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2023:2

En låda apelsiner review

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En låda apelsiner

(A Crate of Oranges)

by Lena Einhorn
reviewed by Fiona Graham

As a journalist, writer and editor-in-chief of Sweden’s Judisk Krönika (Jewish Chronicle), Jackie (Joachim) Jakubowski was an important figure in Swedish literary and cultural life for several decades. Yet he was never to write the story of his early life in Communist Poland. Chancing to meet author and film-maker Lena Einhorn (also of Polish-Jewish parentage) in Tel Aviv, he talked about his dramatic childhood, teenage years and early adulthood with unusual openness, prompting her to ask: ‘Jackie, shall we write a book about this?’ Jakubowski replied that he was the only person who could write such an account. Yet three years later, stricken by the illness that was to end his life at just sixty-nine, he decided to entrust his story to Einhorn.

In the late 1960s, an anti-Semitic political campaign under Communist Party leader Władysław Gomułka made life increasingly intolerable for Poland’s small remaining Jewish community. From 1967, Polish Jews emigrated in their thousands to escape harassment and persecution, as most recently documented in Daniel Schatz’s Forgotten Exodus project (forgottenexodus.org). Sweden offered refuge to many: those who would later commit their experiences to paper include Emilia Degenius in her heart-wrenching memoir Åka skridskor i Warszawa (Skating in Warsaw, 2014) and Maciej Zaremba, whose outstanding, genre-defying work Huset med de två tornen (House with Two Towers, 2018) covers a broad sweep of Polish twentieth-century history. Among the emigres who made their way to Sweden were eighteen-year-old Joachim Jakubowski, then known as Jasio, and his gravely ill father Stanisław (Staś). Within a year, Jasio would find himself alone in his new country.

Einhorn maintains tension by revealing the key facts little by little, forcing the reader to fill in the gaps. While the greater part of the narrative follows Jasio’s life in chronological order from early childhood, there are also flashbacks to chilling scenes involving two sisters in wartime and immediate post-war Poland, and ‘flash-forwards’ to Jasio and Staś’s arrival in Sweden. We do not discover why Jasio and Staś are alone until well into the story, and the full, startling truth is revealed only in a climactic meeting at the very end.

One poignant scene follows another in the main narrative, depicting Jasio’s childhood. Sent to the mountain resort of Zakopane to recover after a hugely traumatic event, six-year-old Jasio draws a line of aeroplanes with the Polish flag. Why not the flag of ‘the Holy Land’, asks the overbearing man in charge, before purposefully ripping the child’s drawing to pieces. The innocent six-year-old has no idea why. But he dimly grasps that he is regarded as different from the other children and begins to internalise this sense of difference. When he starts wetting the bed, a worried Staś takes him to a psychologist who addresses him in medical jargon and administers electric shocks. On his first day at primary school, Jasio finds he is the only child who can already read. Yet this unwanted distinction pales into insignificance beside his ignorance of the uplifting Communist song which, so it seems, all the other children know by heart.

Staś is a loving father, but not always easy to live with. A dapper ladies’ man fond of dancing, he is rather lacking in domestic skills. His cooking relies mainly on eggs and onions: the latter, so he claims, contain everything necessary to maintain human life – a puzzling statement whose significance emerges much later in the narrative. Officially, he repairs clothes for a living, but has a sideline in bespoke ladies’ coats which have to be delivered on the quiet; private initiative is proscribed under the Communist regime, though others, like the family of Jasio’s friend Wojtek, have the right connections to bribe their way around the rules.

Jasio/Jackie’s boyhood is depicted through the eyes of a sensitive and intelligent child who, while not always understanding the full context, has a strong sense of what is just and unjust, accepted or not accepted. He delights in the sensory magnificence of the Catholic church he attends with kindly Halina, who befriends them when Staś begs her for help with cooking. But he knows this must be kept a secret from his father. Even within the Jewish community, there are insiders and outsiders, those who receive the titular crate of oranges from Israel, and those who don’t.

After emigration to Sweden, Jasio/Jackie cared for Staś until the latter’s death, qualified as an electrical engineer to honour Staś’s wishes, and rapidly found his métier as a writer – in a language he had only started to learn at eighteen. In her engrossing account of how Jackie Jakubowski grew to maturity under the most trying of circumstances, Lena Einhorn has done full justice to this remarkable man.

Lena Einhorn in glasses and fleece collar.
Lena Einhorn. Photo: Agneta Åkesson.
About

En låda apelsiner

Norstedts, 2023. 325 pages.

Foreign rights: Hedlund Literary Agency, Magdalena Hedlund.

Lena Einhorn’s recent works include the historical novel Geniet från Breslau (The Genius from Breslau, 2018), reviewed in SBR 2019:1; A Shift in Time (2016), which examines parallels between the New Testament and contemporaneous texts; and Blekingegatan 23 (2013), a fictionalised account of Greta Garbo’s early life. For full details of Lena Einhorn’s works, see her official website: lenaeinhorn.se/English.

Emilia Degenius’s Åka skridskor i Warszawa (Ersatz, 2014) was reviewed in SBR 2015:1. Maciej Zaremba’s Huset med de två tornen (Weyler 2018), was reviewed in SBR 2019:1.

En bok för Ingen review

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En bok för Ingen

(A Book for Nobody)

by Isabella Nilsson
reviewed by Emma Olsson

I was about to write that Nietzsche is at the heart of Isabella Nilsson’s newest book, but I don’t think that’s right. His role seems a lot less bodily.

In En bok för Ingen (A Book for Nobody), Nilsson engages with Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1882 book, The Gay Science, in a literary free association exercise. Borrowing The Gay Science’s chapter titles, Nilsson muses about friendship, psychiatric care, suffering, desire for suffering, religion, writing, eating disorders, and, sometimes, Nietzsche. But not that often. She prefers juggling writers like Clarice Lispector, Fernando Pessoa and Hagar Olsson.

And then, after she’s finished one quick thought on Pessoa, Borges and Schopenhauer, she drops them for the next motley of writers, philosophers, directors, characters from a children’s book, or pop stars. Britney Spears, for example: ‘Let us hope for a “Britney’s law”, let us hope for the right to not always say “yes please, thank you”,’ she writes about the singer’s famous conservatorship, in a passage about the failure of the psychiatric care system to allow patients the right to not be okay.

If it sounds frenetic, or like a lot of name-dropping, that’s because it is. That’s just an observation, though, not a critique. This is how it feels to read ‘A Book for Nobody’, to be carried from one meditation to the next, unwillingly yet happily all the same.

The book works mostly in the mind, but it also has a heart (and no, it isn’t a German philosopher, as I’d first suggested). It is a woman trying to quiet her ‘mind ghosts.’ Unable to sleep, Nilsson confronts her demons head on. ‘I also want to regain my health and be happy,’ she thinks to herself in the prologue, watching the mind ghosts move around the bedroom. ‘I want…or I will also write a gay science.’ This is the challenge that spawns the book. And so, with The Gay Science as a jumping board, she begins her collection of essays, letters, journal entries, aphorisms and wordplays.

Some of the book’s most delightful moments involve word play, like an alphabetical acrostic passage in which each letter of the alphabet corresponds to a word for Nilsson to explore. A for ‘alliteration’, B for ‘barn’ (children), C for ‘clownskräck’ (fear of clowns). (Good luck to any translator who embarks on this passage, though I’m sure the required inventiveness would suit Nilsson’s style). Elsewhere, she pens quick poems and translations.

Nilsson has already proven herself to be a writer of incredible lexical ingenuity. Her 2018 book, Nonsensprincessans dagbok (‘A Nonsense Princess’s Diary’), also featured poetry and rhymes so linguistically joyous that they sweeten the pill of the subject matter. The book also focused on mental health issues and involuntary medical treatment.

‘A Book for Nobody’ takes a similar route, tackling difficult topics but having fun while doing so. Therefore, I never felt the need to take a break from the book’s themes, to escape the persistent ‘mind ghosts’. I did, however, find myself pausing for air every few chapters simply for some mental respite. There are a lot of complex ideas in this book, and complex ideas don’t make for binging. This is no page-turner, but rather a companion that can be picked up and put down in a quest for inspiration.

Following popular psychological thought, people are believed to engage in the cerebral to avoid engaging in the emotional. We overthink, we write, we chat and we pontificate all to avoid the burden of having to feel. One of the ways ‘A Book for Nobody’ surprises the reader is by turning this idea on its head. For Nilsson, the cerebral is not a tool for emotional suppression, but a way to feel. Amidst the synthesising that drives the book, the heart still beats.

Black and white photo of Isabella Nilsson in white frilly top.
Isabella Nilsson.
About

En bok för Ingen

Ellerströms, 2022.

248 pages.

Foreign rights: contact Ellerströms förlag.

Isabella Nilsson debuted in 2011 with the young people’s novel Verklighetsprojektet, ('The Reality Project'), which was reviewed in SBR 2012:2 by Tuva Tod. This was followed by Nonsensprinsessans dagbok in 2018, which was nominated for the 2019 Nordic Council Literature Prize.

Judarnas historia i Sverige review

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Judarnas historia i Sverige

(The history of the Jews in Sweden)

by Carl Henrik Carlsson
reviewed by Kate Lambert

An early chapter in Carl Henrik Carlsson’s thorough chronological account is entitled ‘Why are there no synagogues in Sweden?’, a question asked by Jacob Wallenberg, ship’s priest for the Swedish East India Company in 1769. Readers unfamiliar with Sweden’s Jewish history may well wonder why this was the case too. The answer is provided by an overview of medieval antisemitism and of the attitudes towards Jews of Swedish rulers from Oxenstierna (negative) and Queen Kristina (positive) in the seventeenth century up to the reign of Gustav III. The following chapter is introduced by a description of the lamenting crowds on the quayside in Stralsund in 1774 as ‘Sweden’s first Jew’, Aaron Isaac, sailed for Sweden. Within a year he had obtained a permit for him and a few others to reside permanently in Sweden without having to abandon his religion.

Each chapter begins with a snapshot of a similar key event, bringing them to life. In chapter 6 we follow Jacob Ettlinger, a businessman in the early twentieth century, walking several kilometres from his home in fashionable north Stockholm near the reform synagogue to attend the orthodox synagogue in the workers’ district of Södermalm, demonstrating that the boundaries between class, place of origin and type of worship were not as rigid as might have been assumed. The very first chapter, entitled ‘Aaron Isaac is old and bitter’, begins with Isaac writing a letter to his fellow members of the Stockholm Jewish community in 1807. Serving as an introductory chapter before the historical account begins, it highlights themes that recur throughout the book: relations and tensions between Sweden’s Jews as a whole and the Swedish state, including antisemitism and rigid restrictions, as well as such differences within Sweden’s Jewish communities. Sweden’s Jews never have been a homogenous group and throughout the book issues arise between established communities and each wave of new arrivals.

The subsequent chronological chapters take us through the period 1774–1838, in which the early pioneers arrived in Sweden with limited rights and settlement restricted to a few specific towns, before covering emancipation and reformed Judaism in 1838–1870, and in 1870–1917, the eventual emergence of a Jewish elite and a second-generation Jewish community contrasted with a new wave of ‘östjudisk’ Jewish immigration from the Russian Empire, many of whom initially earned a living as peddlers. There is a short chapter on the period before 1933, and a necessarily longer one on 1933–1948. The final chapters look at revitalisation, memoirs of the Holocaust and new waves of immigration from Eastern Europe, and the book concludes with the period 1991–2021 in which Jews became one of Sweden’s official national minorities, with Yiddish a national minority language, and Stockholm gained its first female rabbi in Ute Steyer.

This is an extremely thorough history, covering a huge range of subjects and themes. Carl Henrik Carlsson appears as a regular expert on the Swedish version of ‘Who do you think you are?’. The division into periods and the contents page including section headings makes it easy to locate a particular topic, such as ‘The Jews in Norrköping before 1838’, ‘Jewish family life before 1870’, ‘Zionism in Sweden before 1933’, or ‘Identification, antisemitism and relations with Israel after 1967’. Many of the chapters name individuals whose life stories, with quotes and, in the later chapters, photographs, bring this vast amount of detailed data to life. Often their contribution to Swedish life, culture, society or industry is highlighted. For example, the section on the refugees from Nazi Germany in the 1930s includes Georg Riedel, who arrived in Sweden aged four in 1938 and went on to compose music for many of Astrid Lindgren’s texts, including ‘Idas sommarvisa’, sung at the end of term in Swedish schools.

In the section on the Second World War and the Holocaust, these personal stories become even more poignant. There are Solveig Levin and three-year-old Mona who, with nine others, walked for three hours in the pitch dark at minus 18⁰C to cross into Sweden from occupied Norway. There is an eye-witness description of the women from Ravensbrück arriving in Sweden on the Red Cross ‘white buses’ in spring 1945 and the words of Eva Pomeranz, a few weeks after arriving at Doverstorp refugee camp: ‘For me the war is not won. My family have been killed, I am alone in the world and own nothing, for me the war is lost!’

The book ends with a 4-page index of organisations past and present and a 9-page index of names mentioned, making it a useful resource for students of Jewish history and family history researchers. Terms that may be unfamiliar to non-Jewish readers are explained the first time they appear and there is also a glossary at the end of the book. Sources are cited in the text and there is a list of references for further reading. This thorough work is a detailed resource for anyone interested in Jewish history, Jewish history in Sweden, and in Swedish history and society over the past three centuries.

Carl Henrik Carlsson wearing pale blue shirt.
Carl Henrik Carlsson. Photo: David Naylor, Uppsala University.
About

Judarnas historia i Sverige

Natur & Kultur, 2021.

400 pages.

Foreign rights: Natur & Kultur

Dr Carl Henrik Carlsson is a researcher at the Hugo Valentin Centre at Uppsala University, specialising in Jewish history.

In 2021 the book was nominated for the August Prize in the non-fiction category and for the Great Non-Fiction Book Prize.

Det som känns förbjudet review

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Det som känns förbjudet

(Things That Feel Naughty)

by Annica Hedin
illustrations by Hanna Klinthage
reviewed by Charlotte Berry

‘There are things we do in secret, which we hope others won’t notice. It would be embarrassing if they saw. Would they laugh at us? Or get angry?’

This attractively presented and thought provoking picture book, Things That Feel Naughty is 2022’s offering from one of Sweden’s leading children’s publishers. The award-winning author-illustrator duo of Annica Hedin and Hanna Klinthage creatively explores a range of behaviours which could potentially be embarrassing or shameful for very young children beginning to make their way in an often confusing world.

‘We still do them anyway, we just can’t help it!’

The remainder of the book is divided up into themed double-page illustrations, covering a huge range of potentially problematic decisions and behaviours - ‘Telling lies’, ‘Spying and snooping’, ‘Being jealous’, ‘Being furtive/doing something on the sly’, ‘Fidgeting’, ‘Stealing’, ‘Running away’, ‘Swearing’ and ‘Cheating’. Each theme is clearly labelled in the top-left hand corner with a few words of description and explanation. The rest of the double-page space is given over to different illustrations for different scenarios within that particular behaviour. This clever methodology shows children (and some adults) faced with variants of the spotlighted ethical dilemma, with their inner thoughts laid out in the first person as they mull over their situation and think through their next options.

‘It’s not lying to say I’m getting a dog. For I will do. When I am grown up’

‘I’m so good at snooping, I think I’ll be a detective when I am grown up’

‘I know I should be happy when my sister gets a lovely present. But I want to cry. She got exactly what I wanted’

‘I did decide to give up smoking, just after I’ve finished this last cigarette’

‘Grandma, you can’t say “Shit!”’

The final illustrations look at behaviours which are potentially embarrassing, such as playing with Barbie when you are aged eleven or going swimming naked. And the book closes with some welcome reassurance:

‘Now you know, it’s not just you… We know we shouldn’t, but we do it anyway. Why? Because we are not robots, but people. And that’s why we act like this.’

This fresh approach of unpacking some complex human behaviours works very successfully. The style of illustration is simple and understated, using a slightly muted palette of colours but nevertheless creating sumptuous textures and depth. Each page has lots of detail to locate and unpack, but in small bite-sized chunks which are not too wordy or weighty. The chosen examples are taken from typical dilemmas which small children would meet for the first time, and from adult life too. The child’s experience is not taken in isolation but as part of a wider picture. The written tone is not patronising but is instead well considered and pitched, presenting common ethical scenarios that small children as well as fully-grown adults will recognize.

This book is the third co-creation by author-illustrator duo Hedin and Klinthage who are becoming increasingly favourably regarded by the Swedish literary scene. This title won glowing reviews from Sydsvenskan (‘An excellent picture book provoking much laughter and conversation’). Hedin and Klinthage won the Hellsing Prize in June 2022, shortly after the publication of this work. Their work really deserves to find a wider audience in the English-speaking world.

Hedin is a well-established author with R&S and has published 9 other titles, including two other picture books with Klinthage (Dom som kallas vuxna, 2019, and Det som verkar farligt, 2020). She initially worked as an author of school textbooks before debuting as a children’s author in 2018 with the acclaimed picture book Stig illustrated by Per Gustavsson, with whom Hedin has also produced the popular Berit series. She published Fluff with R&S and Erik Svetoft this year. Hedin’s works have also been translated into Danish, Norwegian, Spanish, Chinese and Catalan.

Klinthage trained as an illustrator and graphic designer, including a foundation year in illustration at Kingston University, London. She now focuses on children’s books and animation, publishing her first title in 2017. Her most recent publications are Vitsippor och pissråttor with Oskar Kroon (R&S 2023) and Groda glasstrut pinne with Ia Isaksson (R&S 2023). Her work has been published in Spanish.

Annica Hedin and Hanna Klinthage in sunny, tree-filled setting.
Annica Hedin and Hanna Klinthage. Photo: Gustav Boman.
About

Det som känns förbjudet

Rabén & Sjögren, 2022.

32 pages.

Foreign rights: Linda Altrov Berg or Lillevi Cederin, Rabén & Sjögren Agency

Annica Hedin is a freelance writer. In 2018 she made her debut as a picture book author with the acclaimed Stig, illustrated by Per Gustavsson.

Hanna Klinthage is an illustrator who primarily works with picture books and animation.

Halva Malmö består av killar som dumpat mig review

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Halva Malmö består av killar som dumpat mig

(Half of Malmö’s Men Have Dumped Me)

by Amanda Romare
reviewed by Kathy Saranpa

In this debut novel, thirty-something Amanda has her own business and a tight group of friends (called Dr Pepper) she often joins for fun adventures, sometimes including whips, mostly for the purposes of picking up men. Is she looking for a real relationship? This is something the reader doesn’t know – nor, it seems, does Amanda – until close to the end of the book.

Meanwhile, most of the novel proceeds, diary-style, through what seems like an endless chain of disappointments, often with men she has swiped right on in the Tinder app. Amanda’s goal is to get to the third date – just the third. At some points, the novel reads like the reverse of Mozart’s Catalogue Aria – all the men Amanda either didn’t hear from again after a night in her bed, or who suddenly had a new (or old) girlfriend, or who simply said there wasn’t a connection. And then there’s the bartender who gets too drunk to follow up on plans to come over. In some ways, according to the author herself, this book is a single yell of frustration with Tinder.

At the same time, the reader identifies the reasons why Amanda can’t get a third date, some of which she herself knows all too well. She comes on too strong when texting (and sexting) the man who is her current mission. She lacks the patience to allow a dating relationship to develop on its own. She adapts her own needs and opinions to the potential beau on whom she has set her sights – exemplified in the scene where she decides she could be interested in BDSM because the fellow seems a good candidate otherwise. She appears to be addicted to men, or to the idea of having a man, or to sex. At several points, the reader is practically screaming at Amanda to leave the phone alone or to find a (different) hobby. Amanda herself is aware of her lack of patience and poor impulse control – indeed she makes fun of herself endlessly – but at times the self-deprecating humour takes on a very dark cast and makes the reader worry about her mental state.

Half of Malmö is an entertaining read, full of humour, real-life dilemmas (what is the correct way to tell a man you have to remove your tampon before sex?) and razor-sharp insights. However, for those who are not fans of cringe, it may be an uncomfortable read. (The novel begins, after all, with the sentence I’m sitting here taking a shit.) All too often the reader needs to put the book down and shake her head at yet another instance of Amanda marching – with open eyes – straight into humiliation or swallowing her emotions to write a casual, clever text message after another rejection. One is left, oddly enough, with almost the same feeling one has after watching Don Giovanni. Are we supposed to laugh at all of the Don’s conquests, or try to tease out his motives? The answer may be both. The author pokes fun at Tinder culture while portraying its utility in a large city at the same time as she honours the community of single women who support each other through the dating/mating game. Romare has made a strong debut, and readers will not only want to know how she gets to the third date, as well as what happens thereafter.

Amanda Romare sitting in diner booth with her chin resting on her hand.
Amanda Romare. Photo: Lina Arvidsson.
About

Halva Malmö består av killar som dumpat mig

Natur och kultur, 2021

310 pages

Foreign rights: Rik Kleuver, Sebes & Bisseling Literary Agent

Amanda Romare is a screenwriter, podcast creator, author and producer. Half of Malmö’s Men Have Dumped Me is her literary debut.

Natten review

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Natten

(The Night)

by Sara Gordan
reviewed by Anna Paterson

Natten was an instant success with the public as well as the critics. The central story of troubled, loving parenthood feels urgent, as do the wrenching problems of wanting – and needing – to lead an independent professional life. True, such issues are staples of the ever-ongoing work v. life debate, but Natten stands out because of the author’s intellectual control of her fragmented narrative.  Young children generate discontinuities, and Sara Gordan, the seeker of existential patterns, found motherhood a fundamentally disordered form of reality. Gordan is a specialist in modern French literature and a risk-taking experimental novelist, who wrote her thesis on reiterations and juxtapositions of events and forms and made deceptive recurrences the theme in her first three prose works.

Gordan has degrees in French and literary studies, and had an early career as a newspaper book critic. She is an accomplished translator of French literature, including works by Hélène Cixous and Michel Houellebecq. Her personal writing began with two book-length stories (2006 and 2009): En barnberättelse (About Childhoods) and Uppställning med albatross (Display with Albatross). Ostensibly very different, both stories play around with patterns of human behaviour rearranged in ways that seem alternatingly vengeful, erotic and absurdly funny. These themes are not a million miles away from the narrative in her first ‘regular novel’ Martin Andersson – ett skuggspel (M A – a Shadow Play, 2013). The eponymous protagonist is ‘a man in flight from himself’ who engages with fictitious and real Others as a distraction.

Do reiterations in any sense shape her story of being a parent? In a way, heartbreakingly so. Sara Gordan’s first child was born dead; her second, a daughter, had a malignant facial tumour at birth, and, at the age of four, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes; her third, a son, had a heart abnormality that caused near-fatal episodes of tachycardia, curable with heart surgery only when his body had grown large enough; it took ten years. Looking after two children, sometimes ‘normal’ and sometimes hovering scarily between life and death, wore down Gordan’s own health. Later, in a new marriage, she bore a healthy child but says, angrily: ‘I detest words like “normal” and “healthy” […] When I was pregnant and in hospital with a pulmonary embolism, my [new] husband seemed baffled. And said: “I don’t know … everyone in my family is healthy.” As if it were a feat. A personality trait, a characteristic of a better class of people.’

Gordan addresses much of the book to her daughter, a playful child who grew into a rebellious teenager, fed up with diabetes, blablabla. Her son was a quiet boy, usually – but not always sufficiently – doped by the medication needed to calm his heart. The vivacity of the little girl was spookily reflected in the brittleness of her metabolism: as her blood glucose levels yo-yo, Mum wakes through the night, ready with bananas for the lows and insulin for the highs. Her first husband, the children’s father, is there and not there. He loves his children, cares for them but, we guess, wishes he didn’t have to. A Frenchman with a first wife and kids in France, and a musician with too few gigs, he grows increasingly alienated from his situation in Stockholm.

Gordan’s first fifteen years of parenthood were first shared, then solitary – Je ne t’aime plus says her husband, literally and metaphorically turning his face to the wall. The fragmentation of her life is reflected in the studied disorder of her prose. She is in charge and yet not; at times, her mind goes into stasis: ‘I can read again now but not write. I begin but then things fall apart and my only subject seems to be illnesses. I said [in an arty discussion group] that I have a text that won’t let itself be written. It’s about children and disease and I can’t find the words, it feels inadmissible somehow.’

But Sara Gordan did find all the words she needed and has marshalled them into a fascinating narrative. And a witty one, too: for all its seriousness, Natten couldn’t be further from the dreary ‘misery novel’ scenario.

Sara Gordan sitting on steps among greenery
Sara Gordan. Photo: Sara Mac Key.
About

Natten

Albert Bonniers forlag, 2022.

176 pages.

Foreign rights: Siri Lindgren, Nordin Literary Agency.

The Night was an immediate success and awarded the magazine Vi’s Literary Prize for best novel 2022: 'Sara Gordan brings her authorship to the next level.' The book was selected for the Karl Vennberg prize awarded by the prestigious literary Society of Nine and the Best Novel 2022 prize by the leading newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

Historien om Bodri review

Book cover of Hédi Frieds Historien om Bodri
LATEST REVIEW

Historien om Bodri

(The Story of Bodri)

by Hédi Fried
with illustrations by Stina Wirsén
reviewed by B.J. Woodstein

Hédi Fried, who died in 2022, was a Romanian Holocaust survivor who moved to Sweden after the war and spent much of her life thereafter witnessing to the events of World War Two and trying to educate people about it and discrimination. Besides writing memoirs about her experiences, she also published Frågor jag fått om Förintelsen (Questions I’ve Gotten about the Holocaust) in 2017 and her only children’s book, Historien om Bodri (Bodri’s Story), in 2019.

The book about Bodri tells the tale of Hédi as a little girl. She adores her best human friend, Marika, and her best furry friend, her dog Bodri. Bodri and Marika’s dog Bandi also have a close friendship. The only difference between Hédi and Marika, it seemed, was that Marika went to the church to pray, while Hédi and her family were Jews who went to synagogue.

When World War Two came to Romania, Marika was no longer allowed to play with Hédi, and Bandi could no longer play with Bodri. Hédi couldn’t understand why she was hated just because she was Jewish.

Hédi and her family were forced to leave their town and to get on a train to a concentration camp. As they were being marched through the park to the train station, Bodri followed them and licked Hédi, and the soldiers kicked the dog; the reader gets the sense that this could be the last time Hédi will see her beloved dog, but that that little lick gave her courage and reminded her that she was loved.

Fried does not go into too many details about her time in the concentration camp in this book, although Stina Wirsén’s sensitive illustrations capture the isolation and fear Hédi and her sister felt, and their painful thinness, with loose garb hanging off their bodies and wooden clogs too big for their feet. Fried does explain how it was Bodri that helped her find the strength to keep living. Thoughts of Bodri gave Hédi a focus whenever she was tired or sad.

When the war ended, Hédi and her sister Livia had survived and they went back to their town. Hédi found her dog, who had been waiting for her. And she determined then that she would devote herself to talking about what had taken place during the war, in the hope that history would never be repeated.

The reader never finds out what happened to Bodri after this, although one hopes he lived out his life with Hédi. It is noted that some of the details in the books have been changed, to make the story more accessible, which means that it is a much simplified introduction to the Holocaust.

Fried’s book has won a number of prizes, such as the Monthly LUCHS Preis and was picked as an USBBY Selection and as one of Tablet’s Best Jewish Children’s Books of 2021. The rights have also been sold to a variety of languages/regions, including North America (although world English rights are still available), Korean, Romani and Yiddish.

Historien om Bodri is a moving tale, with illustrations that starkly portray the passing of seasons and the way that Fried and Bodri’s lives change over time.

Hédi Fried and Stina Wirsén. Photo: Victor Gårdsäter.
About

Historien om Bodri

Natur & Kultur, 2019.

Rights: Bonnie Halling Lindholm, Natur & Kultur.

Hédi Fried (1924-2022) was an author, psychologist, and public lecturer who spoke internationally on the value of democracy. The Story of Bodri has been published in North America by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, translated by Linda Schenk. Frågor jag fått om Förintelsen (Questions I’ve Been Asked about the Holocaust) was reviewed in SBR 2017:2 by B.J. Epstein.

Stina Wirsén is a Swedish designer and artist whose work has been exhibited across the world.

Levande och döda review

LATEST REVIEW

Levande och döda

(The Living and the Dead)

by Christoffer Carlsson
reviewed by James Walker

Just before the new millennium in Skavböke in Halland, southwest Sweden there is an unease in the area. Will the new millennium bring the total collapse of society due to the infamous and much talked about bug?

In the event, it turns out the millennium bug was the least of the community’s worries. As one of them comments later, summing up the plot ‘Someone is trying to kill the boys in Skavböke.’ In Skavböke, like in all small communities, mistrust, envy and ill will lurk behind each and every window. Everyone knows everyone else and even their best kept secrets. The youngsters in the community are a tight-knit bunch and like all eighteen-year-olds they like to meet, to party and to carouse. However, their hedonism leads to violence, jealousy, envy and ultimately tragedy.

At one such party at Christmas, things get out of hand and one of the group of friends, Mikael, is found brutally murdered afterwards. The local police begin their investigation, and it is down to Gerd Pettersson, a policewoman of sixty with years of experience in the local community, together with a rookie, Siri Bengtsson, to get to the bottom of things.

In particular, they seem interested in Killian and Sander, two inseparable eighteen-year-olds and life-long friends despite their being like chalk and cheese. Shortly after being questioned, one of them is found dead, the body unrecognisable, and despite efforts to get to the truth and further investigation, the case, frustratingly, peters out.

Scroll forward to a summer 20 years later and once again death stalks the streets of Skavböke, as one of these boys, Filip, now a man, is found dead after a local funeral where everyone from the community is in attendance. Filip is the brother of Mikael, the first murder victim twenty years earlier.

This more recent death is investigated by Vidar Jörgensson, a detective from the police force in the nearby county town of Halmstad. It soon becomes clear to him that there is a connection to events twenty years earlier and so he seeks the help of Siri, who was involved in the original investigation and long since retired from the police force, to try and piece together these events separated by two decades.

The Living and the Dead is the third novel by Christoffer Carlsson set in Halland. Carlsson has also written a trilogy of novels set in Stockholm set around the character of Leo Junker, but Carlsson is again on familiar ground here as Halland is where he hails from. As well as this, he studied criminology at the University of Stockholm and has worked as a researcher with the Swedish national coordinator for protecting democracy against violent extremism. He knows first-hand the intrigues and tensions that are often the stuff of small communities, and the book is at once an excellent whodunnit as well as a sharp social and psychological drama about peoples’ lives, loves and unavoidable tragedies

Christoffer Carlsson in grey jacket leaning against concrete plinth.
Christoffer Carlsson. Photo: Thron Ullberg.
About

Levande och döda

Albert Bonniers Förlag, 2023.

412 pages.

Foreign rights: Ahlander Agency.

Christoffer Carlsson is the author of some ten novels and has been shortlisted several times for Crime Novel of the Year in Sweden, as well as for the Glass Key Award in 2014. Levande och döda was shortlisted for the Book of the Year Award in 2023.

The Purpose of Bees extract

LATEST TRANSLATION

from The Purpose of Bees

by Göran Bergengren

translated by Fiona Graham

Göran Bergengren, one of Sweden’s foremost nature writers, is celebrated for combining the expertise of a naturalist with the sensibility of a poet. In a career spanning more than fifty years he has published over thirty nature books for both adults and children, for which he has received a number of awards most recently Samfundet De Nio’s special prize in 2019.

In his recent work, Meningen med bin (The Purpose of Bees), he commits to paper some of the expertise gained in over forty years of beekeeping. In short, captivating essays that blend personal experience with extraordinary facts, Bergengren celebrates the often unseen lives of these remarkable insects and the role that they play in our world.

Göran Bergengren standing among tall mullein plants
Göran Bergengren. Photo: Mia Karlsvärd.

 

from The Purpose of Bees

Peach Blossoms

We have a spacious glasshouse some forty square metres in size. Though vacant in spring, by late August it’s a jungle of tomatoes, peppers, vines and cucumbers. One spring many years ago, in that disconcerting, warm emptiness, I planted a peach tree by the west-facing windows. I thought there’d be ample room there. Young saplings fresh from the plant nursery are puny little things.

Some years later – maybe seven or eight – the tree was gradually poking its way out through the pitched roof. I’d pruned it several times, but soon realised that a great many buds were going to waste, leaving gaps between the fruits. And the energy reserved for growth was manifesting itself in other ways: in roots that extended like an expanding hydra into the tomato beds, and, not least, in a growing patch of shade. Moreover, scale insects thrive on the Prunus family when conditions are dry and warm. These tiny, flat, slightly sticky creatures returned time and again. Clearly, a peach tree needs a greenhouse to itself, with ample room to expand into.

But some springs, before I was forced to banish the tree, were heady with pink peach blossom. And with its scent! You’d step into an enchanted fragrance whose impact was all the stronger because nothing else was yet making its presence felt. Tomato plants don’t usually make their appearance until the end of April, and often the peach blossom would already be in full bloom by late March. In the first few years I used an artist’s brush to pollinate the flowers, with unremarkable results.

Mimicking an insect is no simple matter.

But one warm March day – both spring and Easter were early that year, it might even have been on Good Friday – I let the bees in. They were very active in the spring warmth and were buzzing busily around the sallow trees. Quantities of them flew across the hedged-in fields in their heavy, yellow, pollen-laden breeches.

Usually, bees flying into a greenhouse are at quite the wrong address; it’s not easy for a bee to find its way out through a doorway with its sun compass, and with glass panes to confuse it. But as luck would have it, the greenhouse had been made to measure using large panes from forcing beds. They came from my grandfather’s market garden, which once had extensive raised beds with early vegetables and seedlings ready to be planted out. In our glasshouse, the panes were placed at a slight angle, with nails to hold them in place. It was easy to open them.

I removed a couple of them from beside the peach tree and stood for a moment breathing in the blossom-scented air that swept out with the warmth from the glasshouse. I sat for a while on the bench beside the door, watching the clock. It took precisely five minutes until the first scout flew in. After all, the tree might just as well have been outside the glasshouse. Moreover, the extra warmth around it was a godsend for bees. It was at least twenty-five degrees for some time after I’d removed the panes. That warmth gives bees a little extra boost, especially on a day in March.

And whilst I busied myself with a more down-to-earth task – carrying in manure and digging it into the seedbeds – the peach spring acquired a musical instrument. Soon it was humming like a moment in May, the time when fruit trees are in full bloom. Within the hour, you could be sure that each and every flower had had a visitor and been pollinated.

For the bees, this interchange, this traffic in and out of the tree, must have been the day’s scoop.

As expected, this resulted in a bountiful crop of peaches, although the fruits were small and had to be thinned out. But they all tasted delicious. The tree has been gone for several years now: as I said, it sabotaged itself.  But there are times when I think about arranging some more peach years, partly for the harmony, the music of the bees, the exchange.

There are a thousand ways to gain an impression of bees’ sense of smell. The peach blossoms revealed how keen that sense is: a biological tool of unfathomable sophistication.

In a word, bees’ sense of smell is magical.

A bee’s ‘nose’ resides in its antennae, where the sensory nerves end in tiny odour receptors, minute discs that look like a mass of light dots under the microscope. Those who have done the sums know that the worker bee has six thousand such receptors, while the drone, with his vastly superior olfactory organ, has no fewer than sixty thousand – enabling him to locate, in a twinkling of an eye, a nubile queen bee on her way out.

The queen, who rarely leaves the hive, makes do with a mere two thousand. The opening of each receptor is covered by a delicate membrane that allows air to pass through, but excludes moisture, all of this in a forest of fine sensory hairs.

Thanks to its sense of smell, a bee can recognise a fellow member of its own bee colony from among thousands of others. Its own odour is the silent password it uses to gain admission to its home hive. This scent – its ‘ID’ – emanates from a gland common to all bees, located beside the rings that encircle their abdomen.

As we would expect, the bee’s sense of smell also plays a vital role in enabling the insect to distinguish between different sources of nectar. The first scout bee that flew in around the peach tree and then home to pass the message on to others also bore the scent and samples of the taste of the pink blossoms, in the form of pollen or nectar. Every worker bee who finds a good spot to gather sustenance acts likewise. All of them, moreover, have altruism as their hallmark.

And so the bee who has discovered the peach tree darts into the darkness of the hive and begins what’s known as the ‘nectar dance.’ This is a complex communication taking the form of movements performed on the honeycomb. If the distance is short – under eighty metres – the dance is rapid and circular, first to the right, then to the left, conveying information about the degree of proximity: the bees’ hive-mates fly out with the scent of peach blossom as their lodestar. Thanks to the dance and the right scent, the swarm that heads out towards the glasshouse swiftly finds its way. In this particular case it was unusually easy, being so close by. So it was hardly surprising that so many arrived in no time at all.

If the source of nectar is a long way off, the dance will be different (figures of eight, double circles), a movement whose pattern depends on the nature of the discovery. The rhythm of the dance and the number of oscillations of the bee’s abdomen per unit of time indicate the distance. To convey information about the direction, the axis of the insect’s movements is correlated with the position of the sun. And so is the angle at which the waggling dance is performed, which concludes the message.

Where necessary, bees can follow this guidance for up to three kilometres in open terrain. A colony of bees generally has a flight radius of just over a kilometre. At that distance, bees’ orientation is so accurate that if they do miss a source of nectar, it is often by no more than a few metres.

To tempt them further afield, there needs to be an abundance of food worth the effort.

Peach blossoms should do the trick.

About the book

Meningen med bin

Carlsson Bokförlag, 2018, 160 pages

Foreign rights: the author; contact the publisher.

We are grateful to Carlsson Bokförlag and Göran Bergengren for permission to publish this translated extract.

Göran Bergengren is a writer and biologist who has published many books on the natural world. Over his career he has been recipient of numerous awards, including Samfundet De Nio’s special prize in 2019.

Fiona Graham is a translator and editor working from Swedish, Dutch, German and other languages.

2023:2

LATEST ISSUE

2023:2

Featuring works by Majgull Axelsson, Göran Bergengren, Martin Björklind, Thella Johnson, Marit Kapla, Nora Khalil and more.

Editor: Alex Fleming
Reviews Editor: Darcy Hurford
Advisory Editors: Deborah Bragan-Turner, Sarah Death, Fiona Graham, Paul Norlen and Linda Schenck
Social Media: Sophie Ruthven
New Books: Alice E Olsson

Photo by Aedrian on Unsplash.

Welcome to this latest issue of Swedish Book Review, which is dedicated to the theme of ‘Unseen Worlds’. Drawing us from parallel realms to marginalised spaces and the landscapes of the mind, the works presented in this issue all bear out the idea of literature – particularly literature in translation – as a window onto new, hidden or previously unexplored worlds.

In translations, Thella Johnson’s enthralling debut Peace offers a vivid retelling of a turbulent family history, while in The Flight of the Swallows Majgull Axelsson steps inside the mind of a scarred young woman trying to take control of her future. 

Marrying prose poetry and reportage, Marit Kapla’s polyphonic Love in Swedish explores the conditions of love in our time, while nature writer par excellence Göran Bergengren offers a meditative essay on the dance of the bees.

Nora Khalil’s bittersweet, warmly narrated Yani follows a close-knit group of teens through joy and hardship, and Martin Björklind’s reality-bending thriller A Third World takes us on a race to prevent looming catastrophe.

In features, Tom Geddes celebrates the life of Eivor Martinus, a writer and prolific translator of literature and drama who made valuable contributions to both SELTA and Swedish Book Review. And, in the centenary year of Stig Dagerman’s birth, Bengt Söderhäll explores Dagerman’s lasting legacy and impact, and some of the events taking place to mark this anniversary.

As ever, our reviews section features an array of new Swedish-language books from across the publishing scene, including risk-taking experimental texts, topsy-turvy picture books and urgent depictions of the here and now.

This is just the first of two exciting issues that we have in store for you this autumn. Look out for our special issue dedicated to Finland-Swedish literature coming later this October.

We would like extend our sincere thanks to Swedish Literature Exchange for their support in producing this issue. We hope that you enjoy reading it.

Translations

Features

Reviews

curated and edited by Darcy Hurford

Literary fiction

Thrillers/Crime

Fiction for children and teenagers

Non-fiction

Generously supported by the Swedish Literature Exchange at the Swedish Arts Council.


Swedish Arts Council logo.