10 Swedish must-read books

We, the editors of sweden.se, have put together our top 10 Swedish books for you. Ten tales of love, horror, humour and greed – we’re sure you’ll find something worth the read.

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A hammock, some sunshine and a good Swedish read. What more do you need?

Photo: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se

(Make note: This is not a ranking, it’s an alphabetical list by author surname.)

#1 April Witch

(Aprilhäxan by Majgull Axelsson, 1997)

Desirée wants to know who stole her life. Institutionalised since early childhood due to severe disabilities, she lies in her hospital bed making plans. She can neither walk nor talk, but she has special abilities. Desirée is an ‘April witch’, which means that she’s able to see through other creatures’ eyes and can make them take her wherever she wants to. In her quest to find out which of her three foster sisters has stolen her life, Desirée becomes an invisible presence in their lives, following them, biding her time.

A relationship drama with a surreal twist, if you like.

#2 Simon and the Oaks

(Simon och ekarna by Marianne Fredriksson, 1985)

Simon Larsson grows up in a working-class family in Gothenburg in the 1940s. World War II is raging. Simon’s father is a man of principles and strong views; his mother runs the home with love and warmth. But they are not his biological parents. Simon finds out that he was adopted and that his real father is Jewish. At school, Simon meets Isak Lentov, the son of a rich Jewish bookkeeper. The Lentovs, who fled from Nazi Germany before the war, becomes closely linked to Simon’s own family as the two boys make the transition from childhood to adulthood.

A drama where love meets evil in the shadow of the war, the book was filmatised in 2011 – Sweden’s biggest budget picture to date.

Official trailer for the film version of Simon and the Oaks.

Official trailer for the film version of Simon and the Oaks.

#3 The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

(Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann by Jonas Jonasson, 2009)

On his 100th birthday, Allan Karlsson breaks out of an old people’s home, through the window. He is determined to fill his remaining days with adventure and embarks on a long journey through Sweden, being chased by thieves and police, making friends along the way. Mixed with his old-age adventure, his life’s story is told: he dines with president-to-be Harry S. Truman, hitchhikes with Winston Churchill, travels on a river boat with Mao Zedong’s wife and treks through the Himalayas.

This is not a book to write about, but to laugh through.

#4 Gösta Berling’s Saga

(Gösta Berlings saga by Selma Lagerlöf, 1891)

A priest defrocked for misbehaving and drinking, Gösta Berling wants to die. The Mistress of Ekeby saves him from freezing to death and takes him in. As one of 12 party-loving homeless men in the manor at Ekeby, Gösta Berling becomes a leading spirit. But the evil Sintram lures the men into making a deal with the devil, which leads to the Mistress of Ekeby leaving home. Wild adventures, power struggle and redemption follow.

Nobel Prize winner Lagerlöf’s debut novel captures the insufficiency of man and the evanescence of love.

#5 Let the Right One In

(Låt den rätta komma in by John Ajvide Lindqvist, 2004)

It’s the winter of 1981 in the grey Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg. Twelve-year-old Oskar is being bullied. But he has a friend who lives next door, Eli. The two develop a close relationship, and Eli helps Oskar fight back against his tormentors. But this story is more than just a snapshot of average suburban life. Eli is a vampire, which Oskar has yet to find out. As mysterious murders spread fear and confusion in the community, Oskar starts to understand – but doesn’t abandon Eli.

Who would have thought that a mix of social realism and vampire horror could become a bestseller?

#6 The Road

(Vägen till Klockrike by Harry Martinson, 1948)

In 1898, cigar maker Bolle faces big changes. Hand-rolled cigars have to give way to modern, machine-made, mass-produced cigars. Industrialisation is here and Bolle doesn’t like it. He hits the road. On wood-lined gravel roads we follow his vagabond journey through a Sweden about to change. Bolle learns how to beg without provoking people, faces the fear of inhabitants and meets riding policemen as well as vagabond friends. The vagabonds share a longing for freedom and a feeling of scepticism of the brave new world.

The outsider’s perspective never goes out of style. Set more than 100 years ago, Nobel Prize winner Martinson’s book still feels up to date.

#7 Popular Music from Vittula

(Populärmusik från Vittula by Mikael Niemi, 2000)

Matti and his silent friend Niila grow up in Pajala in the very north of Sweden, in an area called Vittula. This is the 1960s/70s, when roads are covered with asphalt, small farms are closed and rock music hits the radio. The older generation doesn’t like the novelties, shaped as they are by memories of poorer times and by Laestadianism, a conservative Lutheran movement that started in Swedish Lapland. Mikael and his friends dream of another life, a life that awaits beyond the horizon.

Based on the author’s own experience growing up in Pajala and spiced with a big dose of humour, this book became a Swedish bestseller.

#8 Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs

(Nu vill jag sjunga dig milda sånger by Linda Olsson, 2006)

One dark evening in March, Veronika arrives at a remote cottage in a small Swedish village, having come all the way from New Zealand. She is a young author longing for peace and quiet to be able to finish her novel and get on with her life after mourning a great loss. Veronika’s closest neighbour is Astrid, a loner. Behind her walls, dark family secrets and a personal tragedy are hidden. As the cold winter turns to spring, the two women slowly form a bond. Their friendship will change both of their lives forever.

The unlikely friendship between these two women provides the framework for a story of sorrow and longing.

#9 The People of Hemsö

(Hemsöborna by August Strindberg, 1887)

Carlsson is on his way to the island of Hemsö in the Stockholm archipelago to work at widow Flod’s farm. With Flod’s husband dead and her son Gusten not caring about farming, the farm is in a state of disorder. When Carlsson starts taking care of everything, Flod is happy, but her son finds Carlsson very snobbish. Eventually Carlsson marries Flod – but let’s just say she’s not the only woman on the island.

Through this depiction of the olden days and of life in the archipelago, August Strindberg tried to combat his homesickness while living in Germany and France.

#10 The Serious Game

(Den allvarsamma leken by Hjalmar Söderberg, 1912)

Arvid Stjärnblom and Lydia Stille accidentally meet again, ten years after their young romance ended. Now, they are both married, but can’t help falling for each other again and start an affair. Lydia is an independent woman who gets a divorce and is prepared to follow her emotions, which turns out to have far-reaching consequences. Arvid, on the other hand, stays married to his wife with whom he has two children. It soon becomes clear that love is a serious game.

Set around 1900, current events form a backdrop to the story, placing it in a historical context. The timeless themes of love, illusion and resignation have helped make this book a classic.

Last updated: 18 August 2014