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CULTURE

Book Club: Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck

Each month, The Local Sweden’s Book Club reads a different book with a Swedish link. In September, we read Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck, a historical thriller set in Lapland in 1717. Here's what Book Club members thought of the novel.

Book Club: Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck
The novel is set in Swedish Lapland. Photo: Asaf Kliger/imagebank.sweden.se

The title comes from the Swedish term vargavinter (wolf winter) which refers to an especially cold winter season.

In the small isolated community where the novel is set, this extreme cold serves to amp up tensions between the villagers, the new settlers, and their secrets. A family of four move to Blackåsen, aiming to put the trauma of their past behind him, but it turns out that new worries are in store when the youngest daughter, Frederika, finds a mutilated corpse.

The locals don't seem especially perturbed by the find, which they put down to a wolf or bear, but new arrival Maija is convinced something more lies behind the death.

Author Cecilia Ekbäck has travelled and lived in multiple countries and now resides in Canada, but set her debut novel in the landscapes where she grew up. She wrote the book in English, but it has also been translated into Swedish, Ekbäck's native language.

READ ALSO: The Local's interview with author Cecilia Ekbäck

Themes that dominated the novel included home/community and belonging, fear, and trust, and many of the Book Club members felt that the mountain was a character in its own right. The winter also played a central role, causing some characters to suffer, while Frederika says she feels most alive in the cold. 

Here is what some of our readers had to say about this month's book:

“I have to admit it sounded a bit dark at first but it's written in such a way that it feels like the reader is there,” – Elle Bushfield.

“Wolf Winter hooked me in the first four pages. I really enjoy a good murder mystery and this one was not bad at all. I like history and I often compare what was going on at the same time in different parts of the world. In my own country, the USA, we were not yet an independent nation and were still colonies of the British. For me this was a good read. I am thankful that I was introduced to this book,” – Bradley Melton.

“Not my usual type of book but who can resist a whodunnit? The author conveyed the bleakness of the landscape and the harshness of just trying to stay alive without being sentimental. Understatement was key to us staying with the story and not being overwhelmed by the individual acts of horror. Interspersed throughout I was fascinated by the the day to day tasks that had to be done to survive – thank goodness for washing machines! My only criticism would be a little too much practical help came from the spirits; at this time magic was very real to people but as we know from the Greek oracles it was not precise and very open to retrospective interpretation. Overall loved this book – thank you for the recommendation,” – Djana Haines.

“It was loosely a thriller, more of a study of character and place and a peek at some of the things that motivate us. So many things, scenes, and characters were lingered on, while others were dropped in so quickly you might not even catch them, especially toward the end. The book definitely made an impression on me of the time, the hardship, the place, and the class structure. And I loved the sense of the supernatural and community with the natural world as somehow conflated – inherited and cultivated skills that were both useful for life but frightening for outsiders,” – Sarah Dandelles.

“As soon as you start reading you can feel the atmosphere of the mountain building until of course winter comes and with it a new set of evil. As I personally love winter and the cold I didn't particularly like that association; then again I don't live in 1717 so I am sure life was much harder. Fear is a big theme here I think. There is fear of the physical kind but also fear of self-fulfillment and fear of being who you truly are. Again I think we need to consider an 18th century prospective and how women were on a different level back then, but still, at times it made it a hard read,” – Samantha Hammell.

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.

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CULTURE

‘Don’t wear bright colours’: Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Swedes have an international reputation for dressing well, with Scandi style a popular trend outside Sweden. The Local asked Swedes and foreigners living in Sweden to try and figure out the best tips and tricks for how to dress like a Swede.

'Don't wear bright colours': Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Black is best

When asking several Swedes their top-tips on how to dress like a Swede, many agreed – wear black.

Young professional Tove advises to keep it “all black, minimalist”. Uppsala newspaper columnist Moa agrees: “Wear a lot of black clothes and DON’T wear sneakers or ‘comfortable’ shoes, like running shoes, with dresses.”

Black is a neutral colour and, in general, if you get the neutral colours right you have got a long way in following the Swedish style. 

Neutral colours and a lot of knitwear is a good starting point. Photo: FilippaK/imagebank.sweden.se

Stay neutral 

Sweden might be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of neutrality by joining Nato, but Swedish fashion maintains its strong neutral stance when it comes to colour combinations.

Generally speaking, in autumn and winter Swedes tend to wear darker colours, as Sharon put it: “lots of beige, grey, black and ivory knits or wool. Jeans black or any shade of blue. Black tights with white sneakers for skirts and dresses”.

“Swedes in general will wear black and navy together which I’ve not seen before,” she added.

However, as the weather gets warmer, things change, as half-British half-Swedish Erik explained: “in summer/late spring Swedes change shape and personality,” adding a bit more colour to their wardrobe.

“Lots of colours yet still somewhat monochrome,” he said.

Most Swedes don’t wear a tie at work. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Follow the news trend, drop the tie

Nils, a reporter and presenter for public broadcaster SVT in western Sweden, does not always wear a tie in front of the camera – and he said his colleagues on national news don’t wear ties either.

“It’s not a must,” he said.

A blue shirt, no tie, top button open, beige chinos and a grey dinner jacket is the look he chose when presenting the evening news a few weeks ago.

Nils Arnell presenting the news on SVT Nyheter Väst. Photo: Nils Arnell/SVT

On a day to day basis Nils, who stressed that he’s “not a fashion expert”, gave the following advice: “As long as you manage to dress in a neat style, you can get away with quite a lot.”

“A white t-shirt and an overshirt work well in most situations and look stylish.”

Stay classy, even in class

Engineering student Erik (not the same Erik quoted previously) recently returned to Sweden from a one-year exchange at Birmingham University, where he noticed a big difference in student style between the two countries.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that on university campus there are so many people wearing work-out clothes, at least where I was”, he said.

“In Sweden, it’s more common to wear jeans than tracksuit bottoms, compared to the UK”. 

It’s also common to see a difference in styles even between departments at Swedish universities. The law and economics departments, for example, tend to wear more formal attire with a higher number of students wearing shirts and polos than, say, social sciences or engineering students.

Many students seem to wear a toned-down version of what they might be expected to wear in their future workplace.

When in doubt, think Jantelagen!

Equality and conformity are important concepts when it comes to many aspects of day-to-day life in Sweden, including the clothes you wear.

This doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same as everyone else, but more that being too flashy or over-the-top can be frowned upon.

This can be traced back to Jantelagen, “the law of Jante”, a set of 10 rules taken from a satirical novel written by Danish author Aksel Sandemose in the 1930s, which spells out the unwritten cultural codes that have long defined Scandinavia.

Jantelagen discourages individual success and sets average as the goal. It manifests itself in Swedish culture not only with a ‘we are all equal’ ethos but even more so a ‘don’t think you are better than anyone, ever’ mindset.

And this is seen in Swedes’ attitude to clothing, too. Flashy, expensive clothing with obvious logos or brands designed to show off your wealth breaks the first rule of Jantelagen: “You’re not to think you are anything special”.

‘Stealth wealth’

This doesn’t mean that Swedes don’t wear expensive clothes, though. They’re just not in-your-face expensive.

Felix, a podcaster from Stockholm describes it as “stealth wealth”, saying that Swedes would have no problem buying and wearing “a black jacket without any tags for 10,000kr”. 

Despite living in Sweden his whole life, he said that it’s not always easy to get the style right.

“I’m struggling myself,” he admitted.

He suggested taking a look at fashion blogger and journalist Martin Hansson for inspiration on how to dress. 

“Do NOT use bright colours,” Felix added.

Birkenstocks with socks. Photo: Carl-Olof Zimmerman/TT

Footwear

Most of those we asked said that Swedes are a fan of white trainers, most commonly Stan Smiths or Vagabonds.

With the shoes being popular all year round for men and women, this can cause issues at house parties – as Swedes take off their shoes when they come inside.

This inevitably results in confused guests at the end of the night trying to figure out just which pair of white trainers belongs to them – and trying to find one missing shoe the next day because someone accidentally walked away with one of yours is more common than you might think. 

Vans trainers are also popular amongst more alternative crowds (black of course). At work, dress shoes are popular in the winter and loafers or ballerinas in the summer.

In the summer months, you’re likely to see Birkenstock sandals on men and women. Most Swedes wear Birkenstocks without socks – unless they’re off to do their laundry in their building’s tvättstuga.

Birkenstocks are also popular as indoor shoes all-year-round, both at home and at work. It is common to have a “no outdoor shoes” policy in gyms, schools and some offices. This is to avoid bringing a lot of dirt indoors, especially in the winter months when there is snow, rain, grit and salt on the streets.

H&M’s then-CEO Rolf Eriksen wears colourful socks at a press conference in 2006. Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/SCANPIX/TT

Don’t forget the socks!

As you often take your shoes off indoors in Sweden, your socks are visible.

This has led to an unexpected trend for colourful socks with interesting patterns, which are a great way to break the monotone of neutral colours and conformity by expressing your personality – in a lagom way, of course.

A pair of colourful socks or a playful pattern will get you noticed and likely be a conversation starter at a dinner party.

What’s your best advice for dressing like a Swede? Let us know!

This article is based on the responses we received from Swedes and foreigners in Sweden on what they think you should wear if you want to follow Swedish fashion trends.

If you have any tips of your own which you think we’ve left out, let us know! You can comment on this article, send us an email at [email protected], or get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @thelocalsweden

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