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Category Archive for 'Sweden'

Telling the story of his father’s life, author Johannes Anyuru, the son of a Ugandan father and Swedish mother, focuses on the fraught political climates of several East African countries in the 1970s, when his father was in his early twenties, trying to find some sort of direction and sense of purpose. As a young teen in Uganda in the early 1960s, his father, known here as P, took advantage of a program in Greece which taught him and other young men in Uganda how to fly military aircraft, a program which changed his life. He loves the freedom of the air and sees himself flying professionally. P is an ethnic Langi, belonging to the group to which President Obote of Uganda also belongs, but as the novel opens, Obote has just been deposed in a coup led by Idi Amin. Assumed to be a supporter of Obote, P has no interest in being drafted into the air corps aiding Amin in his bloody rise to power. Secretly escaping his program in Greece by going to Rome, he then flies to Lusaka in Zambia, hoping to start a job he found as a crop-duster. The back and forth narratives of P and his son continue as they try to figure out who they are and where they come from, and require the reader to fill in blanks by making their own connections. For P, the biggest issue is escaping to someplace safe. For his son, it is filling in the blanks in his own life by learning more about who is father is, or has been. P remains full of mysteries, largely because one never knows whether he is telling the whole truth about the things we do know about him.

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In the sixth of the Swedish Millenium series of mysteries begun by Swedish author Stieg Larsson and continued by David Lagercrantz, all the familiar characters and secret organizations reappear. Fourteen years have passed since THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was published, and even Lisbeth Salander, a sociopathic but brilliant computer hacker, and Mikael Blomqvist, an admired journalist who cares for her, have changed with time. Lisbeth is on her own most of the time now, and she has no financial worries so she can come and go and pursue her twin sister, who has threatened her life. Her sister will never forgive her for her attacks on her father and brother who were determined to kill her – but failed. Sister Camillia is now associated with the highest eschelons of Russian intelligence, as was her father, and is out to finish her off. While this is going on, Blomqvist is asked to help with the investigation of the mysterious death of a beggar, who is eventually discovered to have been a Sherpa guide for a group of Swedish officials who wanted to climb Mount Everest. Much of the book is concerned with Mt. Everest. Deaths occurred there, and the guide knows more than participants are comfortable with. Less tightly organized and less focused on Salander and Blomqvist than in the past, this one has a multitude of characters and action scenes which don’t always connect tightly but show Salander and Blomqvist as they settle into their lives more fully.

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In the most fervently psychological novel I have read in many years, Swedish author Linda Bostrom Knausgard tells the inner stories of an almost totally dysfunctional family in Stockholm. An eleven-year-old girl who has stopped talking “a long time ago,” reveals that her mother and brother are now “used to it,” and that her father is dead. School for this silent child is the equivalent of “walking into pitch darkness every day – [like] having to hold on to a handrail until it was time to go home.” Intense and revelatory of the many fears and nightmares which can hide behind the silence – real or symbolic – in the mind of a pre-teen, Knausgard reminds readers that silence does not mean acceptance or passivity, that real drama may be unfolding behind the mask that hides the pain. While outside specialists and teachers seem to have had little effect on the thinking and emotional needs of Ellen, the main character here, the author also seems to offer some encouragement that families who care about each other do have the ability to see beyond immediate issues and eventually to deal with their problems on the family level. Whether or not they can heal themselves, long-term, without help, is not answered here.

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In the ending of Unquiet, author Linn Ullman summarizes her feelings about her father, Ingmar Bergman, and her complicated relationship with him and her mother, Liv Ullmann. The book, which she calls a “novel,” is more like a memoir, containing descriptions of many intimate family events, the instinctive reactions of her father and mother to life’s circumstances as they face them, and her own thoughtful exploration of her own identity, which dominates the body of the narrative. Age forty-eight by the time the novel ends, Ullmann presents an honest and realistic depiction of her life from the time she was a tiny child to the present, and she is so determined to be honest with herself and her reader, and so hopeful that her commentary contains elements of universality that she does not even mention the names of her famous parents until well over a hundred pages of narrative have elapsed. Linn Ullman has created a work memorable for its authenticity, its insights into parents and children, and its forthright depictions of the struggles that even caring people have in showing love.

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Few other recent mystery thrillers have accumulated anything like the number of prizes and awards as The Dying Detective by Leif GW Persson, a former adviser to the Swedish Ministry of Justice, a renowned psychological profiler, and currently a professor at the Swedish National Police Board. This novel, recently released in English, attests not only to Persson’s knowledge of criminal behavior and criminal justice, but also to his ability to create intriguing but decidedly “normal” characters and show them in situations which challenge all their abilities. By using characters who are not exotic, however clever and talented they may be in their knowledge of police procedure, Persson allows the reader to identify with them in a series of conundrums which continue without letup for the entire novel as the main character and his associates try to catch the terrible killer of a nine-year-old girl. This is the best organized and developed mystery novel I have read in years. It is complex enough that I found it helpful to create a character list, but each character has a clear place in the action, which develops in meticulous order. The image of an intricate puzzle, though trite, is unavoidable, as Persson adds little piece to little piece to develop and fill in the story of Yasmine and her murder, along with the people in her life who have survived her. The conclusion is a classic, resolving some of the questions still left with only three pages to go, while also, importantly, leaving some questions without direct answers. Persson trusts that his readers have paid attention. The final scene is not open to question if that is the case.

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