In the south of Sweden, the port town of Trelleborg is the largest working harbour in Scandinavia. From here, passenger ferries take you to Germany, Poland and Lithuania.
Each of the ferries is named after a character from a children’s book, for example Peter Pan, Huckleberry Finn and Robin Hood. The ferry I travelled a few days ago to Germany was called Nils Holgersson.
Who, you might wonder, is Nils Holgersson? The character comes from a book called ‘The Wonderful Adventures of Nils’. It was published in 1906 by Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.
In the story, Nils Holgersson is a naughty boy who is shrunk to a tiny size, and who tours the counties of Sweden in the back of a goose. It is an educational book about Sweden’s geography but also full of drama, intrigue and adventure. I recommend reading it.
On the ferry there was actually a statue of Nils. Looking a little freaky, and without any explanation, I am certain it confused many of the non-Swedish passengers.
Today is UNESCO World Book Day, to celebrate books and promote reading. The 23 April is a significant day as it commemorates the death of many famous writers such as William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.
Every year a World Book Capital is nominated. The first one, in 2001, was Madrid, Spain. This year it is Guadalajara in Mexico.
So today is a good day to buy a book, or to gift one. If you know anybody who is interested in learning about Sweden, or planning on visiting Sweden, then my guide book is a good match! I published it in 2021.
You can buy it on Amazon, Bokus, Akademibokhandeln and Adlibris amongst other online stores. Sweden, by Neil Shipley, published by Kuperard 2021. You can also buy it straight from the publisher at http://www.culturesmartbooks.co.uk
I still have a few copies left, so if you’d like to buy a signed copy, just let me know!
In 2020, I was approached by the publishers behind the respected Culture Smart series to see if I would write a book about Swedish culture. I accepted and, finally, it is here! I am proud to join their staff of authors! Available soon to buy on Amazon, or via me. Just pm me if you’d like a copy. Today’s a good day!!!
Yesterday, a new book was published by author Rickard Gramfors. The book, entitled ‘Do you believe in Swedish sin?’ looks at Swedish exploitation and cult films. The book includes ‘350 outrageous, sexy, violent, fun movie posters from the Fifties to the early Eighties. Swedish films of all kinds, whacky co-productions, exported Swedish babes, and international films using the words Sweden, Schweden, Svezia, Suède as selling points; if it was “Swedish” – it was sexy!’
I have put my order in.
This international concept of Swedish sin still lingers around today, and influences some foreigners’ perception of Swedish women. Where does it come from?
Maybe unsurprisingly, it originates in the prudish conservative USA. In a speech given by US president Dwight D Eisenhower in 1960, he claimed that “sin, nudity, drunkenness and suicide” in Sweden were due to welfare policy excess. This was a rhetorical way to attack Swedish people and politics at the same time. However, the world quickly forgot the link to welfare policy – but the sin reference remains.
He was basing his opinion on the scandalous Swedish fifties art films like ”One Summer of Happiness” and ”Summer with Monika”, birth-control pills, sexual education publications and condom vending machines. Swedish nudity was prevalent in most of the films throughout the 60’s and 70’s thus cementing the idea of Swedish sin.
In 1971, the Swedish sex education film ‘Language of Love’ was released in London to massive protest. One anti-film sign read ‘Sweden – more pornography, more suicides, more alcoholism and more gonorrhoea every year’.
Place on top of these scandalous films, young women who were self-determined, educated, liberated and sexually-active, and the stereotype becomes fixed.
The interesting thing about stereotypes is that they remain for a very long time. This is why the notion still exists today even though Swedish film today is far from exploitative.
Additionally, stereotypes often have little to do with reality. The reality was of course something else in Sweden at that time. The country was not riddled with promiscuous, drunken people. For example, Sweden had the world’s most restrictive alcohol laws and was struggling with the oppressive inheritance of Lutheran thinking.
So, did Swedish ‘sin’ ever actually exist? Or was it a politically motivated attack aimed at undermining social democracy? Or was it just a marketing trick to sell films and magazines?
In ten posts, I am recommending good Swedish reads to enjoy during the dark days and pandemic lock down. This is the tenth, and final, one, and it’s a classic – ‘Doctor Glas’- written in 1905 by Hjalmar Söderberg.
The gripping tale of a young doctor who falls in love with a married woman. The woman is wedded to a sadistic minister and divorce is out of the question. To free the woman he loves, and enact revenge on her husband, Dr Glas is faced with a terrible dilemma. Söderberg is considered an important figure in Swedish literary history, and wrote several novels. Another of his famous works is ‘The Serious Game’.
In ten posts, I am recommending good Swedish reads to enjoy during the dark days and pandemic lock down. This is the ninth one – ‘Easy Money’ – written in 2006 by Jens Lapidus.
This book takes us into the brutal, criminal underworld of Stockholm. A thriller, the story follows the destinies of a group of young men all trying to get filthy rich, but paying a heavy price along the way. Jens Lapidus has written several books on the same theme and several have been made into movies.
In ten posts, I am recommending great Swedish reads to enjoy during the dark days. This is the eighth one – ‘The People of Hemsö’ – written in 1887 by legendary Swedish author August Strindberg.
Carlsson is on his way to the island of Hemsö in the Stockholm archipelago to work at widow Flod’s farm. With Flod’s husband dead, the farm is falling part. Drama ensues. A classic tale of greed, jealousy, love, lust and lies.
Over 10 posts, I will give you a recommendation of a Swedish book, translated into English, that is well worth a read. The sixth recommendation is ’Popular Music from Vittula’ from 2000, written by Mikael Niemi.
This brilliant book is set in the very north of Sweden during the 60’s and 70’s and is a young boy’s coming of age story. Based on the author’s own childhood, we get to experience a distant time in a remote region of Sweden influenced by communism, alcoholism, machoism, and rock and roll.
Over 10 posts, I will give you a recommendation of a Swedish book, translated into English, that is well worth a read. The sixth recommendation is ’The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’ from 2009, written by Jonas Jonasson.
The book follows Allan Karlsson who escapes his old people’s home on his 100th birthday, and embarks on a remarkable journey through Sweden, with the police and bad guys hot in his heels. It is a funny book full of historical reference. It was made into a film in 2013. Jonas Jonasson also wrote ‘The Girl who Saved the King of Sweden’ which is also well worth a read.
As the autumn darkness envelops us, what better than snuggling under a blanket with a good book? Over 10 posts, I will give you a recommendation of a Swedish book, translated into English, that is well worth a read. The fifth recommendation is ’Hanna’sDaughters’ from 1994, written by Marianne Fredriksson.
Set against the majestic isolation of Scandinavian lakes and mountains, this is a story of three generations of women from the same family. It is a moving testament of a time forgotten and an epic romance in every sense of the word. It also reflects Swedish society and a journey from poverty to prosperity.