Home and Away: Writing the Beautiful Game

Home and Away: Writing the Beautiful Game


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Two world-class writers reveal themselves to be the ultimate soccer fans in these collected letters

Karl Ove Knausgaard is sitting at home in Skåne with his wife, four small children, and dog. He is watching soccer on TV and falls asleep in front of the set. He likes 0-0 draws, cigarettes, coffee, and Argentina.

Fredrik Ekelund is away, in Brazil, where he plays soccer on the beach and watches matches with others. Ekelund loves games that end up 4-3 and teams that play beautiful soccer. He likes caipirinhas and Brazil.

Home and Away is an unusual soccer book, in which the two authors use soccer and the World Cup in Brazil as the arena for reflections on life and death, art and politics, class and literature. What does it mean to be at home in a globalized world?

This exchange of letters opens up new vistas and gives us stories from the lives of two creative writers. We get under their skin and gain insight into their relationships with modern times and soccer’s place in their lives, the significance the game has for people in general, and the question Was this the best soccer championship ever?

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374279837
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 01/10/2017
Pages: 432
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Karl Ove Knausgaard was born in Norway in 1968. His debut novel, Out of This World, won the Norwegian Critics Prize in 2004 and his novel A Time for Everything was a finalist for the Nordic Council Prize. For My Struggle: Book 1, Knausgaard received the Brage Award in 2009, the 2010 Book of the Year Prize in Morgenbladet, and the P2 Listeners’ Prize. My Struggle: Book 1 was a New Yorker Book of the Year and My Struggle: Book 2 was listed among The Wall Street Journal’s 2013 Books of the Year. My Struggle is a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into more than fifteen languages. Knausgaard lives in Sweden with his wife and four children.

Fredrik Ekelund was born in Sweden in 1953. He published his first book, Stuv Malmö, in 1984, and has since published another dozen works—novels, detective novels, collections of poetry, and books about soccer. Ekelund is also a playwright, and has made two films (with documentary filmmaker Lars Westman), as well as working as a translator specializing in Danish, Spanish, Portuguese, and French.

Read an Excerpt

Home and Away

Writing the Beautiful Game

By Karl Ove Knausgaard, Fredrik Ekelund, Don Bartlett and Seán Kinsella

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2014 Pelikanen Forlag
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-71464-2


Limhamn, 10 June

Dear Karl Ove,

Let me start off with a memory I have from 19 November 1983. I was in Paris devoting myself to my studies, living at the Cité Universitaire, writing for the now-defunct daily paper Arbetet and working on a dissertation about a French author I had discovered the year before, Georges Navel. This was a happy time in my life. In August of the same year I found out that my first novel Malmö Dockers, Report! had been accepted by Bonnier, and I was still on a high knowing I was to be what I'd dreamed of being for a long time: a writer. My days were spent attending the Collège de France listening to Michel Foucault and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, or sneaking in to the École Normale and listening to Jacques Derrida. To sit at the feet of Foucault and Derrida only served to intensify the intellectual high I was living on at the time.

November 19 was the day before my thirty-second birthday. I was sitting in a student restaurant on the Boulevard Saint-Michel when a man with the stern, sad features of a South American Indian sat down across from me. We fell into conversation. It turned out he was Mexican and worked as a chemist on the nearby rue d'Assas. I'd been planning a small dinner party at my student bedsit to celebrate my birthday the following day, and on a whim I invited along Juan, as he was called. We became friends, began to socialise, and after a while I learned that he'd moved to Paris with an American woman with whom he had a child. He settled down in the city, but after some time, he'd realised he was a homosexual, got divorced and was now living with a French man. One day we got around to talking about Octavio Paz. I expressed my admiration for the Mexican poet and informed my new friend that I wished to learn Spanish so as to be able to read Paz in the original, and I wondered if we, Juan and I, could read Paz together. And that's what happened. On a park bench in the Luxembourg Gardens. He read aloud to me. I repeated after him and savoured phrases like El laberinto de la soledad and A cinco años de Tlatelollo and the word soledad was so beautiful, I thought, it was worth learning a whole new language for that alone.

And that was how the door to Latin America opened for me.

The park bench in the Luxembourg Gardens allowed me – if you can say that every language is a house – to clamber into the Spanish house. The strange thing is I've always felt so at home there, as though Spanish had been waiting for me, or in me. There's an airiness, it's a language of beautiful sonorous vowel sounds and through it I ended up in Portuguese – NB: the Brazilian variant – also beautiful, but more difficult to pronounce, harder to comprehend and much more consonantal, without the same buoyancy.

So I'm off again. Latin America for, I think, about the twentieth time. On my first trip, in 1985, when I was flying to Chile, we had a stopover in Recife and on descending the aircraft steps I knelt down and kissed the ground. An intuitive act, a homage to the footballing heroes of my childhood, Pelé and Garrincha. I don't do it any more, kiss the ground that is, but I feel a powerful yearning, and mentally have already been there for some time.

Best wishes, Fredrik

Glemmingebro, 11 June

Dear Fredrik,

At about the time you got off the plane in Rio de Janeiro I was at a parents' get-together for my eldest daughter's class, on the beach a few kilometres from here, where we first barbecued some sausages we had brought along, then played rounders: the third class against parents, with the shadows lengthening under the light of the setting sun. My plan was to write to you after the children had gone to bed, at around nine, but I was in the US just a few days ago and I still have jet lag; at half past eight I fell asleep fully clothed, with all the kids around me, and didn't wake up until half past one at night, surrounded by silence. Plan B was to write this morning. I had organised a nanny, as the Swedes call them here now, to come and take care of our four-month-old daughter while I was writing. Anne – that's our youngest daughter's name – is usually cheery and happy and never causes any trouble – she goes to sleep at half past eight and wakes up at six or half past – but today of all days, when I had to find time to write, she was screaming like a banshee. The nanny couldn't handle her, so I had to do it, calm her down first, then feed her and change her nappies – and when I handed her over, what happened? Another fit, she screamed so much her face went puce and tears rolled. I took over again, and when she was calm the nanny put her in the buggy. They are still out walking, in the summer drizzle. And I am writing at last.

From the letter you wrote yesterday I have drawn the obvious conclusion: you are a romantic. At least your writing felt romantic to me. Studies in Paris with Foucault and Derrida, meeting young South Americans – it reminds me of what Paris was for Latin American writers, especially Cortázar, who was exiled there for many years and who wrote some of the most fantastic stories I have ever read. Your words awaken a longing in me to be there and a sense that it is too late, I have missed the bus, all of the buses. But you were there. And your first book was accepted – that is also romantic, the young author in Paris. I, on the other hand, am a Protestant deep into my bones. I am the kind to deny myself things, to tell myself no, and if I like to read about wild, exuberant, extrovert, high-spirited lifestyles around the world, where energy is of the human variety, not material or financial, this is not a world I can inhabit, I can barely stand it, I turn away, long to be alone, I don't know how to relate to all this generosity and warmth.

Why am I writing this?

You have guessed correctly. Brazil is not for me. Nor is Brazilian life, which, granted, I have never experienced and only know through descriptions. Nor Brazilian football. During the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, when Germany met Brazil, I supported Germany. I have never done that before and will probably never do so again. But it was the lesser of two evils. I watched the match with my brother, at a bar in Stockholm, and when Brazil scored he leaned forward and pointedly clapped in front of me, as if to say, you are so wrong, don't you see?

Not supporting Brazil, distancing myself from Brazilian football, is a bit like saying I prefer ugly to beautiful women. If I can choose I always pick the ugliest girl. Or, to take another example, and not one which will immediately be interpreted as sexist – it is like saying I prefer reading bad books to good ones.

It hasn't always been like this. When I was young I wanted to venture out into the world, I wanted to see, smell, hear and taste everything. I wanted life. I had visions of travelling down through Europe, doing odd jobs on the way, being abroad for many years while I wrote the Great Novel. I wanted to meet people, have adventures, fall in love, get drunk and affirm life. It didn't happen, I never went, instead I stayed in Bergen – never Paris, like you, nor South America – and set out on a slow, life-denying process, which has culminated here in a tiny rural village in Sweden, where I live, hardly meeting anyone and with no social life whatsoever (yesterday, at the parents' get-together, I didn't talk to anyone). I barely ever drink, and I eat very little, I am not interested in food at all. I have a constant guilty conscience because I work too little – it is not good to do nothing at all, just loaf around.

Thus your letter, which is all about youth and life, evokes strong yearnings in me. But I have missed the bus, and in the football World Cup, which starts tomorrow, I have strong sympathies for two teams, as always: Argentina and Italy. Both are traditionally cynical teams, as you know, which in their best years were always extremely well organised defensively and played on their opponents' weaknesses rather than their own strengths. They possess extreme qualities, but there is something about their never using them in an excessive manner, about their never doing anything beautiful for the sake of beauty, only if there is some outcome. And the fact that they can do so, but hold back, appeals to something deep inside me.

The first televised images I can remember are from the summer of 1978, the World Cup in Argentina. The sea of spectators in the stands, the confetti-strewn grass pitch, Ricardo Villa, Osvaldo Ardiles, Mario Kempes. I knew nothing about the political situation, of course, I was nine years old, but I was spellbound. Argentina, both the country and the team, represented an adventure for me. Later the adventure grew because I read Borges, I read Cortázar – and I am reading Cesar Aira now – and I read the exiled Polish author Witold Gombrowicz. (His diaries are brilliant, they were written in Argentina, and when he goes to Paris at the end, to the Old World, it is as though his diaries die, they lose all their vitality, all their power – did they come from his exile in Buenos Aires?) There is a lot of romanticism in this, but it is a different kind from the romanticism I see in you and your letter – for the simple reason that the Brazil you affirm is a physical entity in your life; you have been to Brazil countless times, you have friends there, and you have intimate knowledge of the culture – you know the language, you have translated Brazilian literature into Swedish – and you play football like a Brazilian. That above all else! For you Brazil is life lived, it is alive. Argentina for me? I have never been there, it is no more than a dream, fantasies, anchored nowhere else but in the books I have read. It is the opposite of lived, the opposite of alive, it is non-life, which in its extreme form is life-denying – and that was why the working title of my last novel, which came to be called Min Kamp, was for a long time Argentina.

Tomorrow the World Cup starts. I am happy. I remember all the world championships from 1978, what I was doing, how I was living, who I was and the world in which the contests existed. But I have always watched them on TV, never in reality, and I would like to continue doing this – so that is the basis for this book, isn't it? Life versus death, yes versus no, Brazil versus Argentina.

All the best,

Karl Ove

Rua Assunçào 174, Botafogo, Rio, 11 June

Dear Karl Ove,

I've landed now. It's so dreamlike, this world of airports and planes. The sense of alienation in the departure halls, everyone transformed into mere bodies, like large lumps of meat in suits and dresses. And almost everybody with such closed faces. How did it become the norm to take your seat before a transatlantic flight without so much as a hello to your closest fellow passengers?

On the plane I read Rubens Figueiredo, an author from Rio who writes fantastic short stories set in surreal jungle landscapes. Afterwards I anaesthetised myself with a whisky, followed by three glasses of red wine and a sleeping pill. Woke up refreshed and then, only then – after ten hours this is – did I speak to the woman sitting next to me, a lady in her forties from Rio. One word, Karl Ove, a little knock on an unfamiliar door, and then the world opens up. I avoid this type of contact all too often but I do love it. She worked as a beautician, had her own salon in Rio and had just been to Moscow and Vienna with two colleagues. Suddenly she's showing me photos of her son, a twenty-year-old young pro at Cagliari. Then she went on to describe herself as a flamenguista doente (a fanatical Flamengo supporter) and laughed, and when I said I was going to stay in Botafogo she suggested I share a taxi with her friend Patricia, which I did, and thus ended up engaged in intense conversation with another beauty-salon proprietor as our taxi sped through the Rio morning, through the bleak, poor, northern part of the city, wet and grey under heavy rainclouds, on a motorway where balas perdidas (stray bullets) are never far from your mind on account of the two gangs with territory on either side of the road, who are at constant war with one another, and it's said that people in passing cars have been hit by bullets. Innocent people die this way every year in Rio: sleeping at home, making love in a luxury hotel, mothers on their way to kindergarten or taxi drivers just doing their job.

That thought is never far from my mind here: sudden death.

They dropped me off by a rusty iron gate at Rua Assunçào 174, where my bleary-eyed host – it was seven in the morning when I arrived – was there to welcome me. His name is Afonso Machado, a musician by trade, a guitarist who's played with many of the greats, including Chico Buarque and Elza Soares. I have my own room in Afonso's old house, which is enclosed by the jungle, a rock face, other houses and some blocks of flats.

Now I'm ensconced in my own world: a little library, TV, CD player, my own books and a printer. What bliss it is, come what may, to create your own world and workspace. That's where I'm writing to you from, and looking out of the open window I can see a patch of sky, two high-rises and every ten minutes an internal flight coming in to land. This is also historic ground in the footballing sense, because only a few hundred metres from where I am sitting is Fluminense's old stadium, with its chateau-like facade, and it was on this pitch that Brazil became South American champions for the first time in 1919, with a goal in extra time by Arthur Friedenreich, the Afro-Brazilian who wanted to be white.

I hit it off with Afonso right away, he has a twinkle in his eye, a ready smile on his lips, a warm charm coupled with, like so many people here, a Rio-ish, listless, casual quality, not ironic nor affected but quite natural. He laid on breakfast, and after a few minutes we ended up where you usually end up here, in the world of football. He is Botafogo. That's what they say. You are your team, you aren't content with merely supporting them. And it wasn't long before we were talking about Garrincha, Botafogo's best player ever. I told him about the film Lasse Westman and I made about Garrincha's Swedish son, Ulf Lindberg. Afonso told me that he'd toured with Elza Soares, who'd been in a tempestuous relationship with Garrincha for many years, and about her voice, about how incredible he thought it was, and still is. And then he told me, between mouthfuls, that his father used to take him to the Maracanà Stadium when he was a little boy to see Botafogo, and that he'd been there that day in 1962 when Botafogo beat Flamengo 3–0 in front of 160,000 spectators, in the final of the Rio State Championship, possibly Garrincha's best game ever, certainly on a par with the one in the group stages in 1958 between Brazil and the Soviet Union in Ullevi.

Yes, it's true what you wrote, that at a certain age we're extremely receptive to new impressions and they never leave us. The first World Cup to seep into your pores was in 1978, hence your love for Argentina. My first World Cup was in 1970, when Pelé was at the height of his career and Brazil, according to many, had the best national team that has ever existed. But, and this is an important but, I shy away from your dichotomisation, your either-or, having to be one thing or the other when often we realise – or at least I do! – we are both. When I was twelve, England won the World Cup with players like Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Nobby Stiles and Alan Ball. Players I would take to my heart, not least Moore, whom I thought so manly and handsome and therefore – or so I imagined at the time – also skilful. I loved the total football of the Dutch: Cruyff and Neeskens were emissaries from a new world. I have a mental index of great German football players I admire (Seeler, Beckenbauer, Netzer, Rummenigge, Littbarski and Hässler, for example) and I also liked the Argentinian team that won in 1978, especially Kempes, that force of nature, and the way he raced forward through the blizzard of confetti, no one able to stop him, and Maradona, Karl Ove, oh my God! There's no other football player – with the exception of Garrincha – I've revered more than el pibe de oro. One of the highpoints in my life was meeting him in Florence in 1990, after that game in the last sixteen between Argentina and Brazil, which he effectively sealed with that miraculous dribble from midfield before releasing the ball to Caniggia. I was sitting in the front row at the post-match press conference, completely in thrall: the intelligent eyes, the quick replies and the modesty he displayed towards their crushed opponents. As the press conference ends, he gets to his feet, and then, suddenly, I hear myself say, Diego, por favor! Whereupon he, who was so abhorred and traduced in Italy, turns, walks over and signs his autograph in the notepad I'm holding out. And at the same instant the two-hundred-strong crowd of sports journalists all undergo the same transformation as me: they revert to being little boys and storm the podium, allowing me to sneak away with my precious, later to be framed, prize. By all means, let's keep some sort of football debate alive, but then surely Brazil–Italy or Brazil–England/Germany are better suited as opposite poles, and the match in Barcelona in 1982 (Italy–Brazil, 3–2) must certainly have embodied this contrast between 'the Brazilian style of play' (whatever that may be) and 'the Italian' (whatever that is).


Excerpted from Home and Away by Karl Ove Knausgaard, Fredrik Ekelund, Don Bartlett and Seán Kinsella. Copyright © 2014 Pelikanen Forlag. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Begin Reading,
World Cup Statistics,
Also by Karl Ove Knausgaard,
A Note About the Authors,

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