Anna Westberg was a journalist and an author.
Anna Westberg was born and brought up in Ovansjö, Gästrikland. Her parents were Erik Westberg, the owner of a haulage-company, and Anna Berglund. Anna Westberg attended the Storviks realskola (junior secondary school), where one of her teachers for Swedish was Per Gunnar Evander. She gained her school-leaving certificate in Sandviken and then headed abroad, to Paris and Rome. Once she returned home she studied at Stockholm university, where she gained her Bachelor’s degree in 1970.
During the 1970s Anna Westberg worked as the cultural editor for the Syndicalist weekly Arbetaren. She also worked for the ABF enterprise in Stockholm. During the 1980s she supplied literary reviews for publications such as Bonniers Litterära Magasin and Allt om Böcker. During the 1978–1982 period she was a member of the Författarförlaget publisher’s board and, along with Marie Louise Ramnefalk, she edited Kvinnornas litteraturhistoria. From 1986 onwards she worked as a literary reviewer for Aftonbladet. At that point she was living in Paris and submitted reports on culture from the French capital for publications including Dagens Nyheter and, later, Moderna Tider.
Anna Westberg released her first novel in 1978, entitled Paradisets döttrar. It tells of two friends, Ines and Salmi, and their lives in a small Norrland factory community during the 1950s. The next year Anna Westberg published a stand-alone sequel called Gyllne röda äpplen. The lead characters are the same – Ines and Salmi – and their friendship is constantly tested by various love affairs. These books are two coming-of-age novels, representing everyday realism whilst also depicting Sweden’s major post-war transformation. In the first novel the story plays out in Anna Westberg’s childhood environment of small-town northern Sweden. The second one is situated in the Sandviken Stadshotellet, where both lead characters are working within a tough, male-dominated factory environment. Both novels were well-received and respected.
Although Anna Westberg achieved public recognition with her first two novels it was her third, Walters hus, published in 1980, which led to her becoming unanimously accepted as a reviewers’ favourite. This novel is also situated in a stagnant rural backwater threatened with depopulation, albeit it is written in heavily metaphorical language with an added element of magical realism. The lead character, 58-year old Walter Brandt, is a dreamer who escapes into music. He lives with and is dominated by his mother and has been in a half-hearted relationship with the local hatter, Thea, for years. As a member of the ABF-choir he meets his dream woman, who truly brings him alive for the first time. However, their passionate relationship ends in tragedy when his cowardice leads him to dodge making some tough decisions. The novel is constructed like a symphony, in which language and form are of significant importance. In this way the novel represents a clear break in the pattern of Anna Westberg’s writing. Walters hus was printed in several editions and was a prize-winning novel.
As noted above, Anna Westberg moved to Paris with her two children in 1983. Her subsequent book, Sandros resa, published in 1986, reveals a change in literary milieu. This is a picaresque novel and can be seen as sort of a companion piece to Dante’s journey to hell in Divina Commedia. Sandros resa, as Anna Westberg herself has described, is “a rite in death’s shadow”. It plays out in Italy, in a southern Italian harbour town and in Rome. Its sequel, Maria moder, published in 1991, which chronologically predates the previous book, has the lead female character – Sandro’s mother Maria – living in Sweden following a hard and dramatic life in Italy.
Anna Westberg’s move to Paris was intended to facilitate her work in writing about Henry James’ time in the French capital. However, she ended up writing the two aforementioned novels instead, comprising two harrowing portrayals of human frailty, humiliation, and disappointment, in which the language lifts tragedy to melodramatic operatic heights. Anna Westberg’s autobiographical 1993 novel, Vargtagen, presents some of her personal experiences. The Swedish Academy awarded her with the Dobloug prize for the book which portrays her eight-year relationship with André, a Frenchman. The reader is presented with the whole story, from the nebulous self-deception and the euphoric heights of infatuation into the depths of hell. This passionate and destructive love story, in which Paradise – the couple’s name for the renovation project they acquired with Anna Westberg’s earnings although André is its named owner – gradually transforms into Hades. Anna Westberg once again reinvents her writing style in this novel. She alternates overarching reflections on life’s circumstances with tumultuous, melodramatic, almost overly-detailed scenes. To many this was her best written work.
Anna Westberg herself described her next book, Två kvinnor om en man i Paris, published in 2000, as a “loose companion piece” to Vargtagen. In it she tells of the woman who had been her love rival. Apart from their shared passion for the same man, the two women become friends and the short novel can in many ways be seen as an ode to the now deceased other woman.
The people Anna Westberg describes in her novels, from Salmi in the workers’ hamlets of Gästrikland to mother Maria in the slums of Paris, are consistently down-trodden and despised and the overarching theme of her writing is the relationship between people and their social heritage. She describes how the barren external environment infects people’s inner lives. An example of this is the way in which the contempt for women, drunkenness, and fights form part of Ines and Salmi’s world in Gyllne röd äpplen and Paradisets döttrar. Similarly, the way in which Maria, in Maria moder, gives birth as the result of a rape – to Sandro – whom she then goes on to reject and abuse in the same way that she herself had been mistreated.
Anna Westberg left France and returned to Sweden, settling in the small village of Tällberg in Dalarna. Her return to her native country was marked by problems. She felt left out of the Swedish literary world and believed that she was no longer welcome at her former publisher’s. She died in 2006, following a few years’ battle with cancer.