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CULTURE

Ten Swedish books to read in 2022

Is one of your New Year’s resolutions to read more? Here’s a list of book recommendations from Sweden or about Swedish life from writers and readers of The Local. 

a man reading a book and there's a dog on the floor
First New Year's resolution: read more books about Sweden. Second resolution: get a dog. Photo: Fotograferna Holmberg/TT

The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life – Emma Löfgren & Catherine Edwards

Sweden is more than lifestyle trends and Ikea. It’s also the country of fredagsmys (cosy Friday), kosläpp (release of the cows), lillördag (little Saturday… or Wednesday), and where the average citizen dreams of a villa, Volvo and a vovve – or do they?

If you enjoy The Local’s Swedish Word of the Day column, then this book is for you. This is a great book to help you explore the Swedish lifestyle beyond the cliches, with the help of more than 100 uniquely Swedish words, translated into English. Learn more about the country where yes is just another word for no, where the word for poison is the same as for married, and where words without meaning are mashed snow.

In Every Mirror She’s Black – Lola Akinmade Åkerström 

For anyone looking for insight into what it means to be a Black woman in the world, this novel follows the stories of three Black women in search of a better life who end up in Sweden. It explores racism, tokenism, and more, through the nuanced experiences of Black women living in a white-dominated society. Akinmade Åkerström, a Nigerian-American author and travel writer, pulls no punches in her debut novel. 

You might recognise her name from the popular coffee table book, Lagom: The Swedish Secret of Living Well, and the many travel articles she has written about Sweden. 

50 Words for Love in Swedish – Stephen Keeler

From bageri (bakery) to vitsippa (wood anemone) via Björn Borg, Saab and smörgåsbord, Keeler takes us on a journey through the objects, places and people that made him fall in with Sweden. This book, recommended to us by a reader of The Local, charts his life after moving to Mariestad to teach English in the 70s; a delightful love affair with the country he calls home.

They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears – Johannes Anyuru

The plot of this novel surrounds a Swedish writer who is invited to a high-security psychiatric unit to interview a young former terrorist who claims to come from the future. She hands him a bundle of papers that tell the story of an alternate Sweden where populist nationalists have seized power.

According to Sweden.se, the novel “artfully combines speculative fiction with a nuanced exploration of harsh political realities, all written in a pulsating, rhythmic prose”. It was awarded the August Prize for fiction – one of the most prestigious literary awards in Sweden. Anyuru is a Swedish-Ugandan poet and author and “one of the leading writers of his generation”.

Everything I Don’t Remember – Jonas Hassen Khemiri

In this novel the narrator anticipates being asked “How Swedish do you feel?”

Sometimes, it can be a lighthearted question, for example when you go for lunch at 11.30am or start taking your coffee black and joke that you’ve now earned citizenship. But it is often a very loaded, difficult issue; in the book and in reality, it’s a question tied up with race, discrimination, and the challenge of integration. This is a politically engaged novel with a lot to say on immigration.

Jonas Hassen Khemiri is a multi award-winning playwright and author. This novel has been sold in over 20 countries.

Beartown – Fredrik Backman

This is a story about a small town’s junior ice hockey team, the first in a series of novels. The team is the pride of Beartown, a small and struggling community in rural northern Sweden. A lot of hopes are pinned on the prospect of their championship victory, from the players, parents, and villagers who all hope a win would bring them just what they need. But a violent act by their star player changes everything.

You need not be a hockey fan to read this book, or even have experience of small town life in Sweden. It’s about community, conformity, trust, and right and wrong – topics that resonate with anyone, anywhere in the world.

Fishing in Utopia – Andrew Brown 

Brown, a British journalist, tells a semi-autobiographical story of a misfit Englishman who moves to Sweden in the 1970s and becomes absorbed in and by the country.

He marries a Swedish woman and works in a timber mill outside Gothenburg, but Sweden is not the Utopia he was promised. Prime Minister Olof Palme is assassinated. The country falls apart. The protagonist yearns for the Sweden he loved and searches the length of the country to find it again. 

Easy Money – Jens Lapidus 

Easy Money quickly became a bestseller when it was published in 2006, selling over 3.8 million copies worldwide. The author is a criminal lawyer with access to stories from the grittier underworld of Sweden rarely seen before. The first of his Stockholm Noir trilogy follows the lives of three characters entwined with Stockholm’s dark underbelly, whose main driver in life is the quest for easy cash. 

It’s full of Stockholm slang, but if you want to try reading it in Swedish you can get a version in Lätt Svenska, where the language is pared down for those still learning the language. There is also a trilogy of films based on the series, and a Netflix series.

Popular Music from Vittula – Mikael Niemi 

Niemi tells a fantasy version of his upbringing in the north of Sweden during the 1960s and 70s. With humorous and ironic depictions of the people in the town he describes their communist views, family feuds, machismo, hard drinking, and local superstition. Recommended by a reader of The Local, it’s an important account of an upbringing in rural parts of northern Sweden, which also won the August Prize for fiction.

The Emigrants – Vilhelm Moberg

In a series of novels written in the middle of the 20th century, Moberg describes the long and strenuous journey of a party of poor Swedes from Småland to Minnesota in 1850. Religious persecution, poverty and poor land persuade Kristina, Karl-Oskar and their neighbours to make the perilous voyage at the beginning of the first significant wave of immigration to the US from Sweden. The series sold nearly two million copies in Sweden and has been translated into more than 20 languages. A new film adaptation has just come out this Christmas.  

What’s your favourite book set in Sweden? Let us know in the comments!

Member comments

  1. Hej!
    I love all of Fredrik Backman’s books incl. Beartown and just finished Anxious People. It is absolutely brilliant, set somewhere outside Stockholm. Just loved it!

  2. Slowly, slowly going through Tomas Tranströmer, Samlade Dikter och Prosa, the translation by Robin Fulton side by side with the original.

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SWEDEN AND INDIA

IndiskFika: The Indian dance group taking Sweden by storm

IndiskFika are a group of Indians in Sweden with a shared passion: dance. Two of the group's leaders tell The Local how they came to be finalists in Talang, one of Sweden's top TV talent shows.

IndiskFika: The Indian dance group taking Sweden by storm

“We’ve been very passionate about dance from childhood,” says co-founder Ranjithkumar Govindan, who shortens his name to Ranjith. “I’ve been dancing from childhood, like first grade. So once we got into our professional lives and career, I wanted to continue my passion.”

“Like Ranjith, I have been dancing since the age of three, ” adds Aradhana Varma, who joined the group in 2020. She’s been competing in and winning dance competitions back in her hometown of Mumbai ever since. 

With just a handful of members back in 2019, the group now numbers over 50, including dancers, videographers, choreographers, editors, and production crew, and they are still growing.

Listen to Aradhana Varna from IndiskFika on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

Govindan says started by dancing at various events in Stockholm alongside fellow Indian dance enthusiasts before the idea came to form the troupe. “Then, one fine day, me and one of my friends, Vijay [Veeramanivanna], said ‘why don’t we do a cover song?'” he remembers. 

“He’s very passionate about camera work, cinematography. I’m very passionate about dance,” Govindan says of the collaboration. 

Their initial idea was to take advantage of their location in to shoot dance routines out in Swedish nature, in the same way that Bollywood movies sometimes shoot routines against European scenes such as Swiss mountainsides or Italian plazas. 

“Indians are very famous for movies, like Bollywood, so we wanted to do a cover video of a particular song from a movie which was going to be released. Since we are living in Sweden, we have plenty of opportunities to cover good locations and nature, so that was an idea,” he explains.

The name ‘IndiskFika’, (“Indian fika”, a fika being a Swedish term for a coffee break in the middle of the day) came from Govindan and Veeramanivanna’s wish to combine Swedish and Indian cultures. 

IndiskFika performing in the Talang talent show. Photo: TV4

“We started with five to seven people in 2019, that was the first thing we did, and we did a shoot and edited everything, then we realised that if we wanted to release it, we should have a name,” Govindan says.

“So we started thinking ‘what name should we pick for this team?’. We came up with the idea IndiskFika. Everyone knows about fika in Swedish, right?” 

Their videos, some of which have over a million views, became popular both among Indians at home and among members of the Indian community in Sweden, whose interest helped the group grow further.

More and more Indians living in Stockholm started asking to join, and soon they were doing live performances:  one at the Chalmers University in Gothenburg, and another at the Diwali celebrations held by the Västerås Indian Association. 

When the pandemic hit, IndiskFika didn’t let it stop them. They started planning a digital one-year anniversary for the group, and began looking for other groups to collaborate with. 

That was how Govindan began collaborating with Varma, who had been performing with a different dance team. “I had been performing at various events like Namaste Stockholm with a different dance team based in Stockholm since 2017, but during pandemic, everything had come to a halt since it was a tough time for all of us,” she explains.

When new people joined IndiskFika, it gave the group a new impetus. “That’s when the boost started,” Govindan remembers. “We became stronger and stronger. So, so many things happened.”

IndiskFika first came to the attention of ordinary Swedes with an article in Ingenjörenthe members’ magazine for engineering union Sveriges Ingenjörer. Many of the group’s members are IT engineers or students at KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. “They did an article about us, about the engineers continuing their passion for dance, so that reached a more Swedish audience,” Govindan says. 

This led to more in-person performances, which in turn caught the eye of the producers responsible for Talang at Sweden’s broadcaster TV4.

“The Talang people said ‘we read about you and we’ve gone through all your YouTube videos, why don’t you come and participate in Talang 2022?’. The rest of the story you know. We participated in Talang, and we got a golden buzzer from David Batra in the prelims, so we went direct to the finals.”

David Batra, a Swedish comedian with an Indian father, is known for comedy series such as Kvarteret Skatan and Räkfrossa, as well as Världens sämsta indier (“World’s Worst Indian”), a series where he visits India, alongside public broadcaster SVT’s India correspondent Malin Mendel, and tries his hand at living and working in the country.

Batra is also one of four judges on Talang, whose golden buzzer meant that the dance team were awarded one of eight places in the final – four are chosen by votes and four are chosen by the Talang judges.

The group were among the top eight teams in the finals on March 18th, but for Indians in Sweden, reaching the final was a win in itself. They were invited for a fika with India’s ambassador to Sweden, where they were treated to both traditional Indian and Swedish treats.

The IndiskFika troupe on stage at TV4’s studios. Photo: TV4

Many of the group’s members work full-time alongside dancing, which can be difficult at times.

“It’s not easy to be so dedicated by spending extra effort after office hours, with hectic weekend schedules for rehearsals especially when everyone in the team has a full-time job,” Varma says. “There’s a lot of things that take place in the background from logistics to costumes, hall bookings, co-ordinating everyone’s availability, social media activities and so on.”

Like many foreigners, though, Govindan and Varma have taken their time adapting to life in Sweden. 

“All I knew about Sweden was that it was one of the cold and dark countries,” Varma says. “Eventually you start liking it, and you know, everything is worth it for the summers that you get here. The fika tradition, the amazing work/life balance, the nature, that’s the best part that we have here.”

“I didn’t have much of an idea about Sweden,” Govindan agrees. “The temperature, where I come from, throughout the year is between 25 to 40 degrees. In terms of temperature, nature, the people, everything is different.”

“India is very rich in culture, right?” Varma says when asked about the differences between Swedish and Indian culture. “We have a lot of colours and a lot of different flavours and you know, that’s the kind of performance we gave. That was the plan: to give a very energetic, powerful, and colourful performance.”

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