Book Club: Reader Q&A with Sofia Lundberg, author of The Red Address Book

Book Club: Reader Q&A with Sofia Lundberg, author of The Red Address Book
The Red Address Book was the debut novel from Sofia Lundberg, a journalist and former magazine editor. Photo: Viktor Fremling
Sofia Lundberg is the author of our April read, The Red Address Book, which tells the story of a 93-year-old living alone in Stockholm and looking back over the events and people that shaped her life. She answered questions from book club members about the novel and her writing process.

How did your own experiences influence the book and what inspired you to write this story?

Well, that is always a difficult question to answer. The story of my own life influences everything I do, everything I write, but not always in a clear way. There are details here and there, for example I was very young the first time I came to Paris to work as a model. Doris is about the same age in this story, and she also end up working with fashion. So influenced by my own experiences yes, true, no, not at all.

The inspiration for the structure of the story came from an event that occurred when my great aunt Doris passed away. Hidden in a shelf in her hallway, I found her address book. It was filled with names that I didn't recognize, most of them had been crossed out. And next to the names she had written dead.

It was such a sad moment, realizing how lonely she must have felt the last years, and how little I knew about her friends. This event haunted me for many years, and had me thinking of all the incredible life stories that rest under every headstone. One day, I decided to create a story about it. And I named the character Doris, after my loved great aunt, that I still, to this day, miss enormously.

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How did your journalism career influence your writing style?

Writing has been my job for over twenty years and I get very depressed if one day pass when I don't get to write and read. I think I have put a lot of training into writing in a way that makes it easy to assimilate, I try to work a lot with the flow of the text. Journalism is all about reach.

I also work a lot with research, I research every little detail and I found that very interesting. I read and write, write and read. And then, suddenly, a story is born.

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In The Red Address Book, 96-year-old Doris starts typing up her memories. File photo: NTB Scanpix/TT

Who are some of your favourite writers, especially Swedish authors?

Choosing favorites amongst books and writers is one of the hardest things to do, I think. There are so many good books. I like Selma Lagerlöf a lot, I like Astrid Lindgren of course. They have both written amazing stories. For contemporary writers I like Fredrik Backman, Stina Jackson and Niklas Natt och Dag very much. Both as writers and as people.

When carrying out research for the novel, did you learn anything that surprised you?

The character Gösta is based on my relative the artist GAN, Gösta Adrian-Nilsson.

He was my grandfathers uncle and the story of his life has always been fascinating to me. He was not recognized during his lifetime, he struggled a lot. When he died he left his paintings to his maid. I never heard anything about her, not even a name. Just that he gave her everything. No one was sad or angry about it, everyone understood. So I made her up, called her Doris. And I got to learn a lot more about Gösta, and imagine his life.

I asked my mother, she remembers him. I read old letters, I read everything written about him. It was very fulfilling. I feel close to him in some way. He was also the one who made me struggle to keep writing even though my first attempts got rejected. He thought that in art, sometimes you will not be recognized until after your death. Makes the struggle a little more bearable.

In the book, Doris teaches Jenny a lot. What have you learned from elderly friends or relatives?

The real Doris, my great aunt, was my best friend when I grew up. I didn't have many friends in my own age. So I never consider age an issue. We had so much fun together. We made up stories, we cooked and baked and worked in the garden. She was always very supportive. She thought me a lot, she was the kind of teacher that will always stay present at your side as some kind of guardian angel.

Nowadays, I learn a lot from my mother, she is a very smart and very kind person. And my father thought me all about adventures. We used to ride his motorcycle through Europe when I grew up, just him and me.

What message or inspiration do you most hope that readers take from Doris and the book?

To listen to people around you, regardless of age. Ask questions. There are so many stories to be told and heard.

What kind of response have you had to the book from readers – is there anything in particular that sticks in your mind?

Yes, all the readers writing to me to tell me stories about their old relatives, and how my book made them ask. That is something that really warms my heart. Picturing a lonely old person, suddenly getting attention and questions. And how that bring people closer to each other.  

If you'd like to share your thoughts on The Red Address Book, any 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.



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