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Category Archive for 'Sweden'

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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An action-packed debut novel in which reality and virtual reality overlap, Game reflects the game of life with an alarming twist, one that raises serious questions about how much control over our own lives any of us readers might be willing to give up in exchange for the excitement and ego-stroking of an on-going virtual reality game. Here, Henrik “HP” Pettersson, a young Swede in his thirties, with too little to do and no sense of responsibility, finds a cell phone on the commuter train to Stockholm. Not surprisingly, he decides to keep it. When he opens it, he discovers a message: “Wanna play a game?” He ignores it, wanting only to figure out how to use it as a phone. When the message changes to “Wanna play a game, Henrik Petterson?” he is stunned. And when the phone will not take no for an answer, HP concludes that some of his friends are playing a trick on him. He decides that the only way to get back at them is to play the game and beat them at it. He soon finds himself playing a “game” in which his very life and the lives of everyone he knows are at stake.

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“Everything is falling apart…The parents are demanding to pick up their children. The barricade is crowded with people who intend to help them free the children… They don’t understand what they are risking if the infection gets out and there isn’t any medicine.” This dramatic quotation instantly establishes the intensity of this new novel from Sweden by Anna Jansson, candidate for the Glass Key Award for Best Scandinavian Novel in 2012 for its story involving a pandemic of bird flu on an island off the Swedish coast. A new name to American readers, Anna Jansson has had a dual career as both a nurse and a writer, and has already sold over two million copies of her Nordic crime novels throughout ten countries in Europe. Now available to an English-speaking audience, Strange Bird will undoubtedly captivate new readers, sweeping them up with the provocative opening chapters, as the action begins on Gotland, a sparsely inhabited island in the Baltic, sixty miles off the coast of Sweden.

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Palace intrigue of the highest order, conducted by courtiers and officials who will do anything to achieve their goals, makes this novel by Swedish author Per Olov Enquist both stimulating and thoroughly engrossing, and few who read it will fail to notice the similarities of the “normal” behavior one sees between these courtiers in their time and place and those “aides” or sycophants who surround other leaders of other countries in other times. The Danish court from 1768 – 1772 pulses with life as powerful personalities collide in their rush to fill the power vacuum resulting from the weakness of King Christian VII, a sensitive, half-mad 17-year-old boy, who married the innocent and unsuspecting Princess Caroline Mathilde, the 15-year-old sister of Britain’s King George III, just two years before the novel opens. When the young king becomes interested in the enlightened ideas of Voltaire and Diderot and is celebrated by these philosophers on a trip around the continent, his nervous and threatened court decides he needs a physician to disabuse him of these “follies.” What they never expect is that the physician they engage, Johann Friedrich Struensee from Germany, will quickly establish a strong and genuinely caring relationship with Christian, share his enlightened ideas, and eventually become the de facto king and lover of the young queen Caroline Mathilde.

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