Sweet summer memories, or the love between children and grandparents

In Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book, Grandmother and her grand-daughter Sophia co-exist on a tiny island in the Finnish Gulf as Father works away. Mother is dead, but none of that is spoken about explicitly, except for one mention and whatever the reader wants to catch in between the lines: Sophia’s anger at the mortality of small bugs, her fear of a storm while Father is at sea, her many questions around Grandmother’s finitude. There is so much freedom in this relationship, a freedom I can’t quite recognise from my own experience as a city girl; a freedom that I can only slightly relate to my own summers roaming free on the beach. But Sophia’s freedom is perfect: the island seems huge from her perspective, summer is never-ending, each day comes with a new adventure. Different summers overlap and become one in the book – Sophia and her grandmother have an indefinite age that makes the book so much more poignant. As if childhood and old age were processes, not a finite moment that can be defined in time.

I had a great-aunt growing up, Zia Geppa, who was pretty much my only grandmother. She took care of my brother and me whenever our parents traveled, and she took us in, and to a seaside apartment she rented not far from Naples. My brother and I spent weeks with her when school was over and my parents worked. She bought us more ice cream than we were ever allowed and cooked parmigiana di melanzane, spending hours in the heat frying the aubergines. She took us to the trampolines and the seaside. We watched TV, read, and did as we pleased. Summer days were long, not too adventurous, but fun. Time went by, we all grew older, my brother and I moved on and moved away. Zia Geppa slowly fell into what I now consider depression – something I could not name until I read something about depression being the most prevalent mental illness among people over 60 that my colleague Tanmoy Goswami wrote when w…

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