Bookish Travels: Sweden 2019

Also could be titled: An Ode to Fredrik Backman.

On the second part of our trip, Mr. Librarian and I went to Stockholm and then onto northern Sweden to see the Northern Lights.  Sadly we went to Stockholm on Christmas – don’t do this. Everything was closed. Even the bookstores. We went on several walking tours of Stockholm and one boat tour of the Stockholm archipelago as they were some of the only things that we could do on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

So based on our tour guide, the most popular book from Sweden is, in fact, Stieg Larssen’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Set in Stockholm, our tour guide had to point out the location of the main character, Lisbeth Salander’s fictional apartment as part of the tour.  For me though, this book was only so-so.  I read it so many years ago, that I don’t remember much about it other than the fact that I enjoyed the mystery immensely.  However, most people laud the scene-stealing Lisbeth Salander, so much so that the two sequels are mostly about her. I wasn’t as interested in her and therefore took a pass on the sequels (if you saw my to be read pile, you wouldn’t be surprised).

So when I think of Sweden, I think of Fredrik Backman.  Ah, Fredrik Backman. I haven’t read all of his books (yet), but I guarantee you that it is only a matter of time.

My favorite of his books is, Beartown.  This book is an incredibly hard sell. When I talk to people about this book, I start with the fact that – to me – this is one of the best books I have ever read, but then have to follow that up with the description that it’s a book about hockey and rape.  Not exactly an uplifting summary.

Seriously though, this is by far one of the best books I’ve ever read (and listened to – if you are of the audiobook persuasion).  Set in a small town in northern Sweden (sound familiar?) which is losing residents, prestige, and hope only has one thing going for it – their youth hockey team.  A youth hockey team that is poised to win the junior championships and bring optimism back to this fading town. Backman spends a quarter of the book following the back stories of all the major and some of the minor characters so the reader really gets a sense of where everyone is coming from, what their motivations are, and why you – the reader – should care about them all.  Including the rapist. And his victim.

The rape occurs about halfway through the book.  I spent most of the early part of the book wishing that Backman would get on with it – all I wanted was for the plot to move forward (come on, already – dude), but when the rape eventually occurs and the plot leaps forward, you appreciate all the care Backman took in the beginning to make you care.  The rape tears the town apart and everyone takes sides. You end up caring about everyone.

That is the joy of the book.  That you come to care for all and understand where they all come from.  You feel for the girl who, when she comes forward, is blamed, isolated, and harassed.  You want her to get the justice she craves and even understand as she decides that perhaps she should take matters into her own hands.  You feel for the town who only wants something to believe in since everything they once loved about life has been taken away. You feel for the teammates who love the feeling of the adoration of the town and want to win the championships at all cost.

This book is so powerful. 

Then we have the sequel, Us Against You.  I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling it, but suffice it to say, I loved this sequel nearly as much as the first.  Which is saying a lot.  

If I haven’t convinced you that a book about hockey and rape is your jam, perhaps I can interest you in another Backman book, A Man Called Ove.  This book, while also a difficult sell, has a more positive conclusion and while also has challenging subject matter, it is more uplifting and – for lack of a better word – happy.

A Man Called Ove, set in Stockholm, is about a man called Ove (according to the audio book, the name is pronounced OO-vuh), and elderly gentleman who has, before the start of the book, lost his wife.  He is suffering from depression and repeatedly tries to commit suicide, to no avail. His suicide attempts are constantly interrupted by his interfering neighbors. Backman does the Beartown treatment on this amazing cast of characters, diving into all of their backstories and they come together as a community to support each other and lift each other up.  

Also, an amazing read.  I cannot recommend his books enough!

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