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Archive for September, 2015

Since I cover a bit of both Scandinavian Studies and book reviews in this blog, I thought I’d post my purchases from my August trip with some commentary (though I don’t have much to say about all of these…). All in Scandinavian languages, I’m afraid, but some of the classics listed here ought to be available in English as well.

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En dåres försvarstal, an important but not-so-happy pseudo-autobiographical novel by “woman hater” August Strindberg. Written in French, originally, since this scandalous book is Strindberg’s paranoid justification of his divorce from his first wife, and caused a bit of a kerfuffle back home in Sweden as it was. That said, I’m only about 1/8 of the way through the book, and am going primarily from the general knowledge of the book that I’ve picked up…

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And here, apparently, some short material by Strindberg that I hadn’t heard of before–since my specialty within Scandinavian Studies is more on the Old Norse side of things, I mostly just know of AS’s (hm…) more central canon.

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And where we have Strindberg, we must also have Ibsen, his Norwegian nemesis. Three of HI’s (hm…) big plays here in nice cheap editions. I just barely caught the last tour of Ibsen’s Oslo apartment on the last day I was in Oslo, so that was nice. Was surprised to find out he had a painting of Strindberg in his office, to glare at him while he wrote (I think I’d heard that before, but it hadn’t stuck with me apparently…).

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Jonas Hassen Khemiri (author of Ett öga rött) is a major figure in contemporary Swedish literature, in particular as a representative of the Swedish population with roots abroad–Swedes of color, I guess we would say. Jag ringer mina bröder (which I finished soon after I got home–short but good) brings us into the internal nightmare of someone who, after hearing that there has been a terror attack in Sweden, struggles with the feeling that everyone must be looking at him, judging him, suspecting him, because his skin and hair are darker than that of the stereotypical Swede. Included in the paperback edition that I got is Khemiri’s open letter to Swedish Minister of Justice Beatrice Ask on the subject of racial/ethnic profiling–you can read this letter, and the backstory, here at Asymptote as well. Looks like the book is already out in English, so I guess I can’t take it on as a translation project…

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Have not had a chance to read this yet, but Theodor Kallifatides is another less-than-stereotypical-Swede, in this case an immigrant from Greece (he came in 1964), who already has a long literary career behind him in Sweden. I’ve been looking forward to reading something by him–I’ve gotten a glimpse of his work in a reader for an advanced Swedish course I took almost a decade ago, and he shows up in a reality show about a group of immigrants learning Swedish as part of an episode where they write part of the story (pretty terrifying stories some of them–one man had seen his parents killed and fled for his life). Don’t know anything else about this book yet, but look forward to reading it!

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Along with the Strindberg short stories, this was a random but interesting-looking find at a beautiful used bookstore in Helsinki (finished my trip in Finland visiting some friends there). PO Enquist is certainly a name that shows up when you are involved in Swedish lit, and this had been nominated for the August prize (named, of course, after Strindberg), so I thought I would give it a try! But given how many books I’ve picked up, it may be a while…

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Have enjoyed the variety of things I’ve read by Lars Gustafsson so far, so I picked this one up as well as the used bookstore. Haven’t cracked it open yet, but sounds like an interesting frame story (voluble American barber clipping a professor’s hair) with even more interesting stories (talking to the dead and such). We will see how it goes!

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Having now taught Smilla’s Sense of Snow twice, I thought I should probably have a version in the original Danish lying around as well. Great book, and of course available in English as well (since 1993, I believe). A nice example of the Scandinavian detective novel, but also very unique, and fascinating for folks like me who like fantasy or sci-fi–definitely a whiff of the otherworldly in this book.

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I’ve been a fan of John Ajvide Lindqvist since watching the original Swedish film version of his “Let the right one in”, and more so after reading (in English) his Handling the Undead (which I taught while at Gustavus Adolphus college), so I wanted to pick up a couple of his books. The new one here is Himmelstrand, in which a group of people in campers finds themselves in the middle of an unending plain. I don’t know anything beyond that, but to me Lindqvist feels more and more like a Scandinavian Steven King. I am not a fan of horror myself, but his work feels very original to me, and I always appreciate genre fiction that both interrogates its origins as well as transcends those origins.

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I mentioned this briefly in my post about a recent English-language short story about the “Havsmannen” (the merman), so I was excited to be able to find a copy for myself! I don’t know whether there is any actual “fantastic” element to this story, as in, a real sea-man of some sort, (have just flipped through the first few pages), but it wouldn’t be too unexpected to find something of that sort, since another book by Vallgren features a telepath. Also available in English, looks like.

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Can’t remember which shop I picked this up at, but of course I have to buy another of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books while in Sweden. I think I have this one in English, but haven’t read it yet. Great children’s books, but odd enough that cool adults can enjoy them as well. If you don’t, you are not cool, sorry.

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Science Fiction Bokhandeln, Gamla Stan: The following books are more of the genre-sort–science fiction and fantasy, my favorites. I’ve been interested in learning more about the way these genres have been growing as an independent literary stream (as opposed to a collection of tropes to be used by mainstream authors), so it was exciting to realize there was a dedicated Science Ficiton bookstore in Old Town Stockholm. Will hopefully write more about all this one day! Meanwhile, here’s what I could afford to pick up while I was there.

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Oscarian steampunk! Cool! Or “kul”? Anyway… the title is a bit clever, playing off off “i varje andetag”, which would be equivalent to “with every breath” or such in English, replacing the “ande” with the Swedish word for steam. Lulz. Anyway–it is a collection of short stories set in an alternate, steampunk Scandinavia with an Oscarian (think Victorian in the Anglophone world) theme. Have read a few stories, and my impressions are mixed. Hopefully a more thorough review to come later. I’m enjoying the novelty though, and some of the stories are nice “slice of steampunk life” bits.

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I’m a lot more excited about the quality of this collection of short stories, and apparently others were as well as there were at least two sequels. The title Maskinblod (“Machine Blood”) is a slight play on “människoblod” (“human blood”), and the theme of some (all?) of the stories is what it is to be human. Haven’t gotten very far yet, but generally I’m enjoying this–turns out this publishing house has also put together a collection of translated Swedish short sci-fi for Anglophone audiences, so I’ll be posting more about this later.

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“Four women, four girls” the title says. Male author, but all female protagonists. I haven’t gotten a chance to do more than flip through this, but we’ll see how it is in the end!

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Can’t remember whether I found this one (“Evil Winter”) in the YA section or not… but looks neat anyway! Honestly, I have no idea about some of these except that they seemed likely choices as I flipped and scanned and browsed in the shop…

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The Alchemist’s Daughter–I remember this one looking really interesting to me as I browsed. Don’t have it with me at the moment, but I may try prioritizing getting to this one…

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Brimstone Winter–catchy title. The cover blurb says “A Borges for the epic format”, so I guess it has a lot to live up to… Anyway, seems like potentially a nice example of Epic Fantasy in Sweden, so we’ll see what I think.

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