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CULTURE

Book Club: Never Stop Walking by Christina Rickardsson

Each month, The Local Sweden’s Book Club reads a different book with a Swedish link. In August, we read Never Stop Walking by Christina Rickardsson, a memoir by a Brazilian-born woman adopted and raised in Sweden. Here's an overview of the book, and reviews from Book Club members.

Book Club: Never Stop Walking by Christina Rickardsson
Author Christina Rickardsson. Photo: Bezav Mahmod / SvD / TT

Rickardsson was born as Christiana Mara Coelho in extreme poverty, and moved to northern Sweden, separated from her family, at the age of eight. Never Stop Walking is her memoir, telling the story of her childhood as well as her travels to Brazil as an adult in search of answers and lost memories.

In her own words: “This is the story of my childhood in Brazil, about the culture shock I experienced when I arrived in the forests of northern Sweden and about the loss of the people I loved most. It’s about what I remember of my childhood in the Brazilian wilderness, on the streets of São Paulo, in the orphanage. And it’s about my early days in Sweden, when I found myself dropped into a place and life that couldn’t have been in sharper contrast to what I had known.”

The structure of alternating chapters between her childhood and return trip could reflect her early statement that she has two different selves: Christina and Cristiana. The memoir is perhaps not just a reunion for Christina and her family, but also a way of uniting these two selves. The themes of identity and home were present throughout Rickardsson's memoirs, as they have been in other books we've looked at recently.

Her stories of living in a cave, in severe poverty, and the shocking abuse faced by street children are hard to read at times. But at our Book Club meetup in Stockholm, we discussed how surprisingly free of bitterness these stories are, and how clear her message that we must all make the most of whatever opportunity is afforded us.

And there were moments of lightness, joy, and even relatable humour, for example on her return to Brazil as an adult when she is amazed at the size of avocados. 

One moment in the book that struck me was when Christina's family members are speaking over each other and give lengthy responses to yes/no questions. She realizes that she does the same thing, and has this apparently Brazilian trait despite having lived in Sweden for so long and lost the language completely.

“Absolutely loved it. Easy read,” commented Elle Bushfield. “I would enjoy a sequel that went into specifics about her life in Sweden.”

“I loved this book. It was so raw and unapologetic,” said Samantha Hammell. “She owned everything that happened to her without feeling sorry for herself. It was the most honest account I have ever read. It resonates because having to reinvent myself three times in three different countries, the feeling of displacement sometimes is overwhelming. But she did it.

“I admire Christina, she has guts and the courage to go back to her roots. Her ethos is that our past doesn’t define us, we have a choice of what person we become. The book reflects that. There are some not-quite-tied loose ends but maybe her next book will explain them. I had tears in my eyes at times and it was tough to read but a compelling one for sure.”

Reader Helen Davies said she would recommend the memoir to anyone who has experienced a move to Sweden from elsewhere. “Although her childhood in Brazil was hard to read about, she didn't want the reader to feel sorry for her. In fact, she writes that there was more joy and laughter in Brazil than her adopted country, but still one does feel anger at the poverty and bad treatment of the street children which continues today,” said Helen.

What to read next: If you enjoyed Never Stop Walking, I recommend reading All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung. This is a memoir by a Korean-born woman who was adopted by a white American family, where she discusses her personal experience of interracial adoption and talks about growing up and eventually returning to her roots.

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. In September, Book Club members have voted to read Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck, a historical thriller.

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.

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SWEDEN AND INDIA

IndiskFika: The Indian dance group taking Sweden by storm

IndiskFika are a group of Indians in Sweden with a shared passion: dance. Two of the group's leaders tell The Local how they came to be finalists in Talang, one of Sweden's top TV talent shows.

IndiskFika: The Indian dance group taking Sweden by storm

“We’ve been very passionate about dance from childhood,” says co-founder Ranjithkumar Govindan, who shortens his name to Ranjith. “I’ve been dancing from childhood, like first grade. So once we got into our professional lives and career, I wanted to continue my passion.”

“Like Ranjith, I have been dancing since the age of three, ” adds Aradhana Varma, who joined the group in 2020. She’s been competing in and winning dance competitions back in her hometown of Mumbai ever since. 

With just a handful of members back in 2019, the group now numbers over 50, including dancers, videographers, choreographers, editors, and production crew, and they are still growing.

Listen to Aradhana Varna from IndiskFika on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

Govindan says started by dancing at various events in Stockholm alongside fellow Indian dance enthusiasts before the idea came to form the troupe. “Then, one fine day, me and one of my friends, Vijay [Veeramanivanna], said ‘why don’t we do a cover song?'” he remembers. 

“He’s very passionate about camera work, cinematography. I’m very passionate about dance,” Govindan says of the collaboration. 

Their initial idea was to take advantage of their location in to shoot dance routines out in Swedish nature, in the same way that Bollywood movies sometimes shoot routines against European scenes such as Swiss mountainsides or Italian plazas. 

“Indians are very famous for movies, like Bollywood, so we wanted to do a cover video of a particular song from a movie which was going to be released. Since we are living in Sweden, we have plenty of opportunities to cover good locations and nature, so that was an idea,” he explains.

The name ‘IndiskFika’, (“Indian fika”, a fika being a Swedish term for a coffee break in the middle of the day) came from Govindan and Veeramanivanna’s wish to combine Swedish and Indian cultures. 

IndiskFika performing in the Talang talent show. Photo: TV4

“We started with five to seven people in 2019, that was the first thing we did, and we did a shoot and edited everything, then we realised that if we wanted to release it, we should have a name,” Govindan says.

“So we started thinking ‘what name should we pick for this team?’. We came up with the idea IndiskFika. Everyone knows about fika in Swedish, right?” 

Their videos, some of which have over a million views, became popular both among Indians at home and among members of the Indian community in Sweden, whose interest helped the group grow further.

More and more Indians living in Stockholm started asking to join, and soon they were doing live performances:  one at the Chalmers University in Gothenburg, and another at the Diwali celebrations held by the Västerås Indian Association. 

When the pandemic hit, IndiskFika didn’t let it stop them. They started planning a digital one-year anniversary for the group, and began looking for other groups to collaborate with. 

That was how Govindan began collaborating with Varma, who had been performing with a different dance team. “I had been performing at various events like Namaste Stockholm with a different dance team based in Stockholm since 2017, but during pandemic, everything had come to a halt since it was a tough time for all of us,” she explains.

When new people joined IndiskFika, it gave the group a new impetus. “That’s when the boost started,” Govindan remembers. “We became stronger and stronger. So, so many things happened.”

IndiskFika first came to the attention of ordinary Swedes with an article in Ingenjörenthe members’ magazine for engineering union Sveriges Ingenjörer. Many of the group’s members are IT engineers or students at KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. “They did an article about us, about the engineers continuing their passion for dance, so that reached a more Swedish audience,” Govindan says. 

This led to more in-person performances, which in turn caught the eye of the producers responsible for Talang at Sweden’s broadcaster TV4.

“The Talang people said ‘we read about you and we’ve gone through all your YouTube videos, why don’t you come and participate in Talang 2022?’. The rest of the story you know. We participated in Talang, and we got a golden buzzer from David Batra in the prelims, so we went direct to the finals.”

David Batra, a Swedish comedian with an Indian father, is known for comedy series such as Kvarteret Skatan and Räkfrossa, as well as Världens sämsta indier (“World’s Worst Indian”), a series where he visits India, alongside public broadcaster SVT’s India correspondent Malin Mendel, and tries his hand at living and working in the country.

Batra is also one of four judges on Talang, whose golden buzzer meant that the dance team were awarded one of eight places in the final – four are chosen by votes and four are chosen by the Talang judges.

The group were among the top eight teams in the finals on March 18th, but for Indians in Sweden, reaching the final was a win in itself. They were invited for a fika with India’s ambassador to Sweden, where they were treated to both traditional Indian and Swedish treats.

The IndiskFika troupe on stage at TV4’s studios. Photo: TV4

Many of the group’s members work full-time alongside dancing, which can be difficult at times.

“It’s not easy to be so dedicated by spending extra effort after office hours, with hectic weekend schedules for rehearsals especially when everyone in the team has a full-time job,” Varma says. “There’s a lot of things that take place in the background from logistics to costumes, hall bookings, co-ordinating everyone’s availability, social media activities and so on.”

Like many foreigners, though, Govindan and Varma have taken their time adapting to life in Sweden. 

“All I knew about Sweden was that it was one of the cold and dark countries,” Varma says. “Eventually you start liking it, and you know, everything is worth it for the summers that you get here. The fika tradition, the amazing work/life balance, the nature, that’s the best part that we have here.”

“I didn’t have much of an idea about Sweden,” Govindan agrees. “The temperature, where I come from, throughout the year is between 25 to 40 degrees. In terms of temperature, nature, the people, everything is different.”

“India is very rich in culture, right?” Varma says when asked about the differences between Swedish and Indian culture. “We have a lot of colours and a lot of different flavours and you know, that’s the kind of performance we gave. That was the plan: to give a very energetic, powerful, and colourful performance.”

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