January 30, 2018
Out today: In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist
by Melville House
One of the biggest-selling novels throughout Europe over the last few months, Tom Malmquist’s In Every Moment We Are Still Alive tells the gripping story of a man whose world seems to have come crashing down overnight: His long-time partner has developed an incurable deadly illness, even as she is about to give birth to their first child. And meanwhile his father has a terminal illness, too.
Reeling in grief, Tom nonetheless finds himself wrestling with hospital bureaucracies, indecipherable diagnoses, and family misunderstandings — not to mention utter exhaustion. Meantime, he’s trying to comfort his loved ones as they begin to recede from him…
It’s an incredibly powerful book, one the New York Times Book Review calls “a tremendous feat of emotional and artistic discipline.” It’s already attracted acclaim and repeat readings across Europe. Today, we’re very excited to be releasing it in the US, in a stunning translation by Henning Koch.
To give you a glimpse of what’s in store, here’s an early passage from the book.
The consultant stands at the head of the bed and the obstetrician monitors Livia with ultrasound. Darling, I’m not leaving you, but I have to get home and pick up a few things. It’ll just be tonight then I’ll be straight back and stay with you the whole time. She looks at the door, then at me. Your parents are in the corridor outside, I say. She shakes her head. They understand, darling, don’t worry. I told them you want to name her Livia. She makes a thumbs up. I stand by the washbasin. Karin moves her mouth. I don’t hear her, but I can see that she’s saying goodnight. Goodnight, darling, see you later, I call out. The consultant puts his hand over her mask. It looks as if he’s injecting something into a valve attached to the oxygen tube. Karin’s eyes close. The consultant counts out loud while checking his wristwatch: One, two, three, four, five. He is still going when I walk out of the ward. I get as far as the lifts before turning around and running back. The door to the ward is locked. I ring the bell. One of Karin’s intensive care nurses opens it. Did you forget something? Yes, I say, pushing past and hurrying into Ward B. Is she sleeping, I ask, is everything going to plan? She’s sleeping, everything went well, the obstetrician answers. Okay, thanks, I say, stroking Karin’s ear. She’s dark blue and bleeding slightly around the catheter in her arm. Will they start chemotherapy tomorrow? I don’t know, you’ll have to ask the haematologists at Karolinska about that tomorrow, says the consultant. The blinds are lowered but a little ventilation window is open, and through it I can just make out the slope down to the water across Årstaviken, the green and red navigation lights of the boats. I look around the ward. In the monitoring section sit the three intensive care nurses and an assistant nurse. They fall silent as I approach. Have you seen Karin’s jacket? I ask. The assistant nurse walks over to a wardrobe. You mean this one? Yes, exactly, thanks. Go home and get some rest now, you have to sleep. Yes, I will, thanks, I just want to make sure you have my number. The assistant nurse, who has thinning purple-dyed hair, turns to the computer and reads out my mobile number. That’s right, thanks, I say. I’d like you to call me as soon as you know when she’s being moved to Karolinska. We’ll do that, she says. Okay, thanks, I answer.
Lillemor is waiting by the pond outside the main entrance to the hospital. She’s looking down at her reflection in the water, one hand on her stomach, making small, caressing movements. Now and then the hiss of a car can be heard from Ringvägen, but apart from that it’s silent. The taxi will be here shortly, says Sven, tucking his mobile into his inside jacket pocket. What’s the time? I ask. Just before four, he answers. In the taxi I hug Karin’s puffer jacket. I lean my head against the cool window and look out at the asphalt, the gutters, kerbs, pavements, and traffic islands. Before I get out by the steps to Lundagatan I say: It’s going to be okay.
* * * * *
Mum parks the car at the bus stop outside Karolinska University Hospital in Solna, I jump out, she calls out but I don’t hear what she says, I run inside to the information desk, a woman gives me a map and points, I sprint through the lobby along a twenty-metre-long corridor leading into a hall, past a shop, two bed lifts and a stairwell, turn right and run through yet another automatic door into a corridor twice as long and across an inner courtyard, I share a bed lift with two doctors wearing surgical caps, I get out, run through the stairwell, follow the arrow-shaped sign for Central Operations, I pass an open steel door and some green pillars, I run across a garish green plastic floor down a forty-metre-long corridor ending in a T-junction, I read the signs, I hang a right towards Central Intensive Care and run alongside some windows, on the right is the hospital park, walls of white fabric, I run down a hundred-metre corridor, I stop by a video entryphone, signals ring out, I look into the lens. A man’s voice: Good morning, what can I do for you? Hello, my wife, she’s come by ambulance from Söder Hospital, she’s pregnant, she’s having an emergency caesarean. At Central Intensive Care? he asks. Yes, F21, I answer. What’s her name? Karin Lagerlöf. Wait a moment, he says. After a few minutes the automatic doors open. The doctor is tall with dark, slicked-back hair, and wears a white uniform. He introduces himself but I’m only really conscious of his eyes, which never want to look directly at me. He says my wife has just arrived and they’re installing her in Room 1, which is a single room. He emphasises that he doesn’t know anything else. Who does know, then? I ask. As soon as they’ve got her installed you can talk to someone who knows, he answers. Is she okay? They’re installing her now, as soon as that’s done we’ll come and get you, he says and walks past me into the corridor. He keeps his eyes on me, so I follow him. Do you know about CIC? he asks. What do you mean? He punches in a code to open a door and says: At CIC we treat patients who need extra-intensive care. We have thirteen beds, specially trained doctors and nurses. He turns on the light. Right, okay, I answer, and peer into the room, which is about twenty metres square. A sofa, chairs, an armchair, a round table, and a simple kitchenette. Not exactly the Waldorf-Astoria, he says, but better than nothing. When is the caesarean being done? I ask. Unfortunately, I don’t know, your wife has to be stabilised before anything can be done. How long will I have to wait in here? Difficult to say, maybe an hour? I really don’t know, but you don’t have to stay in the family room. It’s fine, thanks. Okay, he says, and leaves me at the door. A TV is suspended from the ceiling. There’s another room adjoining the bigger one with a bunk bed and a small toilet. The translucent curtains are drawn across the window facing into the corridor. Abandoned coffee cups. A waste paper basket filled with scrunched-up tissues. I sit at the table. There’s a plastic yucca plant in front of me. Someone has pressed a bit of chewing gum onto one of its leaves. I decide to head back into the corridor but realise that the door has a combination lock. They haven’t given me the code and I don’t know where else I can wait, so I just stand in the doorway. A doctor emerges from CIC. Excuse me? I say. She glances at me but strides past. I call out to her. She stops and turns around. Do you have the code to the door? Don’t you have it already? No, they let me in but didn’t give me the code, I answer. She gets out a little notebook from her top pocket and flips through the pages. Twelve twenty-one, she says. Okay, that’s the year and the ward number, I suppose? Never occurred to me, she answers. That’ll help me remember it, I say. She blinks, and says with a knowing glance: Is it your wife who’s pregnant? Yes, she’s pregnant, I say. She comes closer. If it weren’t for the wrinkles that appear around her eyes I would have taken her for a teenager. She’s standing right beside me when she says: I’ve got a girl myself who was born a month and a half premature. You should be glad it’s a girl, premature girls have a better chance than premature boys of surviving and avoiding any long-term damage.
* * * * *
Mum buys me a salad from the hospital shop. The machine-peeled prawns are drenched in Rhode Island sauce. Go easy, you’re wolfing it down like I-don’t-know-what, says Mum. I’ve never changed a nappy in my life, I say. You’ll manage it. Even your father managed it, she says, standing up, looking at me and adding: Sweetie, what’s the matter? I think I left the hob on, I answer. No, Tom, that’s what you thought yesterday, but it wasn’t on. I’m positive I forgot to turn the fucking thing off this time, though. Sweetheart, yesterday I dropped everything and bolted round to yours, and it wasn’t on. What do you want me to say? Do you want me to go and check again? Maybe it would be best, I say. Mum turns abruptly towards the door just as Sven and Lillemor arrive. She adjusts her cardigan and says: Lillemor, Sven, I don’t know what to say. They hug Mum and ask how things are with Thomas. Not good, answers Mum. They are silent. Mum seems to become nervous, as if she’s said the wrong thing. You found it, I say. It wasn’t very difficult, you gave us good directions, says Lillemor. Mum can’t get the TV on, just fiddles with the remote control. Lillemor asks if I’ve managed to see Karin yet. No, they’re installing her now. Installing her? That’s how they put it, I say. Mum starts leafing through the paper, her reading glasses hanging by a cord around her neck. Mum, can you even see anything? It doesn’t matter, she says, then adds: Do you still want me to go home and check the hob? No, forget it, I’m probably just being neurotic, I reply, and walk out into the corridor; I keep walking until I find a bench. A doctor speeds past on a kick scooter. What would Karin have wanted me to do if she could see me sitting here? I scroll through the telephone numbers of Karin’s closest friends, Caro, Johanna, and Ullis. Hi, it’s Tom, have you got a moment?
When I return, Sven is leaning back on the sofa, reading on his tablet, Lillemor is rummaging around in her handbag. Bisse said she’d go back and check your hob, she says. Okay, but I did tell her she didn’t have to go, I answer. Måns is on his way, she adds. What, from Örebro? Yes, he’s coming on the next train, she answers. I sit on one of the chairs. A doctor came by, says Sven. What did he say? Karin’s readings have stabilised now, they plan to do the caesarean this afternoon. Okay, that’s good, thanks, but in future I want all information to come to me first, if that’s okay? You weren’t even here, says Lillemor. No, but that doesn’t make any difference, this is how we want it. We? she exclaims. Me and Karin, obviously. Right, but he came here asking for you and you weren’t here, and we thought it might be important. Okay, so I’ll run through it one more time, this is something Karin wanted, info to me first, that is me and Karin, and by the way we did talk about this only yesterday. A knock at the door makes Lillemor jump. Sven, she says, and looks at him expectantly. He stands but I’m already at the door. The nurse is shy and tries to smile as she asks: Are you all here with Karin Lagerlöf? Yes, is the caesarean being done now? I ask. No, not yet, I just wanted to say you can come and see her if you’d like to, and meet the doctors in charge. I look over at Sven and Lillemor. Tom, you go, we’ll wait here, says Sven.