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

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

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.”

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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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