Mia Berner was a Norwegian-Swedish author and sociologist. Her writings and work provided a variety of perspectives on her own life and that of other women.
Mia Berner was born in 1923. She grew up in an upper-class environment in Stavanger, Norway, where her father was the manager of Norsk Hammerverk. Mia Berner’s relationship with her mother, Maggi, had a marked influence on her life. In her book Tretton she portrays her childhood and describes how her mother, whom she viewed as snobbish and nasty, tried to turn her 13-year-old precociously intellectual and independent daughter, Mia, into a carbon copy of herself. Her mother’s approach to child-rearing included doling out corporal punishment, forcing her daughter to spend the night in the coal cellar, and trying to have her daughter confined to an asylum. However, instead of instilling fear in Mia Berner these practises strengthened her resolve to make her own way in the world. She describes her father as a broadminded humanist who was entirely absorbed in his work.
When Mia Berner was 17 years old Norway fell to Nazi occupation. Two years later, in 1942, Mia Berner began attending Oslo university where she became an assistant to the philosopher Arne Næss. There was widespread opposition to the occupying German forces amongst the students and Næss played a leading role within this resistance. It was not long until Mia Berner became involve in these activities. One of the things she did was to illegally disseminate newspapers and serve as a courier for the secret military organisation, Milorg. These resistance operations are depicted in detail in her book Österut: en empirisk roman. As the Germans began to arrest and deport university students in November 1934 Mia Berner received orders to make her way hastily to Sweden along with seven other students. After three days’ travelling on skis they crossed the border into Värmland on 16 December. According to the debrief records of the Torsby chief constable the students were then sent to the Kjesäter reception camp which was run by the Norwegian refugee office in Stockholm. Mia Berner expressed her experience of fleeing and the anxiety she felt on approaching the Swedish border forcefully in Österut: “På bron vandrar soldaten sina fem steg fram och åter. Nu går det inte att behärska skräcken. Den är ett lössläppt vilddjur. I huvudet brusar det vilt tills jag mitt ute i älven grips av blint raseri. Det går inte det går inte det ska.” [The soldiers are marching, five paces back and forth across the bridge. I can’t control my fear. It’s like a wild animal running loose. My mind is racing wildly until halfway across the river I am completely filled with blind rage. This won’t work this won’t work it will.]
Mia Berner went back to Oslo after the war in order to train as a teacher in logic at the university from 1945–1946. She then opted to return to Sweden. There, in 1948, she married the journalist Sven Öste and they had a daughter named Suzanne. Prior to marrying she had been involved in a series of relationships prior to her marriage which had entailed her having two abortions. One of these happened in Norway during the occupation when the punishment for abortion was the death penalty whilst the other abortion was performed in Sweden without anaesthesia.
In the mid-1970s Mia Berner entered into her second marriage, now to the Finnish poet and author Pentti Saarikoski who was 14 years her junior. They moved to a farm in Tjörn municipality in Bohus county. This meant that further to her work as a sociologist at Gothenburg university she also became a farmer and fisher. Saarikoski is considered to be one of the premier poets in the Finnish language and had spent time in Sweden as a child on several occasions during the period of 1939–1945. He was a hard-drinking alcoholic and Mia Berner thus set up her own social project in an attempt to get him sober. Indeed this project was one of the reasons for the move from Finland to the farm at Tjörn. Despite the move Saarikoski’s drinking episodes only increased and, after eight years of marriage, he died in 1983.
Mia Berner’s first novel, PS: anteckningar från ett sorgeår, was published in 1985 and portrays her life with Saarikoski. According to a review in Göteborgs-Posten she delivered a tender, empathic but somewhat didactic account of her husband. This was particularly true when describing their discussions of academic subjects where, according to the reviewer, Mia Berner portrayed herself as the sociologist and philosopher that she had been for much of the post-war years. The book instantly became a great success. She followed it up with a series of novels which dealt with various aspects of her life and all of which were hailed by the critics. These books covered everything from her resistance activities during the war in the aforenoted Österut, her numerous sexual encounters with men in Fordi det er slik jeg ror: Historier, to the raw portrayal of her childhood in Tretton.
Mia Berner moved within a broad academic and literary network. She dipped her toes into many cultural fields: logic, philosophy, psychology, scientific theories, sociology, pedagogy, and literature. She also appeared on the radio and TV and in newspapers and worked as a translator and author within most of those fields.
After having spent 60 years in Sweden Mia Berner moved back to Oslo when she was in her 80s. She remained an active writer and published another two novels. Following Saarikoski’s death she only wore red which she considered to be the colour of mourning. When she gave an interview published in Göteborgs-Posten in 2004 the journalists noted that she wore a red fleecy top, red trousers, and very large red glasses for their meeting. According to the interview she simultaneously looked towards the future and back at the past at the same time: “Mia says, The present is the best of times, nevertheless, and then she raises her green glass in a toast. I don’t have the time to look back. I am in a bloody rush now.”
Mia Berner died in Oslo in 2009. Her last words written to her friend Morten Ströksnes were these: "Takk for livet! Ta dere et glass og vaer som folk!” [Thanks for the life I had! Have a drink and be merry!]