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Seven novels that will change the way you view Sweden

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Seven novels that will change the way you view Sweden
File photo of the annual Gothenburg Book Fair. Credit: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
06:18 CET+01:00
There's so much more to Swedish literature than Nordic Noir detective novels and Pippi Longstocking. Here are The Local's favourite bestsellers that are guaranteed to challenge your perceptions of the Scandinavian nation.

Popular music from Vittula, Mikael Niemi, 2000

Lapland might be famous for Santa Claus, the northern lights and husky dogs, but tens of thousands of people also live there year-round. Back in the 1960s and 1970s that population included Swedish author Mikael Niemi, who wrote this novel inspired by his own experiences growing up in the small town of Pajala in an area called Vittula. He was surrounded by struggling farmers, hardcore communists and devout protestants, while he and his friends listened to rock music on the radio, played ice hockey, sweated out their frustrations in woodland saunas and dreamt of a different life. A multifaceted look at coming-of-age in rural Sweden.


Pajala in northern Sweden where the book is set. Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman/SvD

Simon and the Oaks, Marianne Fredriksson, 1985

Sweden stayed neutral during World War Two but the global conflict still had a huge impact. This novel follows the life of schoolboy book worm and art lover Simon Larsson as he grows up in a working-class family on the west coast of Sweden. He finds out that he was adopted and that his real father is Jewish. At the same time he befriends a fellow Jewish pupil called Isak, whose rich relatives managed to escape from Germany before the war began. The two families are drawn closer and forge some surprising and touching relationships as the Holocaust looms ahead.


Author Marianne Fredriksson snapped in the 1980s. Photo: Leif R Jansson/Svenskt Pressfoto

Jerusalem, Selma Lagerlöf, 1901 and 1902

Loosely based on the real journey of a community of Swedes who moved to Jerusalem in the 1800s, this novel, published in two parts, delves into the lives of several generations affected by the ambitious project. From inheritance woes to evangelical priests on ego trips and relationships based on hope, lust, love and despair, this book will take you on an intense journey. If you're patient enough to finish it you'll be able to say you've read the work of the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature.


Selma Lagerlöf. Photo: Läkerol

Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist, 2004

This book, later turned into two award-winning movies in Swedish and English, is about so much more than a 12-year-old boy and his vampire next door neighbour. It provides a glimpse into life in a grey Stockholm suburb in the 1980s and gets under the skin of Swedish loneliness and social isolation, divorce and alcoholism. Yet it will nevertheless leave you with a very warm glow.


The suburb of Blackeberg where the book is set. Photo: Foto Patrik Lundin/SvD/SCANPIX

The People of Hemsö, August Strindberg, 1887

The Stockholm archipelago is one of the most special places on earth. But back in the 19th century it wasn't just a place frequented at weekends by stressed-out city dwellers or lived in by families seeking a quieter lifestyle, it was home to farming communities making their livings there. In The People of Hemsö, a man named Carlsson goes to help a widow called Flod on her dead husband's farm. You can probably guess what happens next. Strindberg famously brought the romance of the archipelago to life while he was living in France and Germany, as an attempt to deal with his homesickness and longing for Sweden.


Strindberg's novel is set on a fictional island called Hemsö. Here's one of the real ones. Photo: Henrik Trygg/Image Bank Sweden

The Hundred-Year-Old Man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson, 2009

Swedes don't exactly have a global reputation for witty banter or hilarious antics, but this novel, one of the most successful to come out of the Nordic country in recent years, consists of sheer page-turning silliness. Its protagonist, Allan Karlsson, breaks out of his care home on his 100th birthday and ends up making a selection of random friends as he evades the police and shares his fantastical life story. Make sure you read this before you see the movie adaptation.


Author Jonas Jonasson speaking at the Gothenburg book fair last month. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The Ice Princess, Camilla Läckberg, 2003

While technically still a crime novel, this debut book from one of the country's best loved female authors made waves by blurring the boundaries of fictional genres. Set in rural Fjällbacka in west Sweden it sees writer Erica Falck team up with local detective Patrick Hedström to solve the murder of a young woman found in a bath tub. Läckberg offers readers a more rounded, detailed description of her heroes and villains than many other Nordic Noir writers. She delves under the surface of relationships, from apparently mundane interactions between colleagues to heartwrenching disagreements between parents and children and couples involved in domestic violence. Her work is not Nobel or Pulitzer-prize winning but it's been translated into more than 20 languages and enjoyed around the world.


Swedish author Camilla Läckberg. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

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