“The Umbrella”
by Tove Ditlevsen
translated from the Dutch by Michael Favala Goldman
from the October 25, 2021 issue of The New Yorker

I first heard of Tove Ditlevsen in 2019, when her Copenhagen Trilogy (ChildhoodYouth, and Dependency) were published. So many trusted readers have raved about the books — including Paul on an episode of our podcast — yet I still have not ventured in. But can I read the first paragraph of “The Umbrella,” The New Yorker story of the week, without wanting to read anything I can get my hands on by Ditlevsen?

Helga had always — unreasonably — expected more from life than it could deliver. People like her live among us, not differing conspicuously from those who instinctively settle their affairs and figure out precisely how, given their looks, their abilities, and their environment, they can do what they need to do in the world. With respect to these three factors, Helga was only averagely equipped. When she was put on the marriage market, she was a slightly too small and slightly too drab young woman, with narrow lips, a turned-up nose, and — her only promising feature — a pair of large, questioning eyes, which an attentive observer might have called “dreamy.” But Helga would have been embarrassed if anyone had asked her what she was dreaming about.

That’s some great writing, I think, and great work by her translator, Michael Favala Goldman, as well! I’m definitely in and also feel more keenly the need to go read her books. As I looked to see what “The Umbrella” might be from, I spied a few more of her books coming next year: The Trouble with Happiness: And Other Stories and The Faces. I believe “The Umbrella” is a story in The Trouble with Happiness, but I could be wrong. Either way, clearly I have been missing the boat. I intend to fix that.

Please let me know what you thought of “The Umbrella” or Ditlevsen’s other work below!

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