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. Femicide, by Pascal Engman
Translated by Michael Gallagher (2022)
When detective Vanessa Frank is called to investigate the murder of a young woman found dead in an apartment in northern Stockholm, she is drawn into the murky world of incels, an online community united by a violent misogyny. Through complex, intersecting plot strands and a multifaceted cast of characters, Engman delivers a breathless and brutal urban thriller that engages with complex societal issues.
Winner of the British Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year 2023, Engman is a rising star in the genre. And this novel is an urgent – if at times uncomfortable – must-read for fans of hard-boiled, fast-paced suspense.
2. The Details, by Ia Genberg
Translated by Kira Josefsson (2023)
In the throes of a high fever, a woman is revisited by key moments from her past, and the memories of those who have shaped it. Composed of four non-linear chapters, each a heartfelt, keenly drawn portrait of a formative earlier relationship, this short yet resonant novel builds to form a mesmeric account of a life as seen through its details.
Wistful and intimate, and written in a poetic, exhilarating prose, Ia Genberg’s international bestseller is an illuminating study of transience, memory and what it means to be human. Winner of Sweden’s prestigious August Prize (link in Swedish) in 2022.
3. 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.
...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) by 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) by August Strindberg; translated by Peter Graves (2009)
- Doctor Glas (Doktor Glas) by Hjalmar Söderberg; translated by Paul Britten Austin (1963, reprinted 2019)
4. 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. A Sunday Telegraph and Guardian book of the year, this is perfect for slow, gentle, transporting reading.
5. Even If Everything Ends, by Jens Liljestrand
(Även om allt tar slut)
Translated by Alice Menzies (2023)
Climate catastrophe meets social realism in this sharp, deftly plotted debut novel from acclaimed writer Jens Liljestrand. Set over a few late-summer days in a Sweden consumed by fire, Even If Everything Ends explores how everyday life goes on even as society is falling apart. Told from four interconnected perspectives, in rich, nuanced (and often morally dubious) internal monologues, we follow the book’s protagonists through love, marital collapse, identity crisis and rebellion, all while life as we know it unravels in the background.
Tense and thought-provoking, the result is a barbed character study that packs an emotional punch.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. The Girl in the Eagle’s Talons, by Karin Smirnoff
Translated by Sarah Death (2023)
Lisbeth Salander is back, in this seventh instalment in the beloved Millennium series, originally by Stieg Larsson. Taking up the mantle from where David Lagercrantz left off, Karin Smirnoff relocates the action to Sweden’s northernmost county of Norbotten. Ruthless developers are rushing to cash in on the area’s untapped natural resources. Salander and longtime collaborator Mikael Blomkvist soon find themselves embroiled in an intricate web of corruption, conspiracy and environmental exploitation.
Packed with the high-stakes thrills and social commentary that fans of the series hold dear, Smirnoff nevertheless brings a fresh style and perspective to the franchise, coaxing out new sides to Scandi noir’s favourite heroine.
9. 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.
10. A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding, by Amanda Svensson
(Ett system så magnifikt att det bländar)
Translated by Nichola Smalley (2023)
Longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2023, this labyrinthine novel about a fractured family unit both explores and embodies the chaos of human connection. Spanning multiple continents and some extraordinary, soap-opera-worthy settings (including a doomsday cult and a sinister neuroscience facility), the novel follows the lives of three estranged triplets who are forced to reunite in the wake of an earth-shattering family bombshell.
Be prepared for literary pandemonium, playful character portraits and a host of surprising – and occasionally puzzling – subplots, all served up in an energetic, agile prose that will keep you on your toes.