Books have the ability to open up unknown worlds and adventures for the readers. Newbie blogger Sam introduces two books that deepen his understanding of Sweden, the Swedes and their cultural codex.
The Imigrants by Vilhelm Moberg; A Historical Perspective with modern relevance for Newbies
The epic trilogy “The Imigrants” by Vilhelm Moberg is widely available in English translations and the original Swedish and these books have been taught in Swedish classrooms for decades. There are several film versions as well for those who would rather skip the books. Personally I found the film versions to be a bit dated, while the books, despite their age, were compelling and enjoyable to read.
The trilogy begins in Småland in the 1850’s, the first book introduces Karl Oskar and Kristina Nilsson, their three young children, and others who make up a boatload of Swedes fleeing the poverty, religious persecution, and social oppression of the era.
Despite being set almost 170 years ago and published nearly 70 years ago, The Immigrants provides glimpses of the historical forces that have shaped modern Sweden. Not only in its rich descriptions of daily life but also through Moberg’s subtle political lens in post war Sweden.
Although it details a migration away from Sweden, the descriptions of the decision to leave behind all that is familiar are sure to resonate with anyone who has done the same. I especially enjoyed the many humorous descriptions of the Immigrants struggle to learn a new language.
Not only is the reader exposed to the Immigrants struggles in a new land, but also the politics of the author and his times are transparent throughout the novels. Moberg was an influential figure and his depiction of the plight of the poor and downtrodden was a constant theme in his works. This focus and perspective are representative of the Social Democratic movement which has greatly influenced Swedish society and culture.
For me, these books were page turners! Although I do admit to skipping a few sections once the point was made, for the most part the need to find out the rest of the story made the pages fly by. I would recommend them as a drama filled way to soak in some historical perspective for anyone new in Sweden trying to understand Swedish culture.
Fishing in Utopia, by Andrew Brown; More on Social Democrats, Fishing, and Learning to Live in Sweden
This short and fun work of non fiction is also available in both English and Swedish (at least at Stadsbiblioteket here in Lund). And it is filled with some great observations from an Englishman, Andrew Brown, who moved to a suburb of Gothenburg in the early 1970’s. As he tells us readers about his life in Sweden, Brown mixes in a humorous and fascinating commentary on life in the Social Democratic State of the 1960’s-70’s. In contrast to the simple style of the Immigrants, the writing in Fishing in Utopia is slickly modern.
In his descriptions of trips to Systembolaget and of its continuing evolution I can see a metaphor for the changes that have taken place since those years.
“Inside the shop we always queued. The goods were not on display, but listed in catalogues that we read in the queue. These were not designed to sell: anyone who didn’t speak Swedish would have mistaken them for bus timetables…Nowadays, when you go into a Systembolag, which could be in a town as small as Lilla Edet or even Nodinge, you are given a trolly to push around the shelves. The catalogue is illustrated; the decoration is aimed at selling, not repelling.”
He goes on to describe his shame in carrying the clinking bottles to the recycling center. In telling these personal stories, alongside tales of trade unions and the politics of Olof Palme, Brown weaves a poignant and informative history of the Social Democrats. Not to mention his treatment of Swedish winters and a foreigner learning to live in Sweden. Oh, and he also gives some great tips on fishing in the many waters of Sweden.
As with the Immigrants, Fishing in Utopia should appeal to those new to Sweden as they are likely to connect with the author in his observations on living with Swedes. For me, it was his descriptions of attempting to peel potatoes with his wife’s family looking on that really hit home. I would highly recommend this book for anyone in need of a little humor with their history.