10 must-read books from Sweden
Swedish fiction is among the world’s most translated. Here are 10 Swedish books – selected for you by Swedish Book Review.
(Make note: This is not a ranking, it’s an alphabetical list by author surname.)
1. We Know You Remember, by Tove Alsterdal
Translated by Alice Menzies (2021)
From one of Sweden’s most renowned suspense writers comes this thoughtful, intricately plotted police procedural set in the alluring landscapes of Sweden’s High Coast region of Ångermanland. A murder in a small town brings the memory of a long-closed murder case rising to the surface, uprooting guilt, collective grief and the town’s festering secrets.
Seamlessly weaving past and present, Alsterdal particularly excels in her vivid, well-observed depictions of people and places, with a succulent language to match. If suspense is your bag, then this compelling novel, named Best Swedish Crime Novel for 2020, is well worth a read.
2. Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman
(Folk med ångest)
Translated by Neil Smith (2020)
From the multi-million-selling author of A Man Called Ove comes this witty, unpredictable story about a bank robbery gone wrong and the havoc that ensues. After trying to hold up a cashless bank, a would-be robber bursts into an open apartment viewing and politely takes everyone hostage. In true Backman form, the novel is packed full of exuberant, entertaining characters, from bitter IKEA addicts to ridiculous estate agents to an actor-slash-rabbit.
With poignant observations on life, love and loneliness woven throughout, Anxious People is an absorbing, compassionate black comedy that is sure to please fans of Backman’s previous work.
...and here are 5 Swedish classics
- Crisis (Kris) by Karin Boye, translated by Amanda Doxtater (2020)
- Witches’ Rings (Häxringarna, The Women and the City quartet), Kerstin Ekman; translated by Linda Schenck (2021)
- Gösta Berling’s Saga (Gösta Berlings saga) by Selma Lagerlöf, translated by Paul Norlen (2009)
- The Red Room (Röda rummet), August Strindberg; translated by Peter Graves (2009)
- Doctor Glas (Doktor Glas) by Hjalmar Söderberg, translated by Paul Britten Austin (1963, reprinted 2019)
3. Rites of Spring, by Anders de la Motte
Translated by Marlaine Delargy (2021)
After moving to the small, inward-looking community of Tornaby in Skåne, a doctor becomes embroiled in the investigation of a decades-old murder of a young girl. Feeling an affinity with the young girl’s troubled past, she becomes increasingly determined to unearth the truth – and with it the community’s painful secrets.
Told across multiple times and voices, Rites of Spring is peopled by an impressively wide cast of characters, in a damp, brooding landscape almost steeped in foreboding. With its dark, chilling undercurrents of ritual and legend, this is classy, taut, at times hair-raising suspense from one of Sweden’s best-selling crime writers.
4. The Family Clause, by Jonas Hassen Khemiri
Translated by Alice Menzies (2020)
In the fifth novel by multi-award-winning Jonas Hassen Khemiri, a bad-tempered, arrogant father’s ten-day visit to Stockholm to see his adult children brings old tensions to breaking point. Told from the perspectives of multiple characters (including a ghost and a four-year-old child), personal crises, generational conflicts and painful memories build to a heady cocktail of familial resentment and frustration, as the son tries to break free of a pact he made with his father.
Come for Khemiri’s trademark style, wit and observational flair – stay for an engrossing, psychologically astute exploration of the messiness of family. A finalist for the 2020 National Book Awards.
5. Osebol, by Marit Kapla
Translated by Peter Graves (2021)
Winner of Sweden’s prestigious August Prize for literature, this quiet, meditative ode to a small Värmland village on the brink of depopulation is quite unlike anything else. Composed of the interwoven testimonies of almost all of the 40 remaining inhabitants of Osebol, this sparse, poem-like text details their lives and thoughts without commentary or narrative, as though snatched straight from conversations.
The resulting work – a whopping 800 pages long, and full of local detail – presents a microcosm of life and contemplation of home, elevating voices that we are not used to seeing in literature. Perfect for slow, gentle, transporting reading.
6. Nordic Fauna, by Andrea Lundgren
Translated by John Litell (2021)
In this collection of strange, mesmeric short stories, Andrea Lundgren explores the borderlands of the human and natural (and even supernatural) worlds to create a northern magical realism with a dark, earthy undertow. From foxes to whales to angels, the creatures that roam through this collection spark a desire for something more in their human counterparts: a longing for transformation.
Balancing the familiar and the unknown, the dark and the whimsical, these are tense, immersive stories that are sure to get under the reader's skin. Winner of the Vi magazine’s Literature Prize in 2018, Lundgren’s striking prose blends a compact precision with an urgent lyrical sensuousness.
7. To Cook a Bear, by Mikael Niemi
Translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner (2020/2021)
It is the summer of 1852 in a small village in Sweden’s far north. Jussi, a young Sami boy fleeing an abusive home, is taken in by kind and charismatic Revivalist preacher Lars Levi Læstadius. Jussi becomes Læstadius’ eager disciple. When a spate of murders strike the inward-looking community, Jussi assists the preacher in unmasking the true predator.
This rich and evocative novel is narrated with an endearing rawness and charm. It captures a small rural community on the cusp of modernity, mixing a compelling murder mystery with musings on philosophy, natural science and religion. A book to savour.
8. The Bear Woman, by Karolina Ramqvist
Translated by Saskia Vogel (2022)
As punishment for a scandal aboard a ship, a sixteenth-century French noblewoman, Marguerite de la Rocque, is abandoned on a small island north of Nova Scotia. Against all the odds she manages to survive. Centuries later, a writer sets out to rescue her story from the margins of history, but her search for ‘the Bear Woman’ forces her to contemplate much wider questions of fact and fiction, and her own writing process.
This non-linear, genre-bending work is an introspective study of creation, motherhood, fiction and survival, and how women’s stories are told. Karolina Ramqvist’s precise, elegant prose offers an intimate insight into a working writer’s life.
9. W., by Steve Sem-Sandberg
Translated by Saskia Vogel (2022)
In this internationally acclaimed novel, Steve Sem-Sandberg masterfully pieces together the life of Johan Christian Woyzeck – a former soldier who killed the woman he claimed to love, and the subject of Georg Büchner's ground-breaking unfinished play from 1836. Making use of archive and documentary material, Sem-Sandberg explores the life and inner turmoil of Woyzeck, and the unjust society that created him.
The result is a nuanced, technically dazzling examination of a troubled man in an age overshadowed by violence. This is raw, complex, and often harrowing subject matter, but it is delivered in a spellbinding, image-rich prose with a strong moral anchoring.
10. The Antarctica of Love, by Sara Stridsberg
Translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner (2021)
Opening with the brutal murder of a young woman on the margins of society, Sara Stridsberg’s stunning yet haunting fifth novel follows its protagonist, Inni, into the afterlife, as she looks back on her life, her murder, and the ongoing lives of those she left behind.
Touching on abuse, isolation and death, but also love and unexpected tenderness, this is a beautiful, compassionate portrait of a life, told on Inni’s own terms. Though devastating and at times disturbing, Stridsberg’s lush, poetic, magnetic text is difficult to put down or indeed to forget. A Financial Times book of the year for 2021.