from Love in Swedish
by Marit Kapla
introduced and translated by Linda Schenck
In Love in Swedish, thirty-one individuals of varying ages and from different backgrounds speak open-heartedly of the love in their lives. They all live in Sweden, geographically from Ystad in the south to Karesuando in the north. Their unique experiences and formulations, presented in descending age order from individuals in their eighties to their twenties, comprise the core of this polyphonic depiction of the terms and conditions of love in our time. The text consists of lyrical texts about love based on interviews with people all over Sweden, carried out by Staffan Julén for his documentary film, also entitled Love in Swedish.
Marit Kapla is a Swedish author and journalist. She was born in 1970 and grew up in the small village of Osebol in the mid-western parts of Sweden. She served as Artistic Director of Göteborg Film Festival 2007–2014, as Founder and Program Director of the festival’s digital streaming platform Draken Film 2014–2015 and during 2016–2020 she was one of two editors-in-chief of arts journal Ord&Bild. She is a member of the board of PEN Sweden. In April 2019, Osebol, her literary debut was published. Osebol is an extraordinary work based upon lyrical texts taken from interviews with almost all the residents of her home village. It won the 2019 August Prize for best fictional work, the Publicistklubben Prize Guldpennan 2019, the Studieförbundet Vuxenskolans författarpris 2019, Borås Tidning’s Debutant Prize 2020, the Göran Palm-stipend 2021 as well as the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2022 and a shortlist placement for the British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding 2022. Osebol is available in English as Osebol: Voices from a Swedish Village in a magnificent translation by Peter Graves, published by Penguin. Kapla’s latest book, Kärlek på svenska (Love in Swedish) was published on 24 August 2022.
from Love in Swedish
Anna Oldner Bengtsson, age 56
We met online.
In his profile Tomas had
my dad was a baker
I can make cakes.
I thought that was funny
so I texted him
my dad is an architect
I can do carpentry.
We made a date to have coffee
at Nyberg’s café on Västmannagatan.
Tomas was late.
He told me afterwards
he was so annoyed with himself for coming late
and putting himself at a disadvantage
from the get-go.
Anyway we sat there over our coffees
two total strangers.
We had a lively discussion about the concept of knowledge.
An excellent subject for a first date.
After our coffee we walked to the station together.
It turned out our trains
were going from tracks opposite each other.
I’d like to see you again.
Uh huh, I said.
That would be nice.
We’d made a date to see each other in a week
We were going to meet at Fotografiska.
It was his sister’s birthday
so he was busy earlier in the evening.
We weren’t supposed to get together
until about eight-thirty or nine.
So I got there.
I tend to be pretty punctual.
So I thought
let’s see if he comes on time this time.
There’s this long staircase
down from Katarinavägen
and suddenly I see a figure
just rushing down that staircase.
And I thought
was that show of war photographers’ photos.
They were amazingly powerful images.
They have these texts
alongside the pictures.
Tomas stood there reading one of the pictures out loud
or the text.
Something happened in my head
when I heard his voice
and saw him standing there reading.
It just said, well …
Like the King that time.
It said click.
Though I think it said clack
in my head.
And I just thought
Somewhere around then it started.
In the old times
people wrote each other love letters.
They got saved.
My mom has a pile
with a pink satin ribbon around it
of love letters.
Today we don’t do that.
Our written communication takes other forms.
One day I sat down
and took screenshots of our text messages
among which was the one when I wrote to Tomas
declared my love
and wrote that
I want to be us with you.
yes, oh yes.
I was married for thirty years before.
In that relationship
it was very difficult to bring projects to completion.
So I’ve mastered the skill of lobbying for projects.
You have to have a long-term perspective.
You have to take things one bit at a time.
So we were sitting at Tomas’ allotment
in the garden
one sunny Sunday morning.
And so I say to Tomas
kind of in jest
you ought to have a greenhouse at this allotment.
Yes, he says.
Hang on, what’s happening?
Tomas is a yes-man.
So much happens with him.
We started drawing plans for a greenhouse.
We bought old transom windows.
We drove around central Sweden
Found ads on eBay
had meals at inns
found fun cafés
and met oddballs.
And then we started building it here.
Tomas had said to
some guy who’s in charge up there at Vita Bergen
I’m going to build a greenhouse
is that ok?
That’ll be fine I’m sure, they said.
I can just imagine
the thought bubbles between them.
Tomas sees this huge greenhouse
we can have crayfish parles in.
The guy in charge sees this little greenhouse
with a tomato plant in it.
We started building.
We put up the roof trusses.
After some time the high honcho came.
What are you doing?
Building in a historic area?
So we had to take it all back down.
Being in love
may not only be being
in love with the person across the table
no it’s also about what that person does to me.
Who do I become in this situation?
With Tomas I become everything.
It’s as if we got extra everything.
The question is how things would have gone on
If they had gone on.
He got sick on a Monday
at six in the morning.
We had booked a trip to Åre.
We were going to ski
over a long weekend.
My daughter was working up there then
she’s a waitress.
She had made us three dinner reservations
at these great restaurants.
We were going to stay at Åregården.
We were taking the night train up
with a private sleeper.
We had so many great things ahead of us.
I had said to Thomas that
I refuse to go to Åre with you
if you’re going to wear that ski outfit.
The one he’s had for the last fifteen years.
I told him
I’m due for a tax refund
let’s go downtown and you pick out a ski jacket.
It’s on my nickel.
We walked down
and we had Cora with us
Walked all the way through the Old Town
and he found a really great jacket
We bought it
and then we walked to Stureplan
and had lunch with wine at Sturehof.
We had so much fun.
When we were heading home again
sorry I’m a little beat.
Mind if we take the bus?
Then on the Sunday
we were pulling down that wall.
Were in the middle of it.
We were planning a dinner
and a party we were going to have too.
Everything was as usual.
Tomas was negotiating
a future job he was going to get.
It was full speed ahead on all fronts.
So Monday morning he wakes up
needs to take a leak.
It’s six a.m.
Comes back from the bathroom
and just as he’s about to get back into bed
his whole body cramps up.
He’s just shaking.
He’s just cramping.
So it was ambulance
All that stuff.
It went really fast.
I sat there in the ICU
with him anesthetized and intubated
and I had his cellphone.
We had that kind of relationship
we knew all each others’ passwords.
Like, there was nothing to it.
I sat there with his cellphone
answering his text messages.
He had a bunch of students
he was working with here at home
helping them prepare for upcoming auditions.
that right now it’s touch and go.
Tomas is sick.
It felt really weird to be sitting there
cancelling his life.
I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through
what Tomas went through
with his illness.
Things went on fast from there.
It took seven months.
But if you ask me right out
Was it worth it
what you two had together?
Yes, it was.
Naturally I want to delete that terrible part
but it was fantaslc.
It was the best thing
I have ever experienced.
Tomas could tell me
about his fear of death.
What am I afraid of?
We sat dissecting that question.
Is it the being gone?
Is it the moment of death?
Is it what happens before that?
What is there on the other side?
That stuff we could talk about.
It was a bit mind-boggling.
We were good communicators
about what love was
what art was
what was important
what was human
what was sad
what was difficult to manage.
our relationship began with
a discussion about the concept of knowledge.
I will never again
have the relationship
I had with Tomas.
It will never again exist
‘cause there is no more Tomas.
But there are loads of other people out there
I also want to experience.
I can’t compare anybody with Tomas
instead I have to take
each individual I meet as my life continues
on the basis of their own and our starting points.
Otherwise I think it’s going to be terribly difficult.
Finding a person who can match Tomas
I’ll have to think
I have had this experience.
I carry it with me.
It is like a golden chamber
here inside my memory.
But I will add other experiences
That’s how I’ll have to think.
When I looked at Tomas
It was like when you were in grade school
when you were little
and you had a bit of a crush on someone.
And then that person came walking
across the schoolyard.
You know like
That’s how I felt the whole time
when I looked at Tomas.
We were on Ringvägen
it was when he lived at Hammarbyhöjden.
I stopped at that red light just before Åhléns
to let him off.
And then I sat there in the car
looking at him.
This was quite early in our relationship.
He hurried toward the subway.
And I thought
I love the way he walks.
There are so many instant images like that one.
How he stood under the Debaser club sign at Medis
waiting for me.
With his Lenin cap on.
Kärlek på svenska
Teg Publishing, 2022, 592 pages
Foreign rights: Albatros Agency
We are grateful to Albatros Agency for permission to publish this translated extract.
Marit Kapla is a Swedish author and journalist. Her 2019 debut Osebol was awarded the 2019 August Prize and the Borås Tidning’s 2020 Debutant Prize, and it has also been shortlisted for the British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding (winner to be announced on the 26th of October).
Linda Schenck is a native English speaker who has lived in Sweden for many years. Professionally, she worked as both a conference and court interpreter and a translator of both fiction and non-fiction. Today she devotes herself entirely to literary translation. In 2018, she received The Swedish Academy Award for Translation of Swedish Literature.