Swedish Book Review Supplements
SBR publishes a supplement every year. Supplements
published to date were on the following topics:
1983: P.C. Jersild
1984: Stig Dagerman
1985: Torgny Lindgren
1986: August Strindberg
1987: Contemporary Swedish
1988: Göran Tunström
1989: Johannes Edfelt
1990: Swedish Children's
1991: Ivar Lo-Johansson
1992: New Finland-Swedish
1993: Literary Non-Fiction
1994: Swedish Travel Writing
1995: Kerstin Ekman
1996: Contemporary Short
1997: The Environment
1998: Stockholm in Literature
The 1999 supplement will be on New Writers.
The 1998:1 issue contains features on Carina Burman, Per Olof
Sundman, New Swedish poetry, Swedish books for young adults and a report on Tidskrifts
The 1998:2 issue contains features on Björn Larsson, Thomas
Tidholm, Paul Binding, the Ordfront förlag and Feeling one's way as a translator, as well
as a report on the Gothenburg Book Fair, 1998, and the latest in our running bibliography
of books on Sweden, or translated from Swedish.
Stockholm in Literature
To help celebrate 1998 as a special year when Stockholm was European Capital of
Culture, the Swedish Book Review supplement is bigger than ever and richly illustrated
(including eight pages of full colour photographs), thanks to a special grant from the
Some older writers specially associated with Stockholm, such as C M Bellman, August
Strindberg and Hjalmar Söderberg, are naturally featured.
However, the stress is on more recent writers, including Heidi von Born, Carina Burman,
Stig Claesson, Sigrid Combüchen, Kerstin Ekman, Per Anders Fogelström, Lennart
Hagerfors, Astrid Lindgren, Ulf Lundell, Jan Myrdal, Agneta Pleijel, Per Wästberg and
The Guest Editor of the 1998 Supplement is Birgitta Thompson.
The first section, The City, contains the following
Orvar Odd, A fortnight in the capital, translated by Peter Graves
The journalistic prose sketches of Stockholm in the mid-1880s by Oscar Patric
Sturzen-Becker (1811-1869), who wrote under the pseudonym of Orvar Odd, are unlikely to
attract many readers nowadays. Nevertheless, this letter from the collection Med en
bit blyerts. Blandade utkast (1842), from little Lotta to her dear aunt, has been
chosen to represent the countless similar epistles that have been posted in Stockholm.
M Bellman, Fredman's Epistle No. 33, translated by Silvester
Carl Michael Bellman (1740-1795) is often referred to as Sweden's national poet. He
lived at a time of chaos and corruption as Sweden struggled to recover from the loss of an
empire which had confirmed her position as a leading Protestant power in the 17th century.
Stockholm in the mid-18th century had one tavern per hundred inhabitants, and drunkenness
was usual in all levels of society. Copyright laws were not so stringent in these days,
and pirated versions of Bellman's poems began to appear, forcing the poet to publish his Fredmans
epistlar (Fredman's Epistles, 1790), from which our extract is taken.
Per Anders Fogelström, Strömmen, translated by Peter Hogg
Per Anders Fogelström (b. 1917) is by now the doyen of Stockholm writers and has
immortalized the capital in a number of novels depicting it in the not-so-good old days.
This extract is an example of his more factual writing, however, from the book Kring
Strömmen: Stockholmska bilder, with illustrations by Stig Claesson.
Erik Asklund, Rambling around the Stockholm waterfront, translated by Peter
Erik Asklund (1908-1980) was one of the members of the group Fem unga
(Five Young Men) associated with Modernism. He was the writer from Söder, the part of
Stockholm with its own special dialect, considered to be at the very heart of the city's
character. He knew Stockholm inside out, and chose it as the setting for a number of his
Klas Östergren, from Poor knights and grand Swedes, translated by
The novel Fattiga riddare och stora svenskar (1983) by Klas Östergren (b.
1955), depicting Sweden immediately before the Second World War, opens on a grand film
gala evening in October, 1937, organized as a tribute to the cinema mogul Rupert D Bolin
and his work. Before the main film, two newsreels are shown, one of them a sensational
flight over Stockholm by what might be the very last airship, the Gustaf.
Evert Taube, Song on Stockholm water, translated by Silvester Mazzarella
"Dedicated to the Gyldene Freden tavern's architect, Mr Torsten Stubelius, in
gratitude for his splendid 'Memorandum or Aide-memoire concerning the acquisition,
storage, preparation and correct consumption of Comestibles and Beverages on board sailing
vessels in Swedish home waters', which was to be found among the papers of the good ship
'Ellinor' on the occasion of the present excursion."
Ingmarie Froman, On the shore, translated by Laurie Thompson
Ingmarie Froman is a journalist based in Paris. She received high praise for her
subtle and humorous books on Paris and Brussels; her book on Stockholm was published in
1997 in both Swedish and English. She advises potential bathers: "Better keep calm
when you go swimming in Stockholm, or you may get tangled up in a fishing line!"
Sven Delblanc, from The land of Moriah, translated by Charlotte Whittingham
The old man narrating Moria land (1987) lives in a totalitarian Stockholm
of the 21st century. Billed as a utopian state, the regime is one in which love is denied
(we have 'biological impulses'), art merely replicates and creative artists are a risk.
Stockholm's now murky waters are a fitting metaphor for the subversive hypocrisy and
callousness of the new regime. What is unsettling and provocative about Delblanc's novel
is that this totalitarian society traces its roots to the post-war paternalism of Sweden's
welfare state. The title refers to the site where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac, in
a diary addressed to a rebel son...
The second section, A Year in Stockholm, contains the
Jan Myrdal, from Childhood, translated by Anna Paterson
In Barndom, by Jan Myrdal (b. 1927), the mature man remembers
growing up in the 1930s. His parents, Alva and Gunnar Myrdal, were both academics with
international reputations in the Social Sciences and Economics, and the family was widely
travelled. Even this short extract illustrates how fiercely Myrdal detested his parents, a
theme repeated elsewhere in his work.
Heidi von Born, from Time is a thief, translated by Zara Waldebäck
Heidi von Born (b. 1936) was born in Stockholm and often writes about the
city. Our extract is taken frm Tiden är en tjuv (1989), the final novel of the
tetralogy about a brother and sister growing up in the Stockholm of the 1950s. The
development of the city in the last few decades provides the background to the story, even
if the main theme is the devastating effect in later life of childhood neglect, not simply
in material terms, but above all the consequences of a lack of security and love.
Lennart Hagerfors, On the underground, translated by Neil Smith
Lennart Hagerfors (b. 1946) spent much of his youth in Africa, and has
frequently set his novels in that continent. Our extract is taken from a book which became
a best-seller, Livet är det som pågår medan vi sysslar med annat (1990), which
he described himself as "a mixture of fiction, essay and chatty journalism about
everyday life in contemporary Sweden". it features the character I.S., a typical
Stockholmer of today.
Stig Claesson, Shortly after the vernal equinox, translated by Irene Scobbie
Stig Claesson (b. 1928) has travelled widely, written novels and travel
books set in sunny climes both in the New World and in the Old, but he always returns to
his beloved Stockholm. He is a well-known artist as well as author and often illustrates
his own work. Our extract is taken from Nya Stockholmsbilder (New Pictures of
Stockholm, 1987), an anthology of Claesson texts written between 1944 and 1985. With his
artist's eye for detail, his gentle humour and an underlying note of something almost
approaching mysticism, Claesson captures the moment when Stockholmers emerge from a long
dark winter. When the thaw sets in, physical and mental isolation is broken, the many
Stockholm waterways lead once more to the great wide world, and Stockholmers become aware
of their fellow men again.
Lindgren, In Twilight Land, translated by Sarah Death
This, perhaps surprisingly, is the first English translation of "I
skymningslandet", a story included by Astrid Lindgren (b. 1907) in her
collection Nils Karlsson-Pyssling (sometimes translated as "Simon
Small"), 1949. It is about handicapped little Göran who is taken on a fantastic
twilight journey over the rooftops of Stockholm in order to visit The Land That Is Not.
Interwoven with fantastic fairy-tale elements is the real city with its ordinary streets,
its trams and a visit to Skansen, reminiscent of Selma Lagerlöf's Nils Holgersson in
Stockholm. Mr Lilybroom (in Swedish, Herr Liljonkvast) is a gentler, less arrogant
prototype of Karlsson on the Roof, perhaps the most famous and eccentric Stockholm
inhabitant Lindgren created.
Anna Rydstedt, The cliffs stand grey, translated by Anne Born
"A city resting on all the light pillars of night,
these pillars of light on which the massive houses rest:
massive stone houses, heavy stone streets and asphalted streets"
Strindberg, Stockholm: a bird's-eye view, translated by Tom
August Strindberg (1849-1912) wrote The Red Room in 1879: its opening
pages present the classic description of Stockholm from the vantage point of Mosebacke,
high up on the southern heights of Söder. Stockholm lies at the feet of Arvid Falk, the
protagonist, and comes to life in Strindberg's inimitable prose.
Evert Taube, Lovely town on deep-blue water, translated by Silvester Mazzarella
"How I've tried to
find the right form,
tried to mirror
some small fraction
of your likeness,
lovely town - "
Hjalmar Söderberg, from Aberrations, translated by Tom Ellet
Hjalmar Söderberg (1869-1941) wrote novels intrinsically linked to Stockholm
around the turn of the century. He is unmatched when it comes to capturing the melancholy
of the big city atmosphere, not least in his first novel Förvillelser
(Aberrations, 1895). Tomas Weber, a rather thoughtless and irresponsible medical student,
spends his time worrying about his love affairs. He is concerned about his lack of money,
and his relations with two different girls: Ellen, a shop assistant, and his real love,
Märta, a girl from his own social class. In our extract he is tormented by a bad
conscience after having seduced Märta and completely forgotten about Ellen...
Stig Dagerman, from The snake, translated by Laurie Thompson
Stig Dagerman (1923-1954) was a country boy from Uppland, but lived in Stockholm
for most of his life. His novel Ormen (1945) was hailed as a typical
representation of his generation's mood, overshadowed by World War II. In our extract, a
part of Stockholm usually depicted as beautiful and inspiring is rendered scary and
disturbing by the circumstances, as Sörenson fails to intervene in the seduction of a
young boy by a homosexual sailor.
Gustaf Rune Eriks, By the Karlberg Canal, translated by Anne Born
"Once Bellman strolled beside this waterway,
amidst verdancy, birdsong and gliding gulls,
here his emotions often spoke in notes - "
Burman, from My dear departed brother Jean Henric,translated
by Irene Scobbie
After her doctoral dissertation on Johan Henric Kellgren, a poet and critic and a
contemporary of Bellman's, Carina Burman (b. 1960) wrote a critically acclaimed
novel about him, Min salig bror Jean Hendrich (1993). The fictional work, which
purports to be recollections of Kellgren by his mistress Hedda Falk and his reverend
brother, presents a convincing and often very amusing picture of late eighteenth-century
Swedish society. The closing pages describe the last meeting between Hedda and Jean, an
outing to Djurgården, which is very reminiscent of Bellman in tone and setting.
Ulf Lundell, from Jack, translated by Neil Smith
In Sweden Ulf Lundell (b. 1949) is better known these days for his work as
a rock musician than as a writer, but his novel Jack, published in 1976, was a
phenomenal success in its day. Borrowing heavily from the style of Jack Kerouac's On
the road and from Hemingway, Lundell depicted the self-consciously bohemian lifestyle
of a generation of middle-class hippies and beatniks in the Stockholm of the 1970s, as
seen through the eyes of his eponymous hero. Jack was seen as a standard-bearer for a
"lost generation", moving almost aimlessly around the city in pursuit of
somewhat vague artistic dreams through a haze of sex, drugs and flower power. The image of
1970s' Stockholm that emerges from the novel was refuted by critics as a wilful attempt by
Lundell to create a romanticized Swedish San Francisco, but the book was a massive popular
success, selling over 200 000 copies, and firmly establishing Lundell as a spokesman for
Wästberg, At Fåfängan - the height of Folly, translated by
Harry D Watson
Born in Stockholm in 1933, Per Wästberg is one of Sweden's most distinguished
novelists and cultural commentators. Although his engagement with the English-speaking
world has been mainly as a critic of apartheid and as an expert on African writing in
English, Swedes also know him as a skilled delineator of their capital city, which forms
the background to much of his fiction. In our extract from Luftburen (The Air
Cage, 1969), the second in a trilogy of novels about middle-class mores in sixties
Stockholm, Jan and Jenny articulate their love for each other on the heights of
Gunnar Ekelöf, City bells, translated by Erik Thygesen
Gunnar Ekelöf (1907-1968) is today recognized as perhaps Sweden's greatest lyric
poet. Our extract is from one of his four major essay collections, Promenader
(Walks, 1941). For the Swedish reader the essay brings to mind the famous opening chapter
of Strindberg's Röda rummet: the meditations of Arvid Falk on Mosebacke hill
overlooking central Stockholm have as a background the various bells of the city, each one
distinctive and identifiable. Ekelöf's essay is also reminiscent of the moods conveyed by
another famous depictor of Stockholm, the novelist Hjalmar Söderberg.
Sigrid Combüchen, from Long and short chapters, translated by Joan Tate
Sigrid Combüchen was born in Germany in 1942, but her family moved to Sweden
shortly after she reached school age. Our extract is from the novel Korta och långa
kapitel (1992): Göran has travelled from Lund to spend a September weekend with his
girl-friend in Stockholm.
Agneta Pleijel, from A winter in Stockholm, translated by Joan Tate
En vinter i Stockholm (1997) is the latest novel by Agneta Pleijel (b.
1940). In a series of fragments it tells a story about a modern woman, an academic, and
the two men in her life: her husband, Jacob, from whom she has separated after ten years
of marriage, and Emm, whom she had met eleven years earlier in Yugoslavia and who suddenly
appears in Stockholm to write a report on the Balkan conflict. The novel is about their
brief encounter in winter, but also about her parents, their relationship, and hers with
Ekman, from Make me live again, translated by Sarah Death
Kerstin Ekman's latest novel Gör mig levande igen (1996) has at its heart
a group of seven women, long-standing friends, struggling to come to terms with the greed
and violence of modern urban life. In our extract we catch a disconcerting glimpse of all
the women, against the backdrop of a snowy Stockholm night, beautiful, dreamlike, and
© Copyright 1999 Swedish Book Review.
pictures are taken from Stockholm. De fyra årstiderna (Stockholm. The Four
Seasons), Gedins, 1997, ISBN 91-7964-223-3, with colour photographs by Hans
Hammarskiöld and text by Niklas Rådström. (An English version, translated by Joan Tate,
is due from Gedins/Walhström & Widstrand in June, 1998). The front cover depicts
Riddarholmen in summer.
The back cover presents a winter view of Sofia Church and the
Globe. As the title implies, Hammarskiöld's sensitively selected photographs track the
city of Stockholm at different times of year, and provide convincing evidence to back the
claim that Stockholm is one of Europe's most beautiful capital cities. Niklas Rådström's
text is a tour de force, resurrecting the founder of Stockholm, Birger Jarl, and
recording his journey through time and space as he registers the way in which his creation
has developed down the ages and culminating in 1997.
This is the ultimate picture book to commemorate the year of
Stockholm as Cultural Capital of Europe. More impressive pictures from the book can be
found in a special full-colour eight-page section in the supplement. We are happy to
acknowledge the generous permission of Wahlström & Widstrand to reproduce some of
Hammarskiöld's outstanding pictures.
Our special eight-page section also contains some pictures from Staden
på vattnet (The City on the Water), edited by Björn Hallerdt, published by
Walhström & Widstrand and Samfundet S:t Erik, ISBN 91-972165-8-5.
This book takes a more factual and historical approach to the city, and is a compilation
of articles by various authors. Both Stockholm: De fyra årstiderna and Staden
på vattnet are highly recommended.