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BOOK CLUB

Book Club: Everything I Don’t Remember by Jonas Hassen Khemiri

Each month, The Local Sweden’s Book Club reads a different book with a Swedish link. In July, we read Everything I Don't Remember by Jonas Hassen Khemiri, a literary mystery that delves into the themes of love and memory. Here's what Book Club members thought.

Book Club: Everything I Don't Remember by Jonas Hassen Khemiri
Author Jonas Hassen Khemiri, and the book. Photo: Janerik Henriksson / TT

A young man, Samuel, dies in a car crash, but was it an accident or suicide? An unnamed writer sets out to put the pieces of the story together in this innovative, unusual novel.

Through the story, the writer interviews people who knew Samuel in order to address the questions of who he was and what happens to him, while also engaging with more general themes of love, memory (something it turns out Samuel was obsessed with), identity, and how we define a life.

Everything I Don't Remember won the August Prize for fiction, one of Sweden's most prestigious literary awards. Jonas Hassen Khemiri is a multi award-winning playwright and author, and this novel has been sold to over 20 countries.

Book Club members found the changing perspectives hard to keep track of; this was a book which required longer, uninterrupted reading sessions rather than being one you could dip into on a commute. But there was plenty to compel us to keep reading.

For Helen Davies, it benefited from a re-read: “I’ve started reading it again and I’ve had a few 'Aha!' moments,” she said.

“Although I struggled somewhat with the frequent and sometimes ambiguous switches in narrator, I do think this book has something to offer for certain readers. I'd recommend it for people who like slow-burning novels in which you have to actively piece together the situation yourself,” said Kelly Nielsen.

“I also appreciated that it involved discussions of the immigration experience in Sweden. This was my first time encountering such themes in Swedish literature. Trying to understand the author's perspective on this is probably what motivated me most to continue reading,” Kelly added.

Early on in the novel, the narrator anticipates being asked 'How Swedish do you feel?', a question I'm sure resonates with many of Sweden's international residents. Sometimes, it can be a lighthearted question, for example when you go for lunch at 11.30 or start taking your coffee black and joke that you've now earned citizenship.

But it is often a very loaded, difficult issue too; in the book and in reality, it's a question tied up with race, discrimination, and the challenge of integration. Everything I Don't Remember is without a doubt a politically engaged novel with a lot to say on immigration: the two main male characters experience discrimination, while Samuel's girlfriend Laide works as an interpreter mainly for marginalized women.

Reader Sarah Dandelles said she loved the book, and appreciated the insight it gave into Swedish society: “The slow-burn/reveal/loss of love, the incisive off-handed comments, and criss-crossing Stockholm, time sequence, and narrators – masterful. I'm outside of Sweden looking in, and I found it to be a really juicy vantage point, where we the readers and the characters seem to become more familiar and more foreign at the same time throughout.

“There's so much in there about love and identity (and cultural identity). There is so much in there to question!” said Sarah.

However, several of our readers weren't grabbed by the unusual narrative style, while others pointed out that it's certainly not a light read.

“The broken narrative was an interesting writing device but a bit confusing at times and required a lot of attention, so not leisure reading but for the more committed reader,” said Samantha Hammell. “It raised the question of what really is “love” as the various voices had such a different way of seeing it and using it. The thing that I liked the least is in fact the use of so called love to manipulate another, in this case Samuel. It made me full of sorrow for this pour soul, caught between so many people.”

Join The Local Sweden's Book Club on Facebook and sign up to our newsletter to receive updates and highlights from the group, and to have your say in what we read next.

And feel free to get in touch by email (Members of The Local can log in to comment below) if you have book suggestions, opinions on this month's book, or any other ideas for the Book Club. We will be updating this article at the end of the month with reviews from our Book Club members.
 

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BOOK CLUB

Book Club: In December, we’re reading Good Sweden, Bad Sweden by Paul Rapacioli

The Local's Book Club is looking at this non-fiction book by one of our founders about how Sweden's reputation is used and misused around the world.

Book Club: In December, we're reading Good Sweden, Bad Sweden by Paul Rapacioli
Paul Rapacioli is co-founder of The Local and author of a book about Swedish values. Photo: Sofia Runarsdotter

Published in 2018, Good Sweden, Bad Sweden by Paul Rapacioli draws on his years of experience managing The Local in a world where fake news and polarised narratives pose a serious threat.

So what part does Sweden play in this?

For nearly three decades, values and social norms around the world have been measured by the World Values Survey, in which Sweden is an outlier: more secular and individualistic than any other country. In this way, it's extreme.

It is also a country that a lot of people have limited knowledge of: it has a relatively small population, a language few foreigners understand, and it's geographically fairly isolated.

This makes it easy for people to misrepresent Sweden, and present a one-sided picture to support their own views. Good Sweden or bad Sweden. 

To join in with the Book Club, all you have to do is find a copy of Good Sweden, Bad Sweden and let us know what you think of the book.

If you have questions for Paul, send us an email and we will put some of your questions to him in a Book Club Q&A later this month.

Throughout the month and beyond, we'll be discussing the book in our Facebook group, so here are a few questions to keep in mind:

  • The book discusses several news stories and how they were portrayed around the world. Do you remember coming across any of these stories?
     
  • What adjectives and what values do you associate with Sweden? If you moved here from abroad or have visited regularly, has your impression changed?
     
  • Good Sweden, Bad Sweden was published in 2018. How has the situation changed since then?
     
  • Do you agree with Rapacioli's arguments, and why/why not?
     
  • If you read Factfulness earlier this year, do you see any parallels or contrasts between the arguments both books put forward?
If you'd like to share your thoughts on Good Sweden, Bad Sweden, ideas on what we should read next or other suggestions for the Book Club, join The Local Sweden's Book Club on Facebook, or send us an email In Sweden, you can buy the ebook from Adlibris and the paperbook from Amazon, among other retailers.

 

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