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Category Archive for 'Sweden'

The intensely self-conscious narrator of this novel is nowhere nearly as self-aware as she would have her readers believe. A young woman who works in the local hospital cafeteria in Norrkoping, Sweden, to pay the rent on her small apartment, the narrator believes that she is “more than the situation in which [she] finds herself when [she] is wearing [her] ugly uniform.” Unlike her fellow employees of the hospital, she has attended college, leaving, she says, because she never knew she was expected to do any more than learn facts, and she “had gone all the way through high school without really learning the skill of abstract thought,” something that more insightful people learn as part of growing up. She believes that her leaving was not her fault. More self-conscious than self-aware, she is now at loose ends, and she has few female friends, even among those people she knew in college. “I cannot get away from the notion that all forms of sisterhood would mean lowering myself to an inferior level,” she believes, an attitude which does not endear her to other women. As the story line begins, Swedish author Therese Bohman chooses incisive details to illustrate her speaker’s life and thoughts, often using images that reveal far more than the speaker herself recognizes. Before long, one of the doctors rises to the obvious sexual bait dangled by the narrator, with the expected results. Older and married, he is in her bed not long after offering to drive her home from work. The complications and surprises which result are accompanied by details of great irony, which gives a patina of humor to this story of a girl who may or may not be a real woman by the end of the novel.

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Eighty million copies of the three novels in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium series have been sold since they were released in Sweden and then translated into almost every language in the world. Most readers who began this series – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005), The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006), and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2007) – became instant fans of its main characters, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomqvist, and went on to read all of the books. Chosen by the heirs of Stieg Larsson’s estate to be the author of this new Millenium novel, David Lagercrantz is a Swedish journalist who is also a successful novelist, and it may be for these story-telling skills, especially, that he was selected to write the sequel to The Girl Who Played with Fire, Larsson’s last novel. For Lagercrantz, the task of succeeding as the author of a new Millenium novel must have been intimidating, if not terrifying, with everyone who has ever read these novels looking for mistakes, changes, and signs that main characters may not be so intriguing in this novel, or that the plots may not be as full of suspense and wild excitement, or that Lagercrantz might not be up to the task as Larsson’s successor. Time to stop wondering. Here Lagercrantz’s skills as a fiction writer add to the novel, and while it may not have the raw energy – and sometimes sadistic violence – of Stieg Larsson’s novels, it is more polished, with a fine sense of plotting which allows the author to draw in the reader and draw out the excitement.

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Imagining his father waiting at a train station outside of Auschwitz, where he has just been liberated, Swedish author Goran Rosenberg, the child of two Jewish Holocaust survivors from Poland, has decided to begin his memoir about his father’s life with his father’s journey to Sweden, the place where he plans to live but where he knows no one. There, his father plans to close the book on his earlier life in Poland and his incarceration at Auschwitz and settle down to make a new life. In his early twenties and weighing just over eighty pounds when he arrives, his father David finds and then arranges for his future wife Hala to join him after a two-year separation, then begins his family and their lives as survivors of the Holocaust in a completely foreign environment. Goran Rosenberg’s memoir, monumental in its insights into post-war survival, clear and unequivocal in its presentation of facts, artistic and beautifully written, and emotionally involving for the reader, makes the Rosenberg family, with its difficulties and its triumphs, more than the story of one family, however much we want them to succeed. Through this memoir, Goran Rosenberg makes them symbolic of all the survivors of this terrible war as they try also to survive their survivorhood.

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So wild and imaginative that it challenges the very meaning of the word “farce,” which, for me is usually something light-weight, silly, and easily forgotten, Swedish author Jonas Jonasson expands this “farce” beyond the customary local or domestic focus and uses the whole world as his stage. Drawing his characters from South Africa, Israel, China, and Sweden, with a couple of Americans also earning passing swipes, he focuses on world affairs, including the modern political history of several countries, cultural and racial issues, and the accidents of history which have the power to change the world. The craziness starts with the novel’s over-the-top opening line: “In some ways they were lucky, the latrine emptiers in South Africa’s largest shantytown. After all, they had both a job and a roof over their heads.” And for the next four hundred pages, the bold absurdity continues, spreading outward until it eventually absorbs the kings, presidents, and prime ministers of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Picaresque, in terms of the plot, which wanders around following the life of Nombeko from the age of thirteen to forty-seven, the novel wastes no time in making its points about personal and political responsibility, or as the author says, “If God does exist, he must have a good sense of humor.”

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Norwegian author Linn Ullmann’s novel The Cold Song defies easy categories. It is not really a mystery, since the opening line announces that “Milla, or what was left of her, was found by Simen and two of his friends when they were digging for buried treasure in the woods.” We also know from the first page that a “boy known as K.B.” was later arrested and charged with her death. Still, this dark novel, filled with foreboding throughout, creates an atmosphere which mystery lovers will find intriguing, if not gripping, as the lives of the main characters move back and forth in time, creating their own suspense as each character reveals personal secrets and emotional limitations. Siri Brodal, the owner of two well-established restaurants; her husband, Jon, the author of two best-selling novels; their strange, sometimes irrational eleven-year-old daughter Alma; and Siri’s mother Jenny, a feisty, no-nonsense woman who is about to have her seventy-fifth birthday, form the crux of the novel and control the emotional climate throughout. Haunting all the action, however, is nineteen-year-old Milla, who disappeared two years ago, shortly after she was hired to care for Alma and her much younger sister Liv during the family’s summer vacation on the Norwegian coast. The discovery of Milla’s mangled remains, as the novel opens two years after her disappearance, preoccupies all the characters and looms over the action throughout.

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