in Sweden and goes wild and crazy in America, dancing with men and hitch-hiking and, far more dangerously, taking a Greyhound bus.
The Kati and Aunt Show begins in New York where they end up moving in with some rich guy who needs help cooking for a few days (what? crazy things happen in America!). There she ends up meeting Bob, a loser who she roadtrips with. She also dares the bus, saying, “If you want to see a good cross-section of the American nation, all you need to do is to go and sit down in the waiting hall of one of those big Greyhound coach depots. The numerous ticket offices are besieged by an endless stream of people of every colour, size and age.” Yup.
But wait, Kati’s not done waxing poetic about the bus: “I felt there was a pretty good chance the the bus I was travelling on might go astray, and it does break the monotony of life when things don’t go according to plan.”
Well, Kati/Astrid really nailed Greyhound with that! Nothing has changed on the bus since Kati took it. Well, except segregation. Astrid Lindgren does not shy away from describing the situation for African-Americans during that era. Her language is not always comfortable, at least not for this day, referring to blacks as “the coloured race,” “young negro girl,” and, embarrassingly, “darkies.” How much of this is just a rough translation, how much of it is accurate translation, how much was totally acceptable back then, how much did Lindgren want us to feel uncomfortable . . .? Yeah, things sucked back then (*cough*even more than they do now*cough*) for African-Americans, and it shouldn’t be comfortable to read about it.
I enjoy how sometimes in Astrid Lindgren’s writing, she fakes a reader out. This happens a lot in the Emil series and it happens in this book too when Kati is at a wishing well: “I sacrificed five United States cents, and wished that I . . . No! I won’t tell you what I wished for.” We can only guess. I’m pretty sure it has something to do with boys.
Kati’s worldview, especially about men, is a little laugh-inducing sometimes: “You must admit there’s something rather wild and wayward about menfolk after all,” she informs her aunt. Her crotchety aunt points out that it’s Kati flying across the ocean to go to America. Kati, 0. Auntie, 1.
Anyway, Kati and Auntie end up in New Orleans and then Kati has a brilliant, amazing idea!
“Do let’s make a pilgrimage to Minnesota. After all, it’s practically a Swedish colony. Why, you can’t turn a corner without bumping into the son of an offspring of a Swedish Immigrant.” GOOD THINKING, KATI.
And so they go to Minneapolis, taking a bus to the Falls of Minnehaha, seeing the Mississippi again (first visited in Louisiana), and they go to a cemetery. Kati goes on and on (and on) about all the Swedish names, inventing histories about the hard times they had coming to America and dying young. This makes her homesick so they go to the Swedish Institute and enjoy a concert. Well, Kati doesn’t enjoy it because she’s so sad. Don’t hang out in cemeteries then.
“To sit there, so far from home, and hear a male voice choice, the members of which had, perhaps, never set foot in Sweden, and yet were so aware of the land of their origin . . . ”
Then boom, they are in Chicago, Kati ditches Auntie, and reflects: “Most of us, at home, have no idea of the unrequited love and loyalty the Swedish-Americans have for their Homeland. If we had, we would try to keep in touch with them and show our appreciation of their achievements. But no, we wander about underneath our pines and fir trees, oblivious of the waves of longing which flow across the Atlantic in an easterly direction.”
Kati can’t leave America without poking at least a little bit of fun at us: “People [in the park] were lying about in groups all over the place, especially around the notice boards which said: ‘KEEP OFF.’ Because the Americans love their liberty.”
Damn right. ‘Murica!