One of Sweden’s great contributions to world writing is its tradition of arbetarlitteratur, or working-class literature. The emergence of this tradition is closely associated with the strong labour movements of the 1920s and 1930s, when writers like Moa Martinson, Ivar-Lo Johansson, Harry Martinson and Vilhelm Moberg brought working-class lives to the forefront of Swedish cultural consciousness. Fusing literary flair with lived experience, their hugely popular works not only captured the public’s imagination and enriched the literary landscape; they also played an active role in informing and shaping public and political discourse.
As the works presented in this issue show, Sweden’s arbetarlitteratur is every bit a living, breathing literary tradition – one that embraces countless genres, styles and themes. In this issue, Susanna Alakoski explores women’s lives, work and aspirations in twentieth-century Stockholm, while Eija Hetekivi Olsson tackles bullying and exclusion within the school system, in her striking The Young Ones We Kill.
In his latest graphic novel, Mats Jonsson writes the Sámi people back into Sweden both past and present, and Anneli Jordahl’s Like the Dogs in Lafayette Park depicts how a quest for social justice brings a grieving widow back into the world.
In poetry, Jenny Wrangborg takes to task the exploitative conditions rife within the food services industry, while Kjell Johansson’s novel Bad People presents a child’s perspective of a life lived on the margins, and the lasting effects of social insecurity.
Our reviews section is packed with new Swedish-language books in an array of genres for all ages and tastes - including a number of new titles within our arbetarlitteratur theme - and we are also pleased to present an up-to-date list of Swedish and Finland-Swedish books published in English translation in 2021. Finally, we report on Gothenburg’s first ever hybrid book fair.
Readers in the UK may be interested in two events involving four of this issue's authors this October. Susanna Alakoski, Eija Hetekivi Olsson, Mats Jonsson and Anneli Jordahl will be taking part in a panel discussion chaired by translator Ruth Urbom at Bristol Ideas’ Working-Class Writers’ Festival, and a full-day literary translation workshop in London organised by SELTA.
We would like to extend our thanks to Swedish Literature Exchange and Ruth Urbom for their support in producing this issue.
from The London Girl by Susanna Alakoski
Susanna Alakoski's most recent project takes an explicitly wide, and dazzlingly ambitious, view of regular people caught in the winds of history with a suite of novels that puts individual destinies in a deeply researched context.
Translated by Kira Josefsson.
from The Young Ones We Kill by Eija Hetekivi Olsson
Eija Hetekivi Olsson's latest novel is both a sharp, sprightly-worded social commentary on how society treats its marginalised youths, and a warm rendering of a steadfast mother-daughter bond.
Translated by Sophie Ruthven.
from Bad People by Kjell Johansson
In Kjell Johansson's latest novel, after a breakdown in his former workplace, a retired school janitor is confronted with his past.
Translated by Neil Betteridge.
from When We Were Sámi by Mats Jonsson
Mats Jonsson's complex, melancholy, sometimes emotionally raw graphic novel discusses the difficulties of connecting to and communing with one's Sámi identity whilst also trying to integrate it into one's life as a Swede.
Translated by Michael O Jones.
from Like the Dogs in Lafayette Park by Anneli Jordahl
In Anneli Jordahl's sharp social critique, a widow left adrift after her husband's sudden death finds catharsis in recording the unreported stories of workplace deaths across Sweden.
Translated by Kate Lambert.
from Kitchen and What Should We Do with Each Other by Jenny Wrangborg
Jenny Wrangborg's poetry explores working conditions in the restaurant industry, solidarity, and the struggle to unionise this sector of the economy.
Translated by Freke Räihä and Jenny Wrangborg.
curated and edited by Fiona Graham
The Swedish word sorgearbete (mourning) evokes the work we do to process our sorrow. The Singularity, the latest novel from Kurdish-Swedish author Balsam Karam, is the embodiment of such work, and can only be described as lyrical, stirring, and immensely powerful.
In Ann-Helén Laestadius' Stolen, a nine-year-old Sámi girl in Arctic Sweden witnesses a hate crime. The trauma will remain with her into young adulthood, when she will battle for the rights of her people – and herself as a future reindeer herder.
The Wolf Run, the latest novel by doyenne of Swedish literature, Kerstin Ekman, resonates with a wisdom deeply rooted in nature.
The year is 1676, and men and women stand accused of witchcraft and leading others into Satan’s clutches. In Sisela Lindblom's Burn!, one nasty little girl just wants to watch them burn.
A woman is admitted to a secure psychiatric ward claiming she needs to prevent a terrorist attack. In the suspenseful thriller Black sun, Andreas Norman unpicks a white supremacist conspiracy to assassinate the Swedish prime minister.
Fjäril i koppel
In Zinat Pirzadeh's gripping true story Butterfly on a leash, over the course of one night in Teheran, a young woman has to make the most important decision of her life. As she waits for dawn to arrive, she thinks about the girl she was.
Som hundarna i Lafayette Park
In Anneli Jordahl's Like the Dogs in Lafayette Park, a Swedish woman obsessed with class-related injustice finds inspiration in the work of the Black Panther movement.
Felicia Stenroth's Movements of the Hand is a taut, strikingly written representation of modern-day exploitation, and a powerful account of the lasting psychological effects of poverty.
Borderland is a new outing for Aino Trosell’s working-class heroine Siv Dahlin, who is now a postwoman in the remote region of Finnmark, where cuts in services are piling on the pressure and local sensibilities are stirred by both wolf attacks and refugee problems.
Kjell Johansson has been writing insightful stories about people in insecure jobs since long before the lot of the precariat became the trendiest of socio-political topics. Bad People offers gripping insights into the different ways humanity is undermined by social insecurity.
De unga vi dödar
Eija Hetekivi Olsson's The Young Ones We Kill is an at times harrowing mother-daughter story about the consequences of bullying in schools, segregation in the suburbs of Gothenburg, and the love and fear of a mother fighting for her daughter.
Cotton Angel, the first in Susanna Alakoski's epic quartet of novels covering the lives of four generations of working women, vividly depicts a Finnish cotton mill community during the years from Finland’s Civil War to the aftermath of World War II.
När vi var samer
Mats Jonsson tried to avoid thinking about his Sámi heritage for decades. In When We Were Sámi he realises that he has no choice but to face it and to try to understand where Sámi people fit in Sweden’s history.
Travelling between Dimension Homesickness and Dimension Viking Line, Edith Hammar's Homo Line is a graphic novel about dislocation, gentrification, and a lesser-known aspect of wartime Helsinki.
Children's & YA literature
Love is love, even for young reindeer herders: Moa Backe Åstot's Polar Fire is a fresh take on teen romance from the far North.
In Johan Rundberg's The Night Raven, the merciless winter of 1880, an abandoned newborn and a murder all coincide to push eleven-year-old Mika, an orphan, into exploring her past and solving a mystery in the city of Stockholm.
In Sara Lundberg's The Day of Forgetting, we see that some days are just like that. You forget what you’re supposed to do or where you’re supposed to go. You might even embarrass yourself by getting things wrong. But don’t worry: we all know what it feels like, and we know it does get better.
In an expansive collection of poetry dealing explicitly with climate change and COVID-19, Malte Persson explores the meaning of time of and beyond humanity. Annihilation, ranging in scope from single poems to a 60-page epic, uses rhyme to impose a sense of order in an increasingly disordered world.
After more than two hundred years, Sweden’s national poet finally has a literary biography. In Bellman. The Biography, Carina Burman sketches the life of Carl Michael Bellman in a lavishly illustrated and meticulously researched work.
Literary critic Rasmus Landström's The Return of Working-Class Literature offers a thorough survey and analysis of a uniquely Swedish publishing tradition that remains largely inaccessible to Anglophone readers.
Borde hålla käft – en bok om Märta Tikkanen
As well as being an impeccably researched biography of Märta Tikkanen, a writer who became a Nordic feminist icon, Johanna Holmström’s Ought to shut up – a book about Märta Tikkanen is a dialogue between its author’s 21st-century #metoo feminism and its subject’s feminism of the 1970s and 1980s.
Sammetsdiktaturen. Motstånd och medlöpare i dagens Ryssland.
Authoritarianism, rhetoric and protest: scenes from daily life. Anna-Lena Laurén's The Velvet Dictatorship. Resistance and fellow-travellers in today’s Russia. is a highly readable collection of essays on contemporary Russia written by an expert in the area.