Short summary - The Eternal Smile - Pär Fabian Lagerkvist

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - The Eternal Smile
Pär Fabian Lagerkvist

Somewhere in the darkness, beyond life, the dead sat and talked. Everyone talked mostly about themselves, but everyone else listened intently. In the end, after discussing their position, the dead decided to take action.

One of those sitting in the darkness was indignant at the living, he considered them too presumptuous. The living imagine that everything that exists is supported only by them. But life has several billion dead people! And it is the dead who have been tormented by spiritual struggles for many millennia.

Another from the darkness objected to him: the living also mean something. Of course, they shamelessly speculate on what was created by the dead, and exalt themselves too much. But you have to give credit to the living.

The first of the darkness continued: he was very significant during his lifetime. So significant that it was as if created in order to die! In general, only what remains after death is significant.

No, the opponent who has already spoken out objected to him, here he, for example, was also a remarkable personality, but he was created just the opposite in order to live. There are few people endowed with the talent of life, those who can be said to have truly lived.

At this, it seemed, the conversation of the dead ended. But a third man intervened, a squat fat man with small eyes and short legs, such as merchants are usually imagined. This was the merchant, and his name was Petterson, and in that other life he was very fond of his shop, goods, the smell of coffee, cheese, soap and margarine. Patterson died hard. It is difficult for a herring that has wrapped its whole life to count on immortality. In addition, Petgerson did not believe in life after death. But here he sits here in the dark. He is grateful. He lived. He died. And yet he is alive. He is very grateful for all this.

Then others spoke. Those whose life and death were full of meaning and even philosophical, and others, with ordinary, rustic destinies, sometimes touching in their naivety. Even the most primitive dead, who lived in ancient times, made sounds. The savage did not know who he was, he did not even remember that he had once lived. He remembered only the halls of the great forest, the pitch and the damp moss, and he longed for them.

And the dead were still sitting in the darkness, suffering during their lifetime from their specialness. One, for example, was missing a thumb on his right hand. He lived an ordinary life, communicated with other people, and yet he felt lonely. Another had a peculiarity: he suffered from the presence of a black spot on the nail of the middle toe of his left foot. He was born with a speck, passed his whole life with it, and died with it. Everyone thought that this man was like everyone else, and no one understood his loneliness, And all his life he was looking for his own kind and left her without being understood.

A man and a woman were talking in the darkness, they were drawn to each other even here. A woman has always been happy just because she was with her beloved. But she didn't understand him, he insisted. All his life he fought and suffered, and built, and destroyed, but she did not understand him. Yes, but she believed in him, the woman protested. He fought with life, and she lived. So they bickered. darkness, united and irreconcilable.

And one of those sitting in the darkness said nothing. He could not tell others about his fate. To them, it might seem insignificant or even ridiculous. He himself worked all his life as a servant of an underground public toilet: he collected fees from those who entered and distributed paper. In natural human needs, he did not see anything humiliating and considered his work necessary, although not very important.

Away from the others sat two - a young man and a gray-haired old man. The young man was talking to himself: he promised his beloved to sail to her on the shore, fragrant with lotus flowers. The old man admonished the young man, he told him: his beloved had died long ago, and it was he, the old man, who held her hand when she was dying, because he is her son, he knows: his mother lived a long and happy life with his father, he recognized him only from a faded photograph, his mother never remembered him: after all, love is not everything, but life is everything ... But the young man continued to whisper, turning to his beloved, and he told the old man that his whole life was love, he knows no other life.

There were louder voices in the darkness. One of the dead lived on the island, inside of which the fire was enclosed. He loved a girl named Giuditta and she loved him too. Once they went to the mountains and met there a one-eyed old woman - with this eye the old woman saw only the true. The old woman predicted to Judith that she would die in childbirth. And although the narrator decided not to touch his beloved, so that she lived, she forced him to master herself and married him, she was a very earthly woman. When Giuditta gave birth to a child and died and the narrator left the hut with a newborn in her arms, he saw his tribe singing a hymn in honor of the symbol of fertility - the phallus, and just at that moment the fire burst out of the ground on the mountains, and everyone stood and waited him, not trying to save himself, because it was impossible to save himself, and they sang a hymn in honor of the fertility of life. At that moment, the narrator understood the meaning of life. Life is important only life in general. She, of course, needs trees, and people, and flowers, but they are not dear to her separately - having manifested herself in them, life easily destroys them.

Then another voice spoke, slow, clear, and infinitely soft. The speaker claimed: he is the savior of people. He announced to them suffering and death, freeing them from earthly joy and earthly torment. He was a temporary guest on earth and taught: everything is only an appearance, the expectation of a truly existent. He called God his father, and death his best friend, for it was supposed to unite him with God, who sent him to live among people and take upon himself the sorrow of all living things. And so the people crucified the speaker, and the Father hid him in the darkness to hide him from human eyes. Now he is here, in the dark, but he did not find the Father here and understood: he is just a man, and the sorrow of life is not bitter, but sweet, it is not what he wanted to take upon himself with his death.

Before he could finish, another voice nearby announced: but he, who is speaking now, was a head waiter in earthly life, he served in the largest and most visited restaurant. Maitre d' is the most difficult and respected profession, it requires a subtle ability to guess human desires. What could be higher! And now he is afraid that they, on earth, have not yet found a worthy replacement for him. He is worried about this. He suffers.

The dead stirred, no one understood anything, each repeated his own, but then another one rose up - in life he was a shoemaker - and delivered a fiery speech. What is truth? he asked. Earthly life is a complete mess. Everyone knows only himself, although everyone is looking for something else. Everyone is alone in the infinite space. You need to find something one, the same for everyone! We need to find God! To exact from him an answer for a life that confuses everyone!

Something that spoke deeply wounded the dead. And everyone realized what a terrible confusion life is, and agreed that there is no peace, no soil, no solid foundation in it. Although some thought: is there a God? But they were persuaded to go looking for him because so many people wanted to find him.

And the long journey began. More and more groups joined the dead, and in the end they merged into a vast human sea, which seethed and bubbled, but gradually, oddly enough, was ordered. In fact, united by a common idea, the dead quickly found their own kind: the especially unfortunate found the especially unfortunate, in general happy - in general happy, rebels - rebels, magnanimous - magnanimous, knitters of brooms - knitters of brooms ... And then suddenly revealed: the diversity of life is not so great! One group of the dead called out to another. Who are you? some asked. We are Petterson's shopkeepers, they answered. And who are you? And they were answered: we are those who have a black spot on the toenail of their left foot.

But when everyone finally figured it out and peace and quiet came, people felt empty. There was no confusion. Everything was in order. And the feeling of loneliness disappeared - the lonely united with millions of lonely people. All problems resolved themselves. And there was no need to seek God.

And then someone unsightly stepped forward and said: “What is this! Everything is so simple that, it turns out, it's not worth living! There is nothing mysterious in life. And everything in it is just a simple repetition of essentially uncomplicated departures. Fight and fight, it turns out, not for what? The only thing that remains of a person, whoever he is, is a pile of manure for the next year's grass. Not! You must find God! For him to answer for the worthlessness of the life he created!

And everyone moved on. Thousands of years passed, and they all raved and wandered, and already began to despair. Then, having consulted, they chose the most wise and noble and put them in front. And those, in fact, after another thousand years, pointed to a bright speck flickering ahead. It seemed that before him - hundreds of years of travel, but a speck of light suddenly turned out to be nearby. Light poured from an iron lantern with dusty glass, it fell on an old man who was sawing firewood. The dead were surprised. You are a god? they asked. The old man gave them a bewildered nod in response. “And we are the life you created.” We fought, suffered, worried and believed, we wondered and hoped... For what purpose did you create us? The old man was confused. Terrified, he glanced at the crowds surrounding him, looked down and said: “I am a worker. “You can see it,” the chosen elders remarked, and shouts of indignation were heard from behind. “When I was making life, I didn’t want anything like that,” the old man continued to apologize.

But he threw them into the abyss of despair, doomed them to torment, fear and anxiety, he inspired them with unjustified hopes! So the elders shouted. “I did my best,” the old man replied.

And he gave them the sun and joy, allowed them to enjoy the beauty of life, morning and happiness! So the elders shouted. And the old man answered them the same. He did the best he could. He told them the same thing. And his answer confused those who asked. But passions rushed out. Why did he do all this? Was there a purpose? For what purpose did he launch the diabolical machine of life? People crave harmony and are full of denial, they want diversity and unity, complexity and simplicity - all at once! Why did he make them like this?

The old man listened calmly, On the face of it he was still embarrassed, but his humility had diminished. He answered them. He is just a worker. And he worked tirelessly. And he didn't aim for anything too complicated. Not to joy, not to sorrow, not to faith, not to doubt. He just wanted people to have something and not have to settle for nothing.

The elders felt something prick in their hearts. The old man grew before their eyes. And their hearts were filled with warmth. But the people behind did not see what was happening ahead. And, in order to prevent any attempt at deceit, thousands of children were put forward, who followed with everyone. Why did God create these innocent little ones? They are dead! What was he thinking then?

The children did not know what they wanted from them, they liked the old grandfather, they reached out to him, and he sat down among them and hugged him. He didn’t think anything then,” God said, caressing the children.

Crowds of the dead stood looking at God with children, and something was melting in everyone's chest. Everyone suddenly felt a mysterious connection with Him and realized that He is the same as them, only deeper and greater than them.

It was difficult for them to leave God, and it was the children who parted with him the hardest. But the old man told them that they should obey adults. And the kids obeyed!

The crowds of the dead again set off on their way. People calmly and peacefully, like brothers, talked to each other. And the meaning of all their very different words came down to what one old man said. And he said a simple thing - he accepts life as it is. After all, it is impossible to imagine any other life anyway!

Having reached the area of darkness from which they all came out, and having said everything they wanted to say, the dead dispersed. Everyone went to the place that was prepared for him in the future.