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CarOline Ringskog FERRADA-NOLI: »Nature« A literary debut at the intersection of prose and poetry, writing ­“to die for”, raw and poetic. A young, hyper­sensible woman, wandering, observing, and feeling contempt for what she sees in New York, Paris, Malmö, at the beginning of the 21st century.


Peter FRÖBERG IDLING: »SONG FOR AN APPROACHING STORM« A long awaited first novel from one of Swedish ­literature’s most critically acclaimed voices, the story of a love triangle involving the young Pol Pot in the mid 1950’s, as Cambodia stands on the brink of ­dramatic change after gaining its ­independence.

Peter Handberg: »Shadows« Award winning Peter Handberg’s new auto­fictive ­novel chronicles a son’s desperate search for his father. Literally stepping into his father’s suit,­ the ­narrator pieces together an account of their life together.



Sami Said: »Hardly Ever Nice« A strikingly original first novel that blends the ­registers of sitcom and solemnity, about a young Muslim man and his struggle for self-definition within a secular life world.


Jesper Weithz: »All That Does Not Grow Is Dying« A fast-paced existential thriller, set against the backdrop of an impending disaster. Weithz’ breathless novel tells the story of a family in free fall, separated by forces they can’t control.







Peter Sami rรถberg Said

Idling Natur & Kultur Foreign Rights


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Peter Fröberg Idling, born in 1972, ­ is a writer and journalist. His first book, Pol Pot’s Smile (2006) was a critically acclaimed work of literary nonfiction. ­ It rendered him instant recognition as one of his generation’s most important writers and sold in seven territories. He trained as 9

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a lawyer, and was working as legal advisor to an aid organization in Cambodia when the idea for his first book came about. His long anticipated first novel is also set in Cambodia, but like the debut, blurs ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ in order to tell a truly remarkable story. 10

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Peter works for a monthly magazine, Vi, and lives in Stockholm with his family.


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Song For an Approaching Storm Original title: S책ng till den storm som ska komma Genre: Literary fiction Publishing date: August 2012 Hardcover, 320 pp. Reading material: Swedish manuscript, English sample translation


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About the Book Cambodia, 1955. The country is on the brink of major change, with the first democratic elections just around the corner. In the midst of the frenzy, we meet Sar—a quiet, likeable man in his early thirties who is campaigning for the opposition, but secretly working for an armed Communist takeover. Many years later, he will become known to the world as Pol Pot. 14

Now, Sar is thinking about Somaly, the woman he is engaged to be married to and wants to build a life with. The outcome of the election will determine whether they have a future together. With his personal and political life at stake, Sar has everything to lose when his political rival, vice premier Sary, also notices the beautiful Somaly, and takes up the struggle for her affection. And of course Somaly—young, bored, beauti­ ful—has an agenda of her own.

Over the course of thirty days, and against the backdrop of political power games, a love triangle unfolds in the sweltering summer heat, in an atmo­ sphere tense with ambition.


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leader of the opposition party, he is secretly working for an armed Communist revolution. Having recently returned from studies in Paris, Sar is still engaged to Somaly, a young woman of royal family who has also recently won a beauty competition and been voted Miss Cambodge. Their relationship is not entirely defined, but Sar is intent on marrying her. His modest background means that his chances of succeeding are conditioned upon the opposition winning the election, so that he can land a high position in the country’s new It is 1955, and the summer is drawing to a close.

government. But his main political opponent,

Cambodia’s capital is bristling with excite-

Sam Sary, a man with a raging ambition and

ment and worry; its people are about to witness

­appetite for power, has also noticed the beautiful

the first free parliamentary elections since the

Somaly, and the two have been seen together.

­country won its independence from the French colonial power.

During a couple of weeks, the drama of this love triangle unfolds and reaches its climax against

In the midst of the hectic election campaign,

­a backdrop of political intrigue and increasing

we meet Sar, a man in his early thirties who years

­political repression. As we move around with Sar,

later will become known to the world as Pol Pot.

Sary and Somaly through warm summer nights,

Sar is caught up in a dangerous game of double

stuffy class rooms, political campaigning in the

dealing; while acting as private secretary for the

countryside, and champagne soaked receptions


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orchestrated by prince Sihanouk, a vivid picture

for each of the three narrators.Though a work of

of a different, long lost Cambodia also emerges:

­fiction—the author’s fantasy of the intensely per-

an Asian Paris of the 50’s, all silk dresses and sun-

sonal ­tragedy that preceded the historical narra-

drenched afternoons.An aesthetic reference could

tive that we know so well—the story of the love

be Wong Kar Wai’s elegant film In the Mood For

triangle is based on real events. Peter came across


this story, as it was told to him by survivors of

The desires of the three main characters—for

the khmer rouge group, while doing research for

power, influence, and sex— seem petty enough.

his nonfiction book on location in Cambodia.The

They are young, selfish, and hungry for a certain

only one of the novel’s three characters who is

kind of life. They live their lives like most people

still alive, Somaly, today lives in the US.

do, without thinking about the consequences. ­Yet their actions mean that Cambodia ultimately chooses the path that twenty years later will have led to the Killing Fields and the death of almost two million people. Peter Fröberg’s tense and vibrating novel lingers around the idea of what role personal dis­ appointment can play in the major course of history. It is divided into three sections, and told in three distinct voices: from the perspective of, in turn, Sar, Sary and Somaly. The narrative is chronological, and spans 30 days, 10 days 17

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Fröberg Idling’s first book, ­Pol Pot’s Smile (Atlas, 2006) is an innovative work of nonfiction that was showered in praise for its literary qualities, as well as its subtle discussion of morally and politically complex issues, particularly that of self ­deception. A ‘documentary thriller’, it tells the story of how four radicals, members of the European intellectual elite, could travel 18

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through Cambodia as the country was living through an unprecedented genocide, and report back on the ­successes of the Communist ­takeover in the name of ideology. The book sold around 25,000 copies in ­Sweden. It was shortlisted for Dagens Nyheter’s Culture Prize and, in Poland, the Kapuscinski Prize.

Sweden: Denmark: Norway: Holland: Germany: Italy: Poland: Russia:

Atlas Gyldendal CappelenDamm Nieuw Amsterdam Büchergilde Iperborea Czarne Corpus


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Praise for »Pol Pot’s Smile«:


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One of the best debuts I have ever read. Västerbottens Folkblad ( Sweden )

Beautiful and lyrical … Enchanting Sydsvenska Dagbladet ( Sweden )

Groundbreaking journalism. … A documentary thriller in ­259 fragmented scenes. Dagens Nyheter ( Sweden )

Almost reads like a thriller … Courageous and enriching. Norbottenskuriren ( Sweden )

Captivating and ingenious. Sundsvalls Tidning ( Sweden ) 21

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I am deeply impressed by this remarkable debut that asks so many questions… Helsingborgs Dagblad ( Sweden )

A thought-provoking and important book. Upsala Nya Tidning ( Sweden )

By means of his unconventional and intriguing approach to history, Peter Fröberg Idling reveals the dynamics of political self-deception. Svenska Dagbladet ( Sweden )

It’s quite possible that the year’s best non-fiction book has already been published. … You can find material on Pol Pot’s Cambodia in many places, but Peter Fröberg Idling presents the stories in a remarkable way. The theme is horrifying, but his portrayal of the country and the people has poetic qualities above the ordinary. … The world is evil, but do a good deed: 22

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assist this book in knocking all the war heroes, healers, and health freaks off the bestseller list. Dagbladet ( Norway )

This is a first class documentary novel, crafted with literary devices. The result is a combination of new insights and a breathtaking reading experience. aftenposten ( Norway )

A truly sensational book. Historie-nu ( Denmark )

Out of a mountain of evidence, pictures and newspapers, Peter Fröberg Idling gives voice to the survivors of the Cambodian genocide. … Pol Pot’s Smile is an historical document of great political importance. Giornale di Sicilia ( Italy )


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It’s been a long time since I read a book which clarified so many complex issues and which made more complex so many seemingly obvious matters. An exceptionally strong piece. Newsweek Polska ( Poland )

The book certainly deserves a prominent place among the world’s masterpieces of reportage. Wiadomosci 24 ( Poland )


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Sami Said

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SAMI SAID Born in 1979 in Keren, ­Eritrea. The family came to Sweden when he was a young child and Sami grew up in various places around the country, including GÜteborg. 28

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He currently lives in Ume책 in northern Sweden. Hardly Ever Nice is his first novel.


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HARDLY EVER NICE Original title: V채ldigt s채llan fin Genre: Literary fiction Publishing date: August 2012 Hardcover, 325 pp. Reading material: Swedish manuscript, English sample translation


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About the Book When Noha leaves the family home in Göteborg to go to university, his head is crammed with warnings and threats. His grandfather’s words about what living among the godless could do to a young ­pious man, ring loud and clear in his ears. 34

At first, things seem to be going rather well. He keeps to himself and reads ob­ sessively about his would-be homeland, Eritrea. To the walls in his room he’s pinned noted saying, Eat! But the quiet, orderly life of which he’s so protective is starting to come apart. His isolation is punctuated, first by a course mate, then by the stirrings of love. The constant presence of these others is threatening to turn his life upside down, and when he receives the news of his grandfather’s death in Eritrea, the dam he has spent so long building bursts altogether.

Together with his father, Noha returns to the country from which he once came. During a couple of sweltering weeks, the novel reaches its climax as it builds up to a confrontation of the myths about the family, the war and the flight, as well as the truths and lies about questions of origin, identity and belonging. Who is he? And who could he be, now?

A truly original first novel

Migrant fiction that plays with, and outwits, conventions and clichés

Sad, funny and a little bizarre­­ —the literary equivalent of a weird sitcom

An existential The strong first-person voice exploration of offers the reader to dwell inside identity, isolation, the mind of a young Muslim living connection and in a secular life world that both memory harbors him and excludes him


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»You can think of it as a heart. That indefatigable muscle that pumps blood here and there and that also constitutes our most inner being. When we are born, the heart is clean, brand new, not a scratch, and it is this that we can ultimately hope to achieve. To preserve our original innocence. In the beginning, we understand good and evil. Because we cannot deceive ourselves. When we come into this world we are perfect, but then we have to live and dark stains—spots—accumulate

Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom offers a liberating,

and obscure the heart. Once they are there, they never

yet excruciating moment. When a main charac-

disappear. They are our bad deeds. Every wrong, no

ter finally finds accurate expression for his emo-

matter how insignificant it may seem, becomes a part

tional crisis, it is through vocalizing the terrifying

of us. Shapes us. You don’t even notice it.«

thought that he has »forgotten how to live«. This question—how, indeed, to live, and the truth about what we are really here for—is also what has colonized the mind of Sami Said’s unlikely protagonist Noha, in a debut novel remarkable for its strikingly original narrative voice. In Said’s sad and funny novel, sitcom mingles with an existential exploration of isolation, connection and memory. Hardly Ever Nice is the fiction of an »I« struggling to understand himself and his place in a so37

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ciety which both harbors him and excludes him,

»It is so easy for them.They got it suckling at their

constantly marking out his difference (dark-

mothers’teat.This is their world. Not mine. It is not

skinned, Muslim, immigrant) from a norm which

just about religion and traditions. I am not even ca-

has less to do with skin color and »culture« and

pable of moving like them. Line us up in a row. One

more to do with ethics.

does not belong. Pick whom.You will notice right

How should one live? By what rules, standards?

away that it is me. How do I act in order to blend in?

The Eritrean born Noha’s ideas about religion

It is too complicated. I bungle the details. I observe

are both received and distorted in this process of

them, their range of facial expressions and the situ-

reception; in the background, there is a watchful

ations they belong with, the sounds, especially those

pious father and an extended family ready with

that appear to be connected to an emotion,their body

countless warnings about the dangers of secu-

language – and I know what no matter what I do, it

lar life worlds. Yet the »difference« that seems so

is different.«

clearly to single out Noha from the students he

Said is a gifted writer, and he uses the literary

is bundled together with in the university dorms,

form that demands change—the novel—to tell a

is a tricky thing: is it real or imagined? Experi-

complex story about fearing and resisting change.

enced? Projected? Like his vague, fragmented rec-

In marked contrast to a culture that has accepted

ollections about his »homeland« or what life was

the self as a project; something to work on, im-

like before the family left that so-called home, the

prove and market, Noha’s ruminations bring a

carefully nursed idea of what makes him different

different perspective to the issue of subjectivity,

holds both bitterness and a desperate hope: that

rooted in religion, but by no means limited to a

the less things blur or seep into each other, the

story of purity and fall. How are you supposed to

more things will stay the same.

understand who you are if you are constantly be-


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coming someone else? His is a damaged self, terri-

and somehow, they won’t stay away. Noha builds

fied of invasion and contact: but it is also an ethi-

dams by reading, obsessively about the elusive Er-

cal self that dreams of solitude and time to think.

itrea, colonized first by Italy and subsequently by

His religion marks him, but does not define him.

Ethiopia, preparing perhaps for a confrontation

In fact, Noha himself comes under investigation

he knows will inevitably come. But slowly his care-

for his dubious attitude to his own faith by Fre-

fully wrought isolation is punctuated, first by his

drik, a course mate who converts to Islam and,

coursemate, then by the stirrings of love.

out-Muslims the Muslims.

First there is Fredrik (later Abdul), who thinks

Hardly Ever Nice chronicles a period of change

he’s discovered a conspiracy about how Muslims

in its protagonist’s life, from leaving home and en-

are portrayed in the media. Suddenly he’s accusing

tering the bright and noisy world of university, to

Noha of falling off the proper path. Does this have

avoiding the clichés and going beyond them.

to do with Anna, the confident but vulnerable bo-

It all starts out fairly well. He keeps to himself,

hemian girl who sits down next to him on the train

studies and reads.The walls of his room are plas-

and who he suddenly finds himself spending days,

tered with notes saying Eat! so he won’t forget.

even nights with? Maybe. Anna embodies the in-

He plans his meals in the communal kitchen so

vasiveness of love, the nonnegotiable demand to

that he will avoid running into the Party Dude,

make oneself available, emotionally and physically,

or anyone else for that matter. His grandfather,

to another. In Noha, the typical insecurities of the

back in Eritrea, has warned them of becoming like

first-time lover are compounded by a self-imposed

»them«, the secularized, egoistic westerners. And

asceticism, in itself emblematic of the uncompro-

Noha had thought: I am better than them, I can

mising idealism of youth, but amplified by being

resist. But can he? He is surrounded by people,

rooted in faith. Life, in all its messiness, appears to 39

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be a flood just pressing on to get in. He is fighting

ed subject of family myth—about his own success.

it, but clearly the dam is about to burst.The insist-

His aunt, fed up with the unyielding harshness of

ent first-person voice is vulnerable, warm, ironic,

her brother, shows Noha his father’s stashed-away

self-reflective, idiosyncratic, quirky: unmistakably

records and tells stories about another time, about

someone’s. Much of Said’s achievement lies in the

bellbottoms and dance moves. As Noha is forced

creation of this singularly believable narrative

to reconsider his father in light of the things he

voice.The world is filtered through Noha.

learns, so do we, too, come to understand the stern

The death of the protagonist’s paternal grand-

father as a complex character marked by the pain

father unexpectedly sends him on a trip back to

of dislocation, loss, and frustrated hopes. The en-

Eritrea, and a collection of ‘lost’ relatives that

counter with the alien Eritrean society turns

continue the invasion of his private space already

things on its head, including the moral questions

begun. During a couple of sweltering weeks, the

that have become the rallying points of a young

novel reaches its climax as it builds up to a con-

practicing Muslim living in a secular society in the

frontation of the myths about the family, the war

remote North.

and the flight, as well as the truths and lies about

When one night Noha and his father catch sight

questions of origin, identity and belonging. While

of policemen brutally quenching a riot, the father’s

his father and aunt attempt to sort out the in-

decision to take action and defend the young pro-

heritance but end up insulting each other in their

testers lead to arrest and imprisonment for them

fights about religion, Noha is sucked in by his old-

both. Perhaps the father recognizes himself in the

er cousin, another member of the diaspora who’s

youths, or perhaps he, like his son, is just tired of all

ended up in Saudi Arabia. Now Noha discovers

the self-inflicted rules and regulations, the unat-

that he, the quiet recluse, is himself the unexpect-

tainable moral standard that seem to make living


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so hard. Whatever his motives, the event marks a

the world: onto history, power, language — and love.

turning point and a resolution: an embrace, finally,

Like an unlikely Virginia Woolf for the 21st cen-

of change and an opening towards something oth-

tury, Sami Said ­combines linguistic investigation

er than stasis and fear. In this way, the prison cell

into the meaning of subjectivity with a wider con-

of the last scene becomes its own opposite, an im-

cern for how this subject is always made in its en-

age of the freedom not to have to choose sides, an

counters with the social fabric. As a first novel, it

invitation to incorporate the many contradictory

is a strong statement; we are thrilled by the fresh-

elements that go into the making of a modern mi-

ness of Said’s voice in the singular Noha.

grant self. Hardly Ever Nice is a new kind of coming of age novel—one that tells a new story.While the themes of migration, displacement, identity and belonging seem to be both particular to our time and universal, timeless issues, the voice that tells this story anchors it in a specific, tangible here and now.This is both the moment of a globalized Sweden, standing in for the West, and of a war-torn East African country trying to find a way forward following its independence.This is, then, a novel about identity on many levels.The novel’s themes are mirrored in writing that combines passages of stifling introspection with sudden flashes or openings out onto 41

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Sami Said: Five Important Authors 42

Mark Twain – I discovered literature through Adventures of Huckle­berry Finn. I’d read a lot before then, of course, but I still think that’s where it all really ­began. The urge, ­I mean.

Gertrude Stein – Naturally. Definitely. I take one of her books with me wherever I go; wherever I go I want to take her play­fulness.

Ali Smith – There was this librarian who seemed unhappy. Several times I heard her yelling at children. Whenever I returned or checked out books, she would give me an irritated look, as though I were interrupting. When she answered questions she sounded so ­accusatory, belittling. The best thing to do was to stay out of her way. But it was also she who, once, when I was looking for something to read, spontaneously came up to me and said I should try Ali Smith. From that day onwards, she was a different person to me. Now, I don’t see how I could have been oblivious to that, the tongue-in-cheekiness.

Aleksandar Hemon – For the mystery (or rather, the other-world-ness). For the beauty, and the humor in all the darkness. Because as soon as you begin reading, you start to worry that it’s almost over.

Louis-Ferdinand Céline – Really I am not obtrusive, and besides that I hate reading out loud, you get tired of hearing your own voice, but once I read Journey to the End of the Night out loud to someone who, because of Céline’s nazi leanings, refused to engage with it. I began ­following this person, into the kitchen, then took up outside the bathroom where I read almost screaming, for a while we were outside, until she fi ­ nally gave up and agreed to listen. One day and one night and one day was what it took, at least, and afterwards I was hoarse and completely exhausted, and I am ready to do it all over again.

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Excerpt from the novel My parents used to tell us about grand足father when we misbehaved. Always the same story. The one about how he opposed our escape to Sweden. Your children will be lost, he said. It is inevitable. There is no religion there. There, people have no morals. They only live for themselves. And he said we would not be able to resist. I have always thought that I am better than that, that nothing can tempt me. But he was right. 48

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don’t like goodbyes. Being in the midst of others’ goodbyes doesn’t make it any better. You see their un­ affected manner, the simplicity of it, the measured signs of affection, the natural way in which they treat the situation. And then you look at us. We don’t know what we’re doing and our insecurity shines through. Me and my father and my mother and my little brother and my little sister and an artificial physical inti­ macy that, otherwise, we can usually do without.

Movement that suggests the begin­ ning of a hug, an abrupt halt, and instead I shake my father’s hand. He makes a nodding motion. It probably means that I have his blessing. My mother. Straight­ ens the collar of my jacket. Take care of yourself. Be in touch if you have any trou­ ble. Eat regularly. She tries to sneak five hundred kronor into my jacket pocket. I take the bill out. No, no, she forces it back down again. Be social. Introduce yourself to people. Studies isn’t all there is to life. Don’t be afraid. They will like you. My father. Leave him alone. He isn’t a child. My brother. A punch on the shoulder. Beware of the hungry hyenas. My little sister says that it’s nice to get rid of me. More space for her. We begin too early. My train departs in fifteen minutes. This accord will never last that long. They root through my bag and inspect what I have packed. Ticket. Clothes. Towel. Cell phone. Charger. Koran. Discuss whether or not it is enough and what else I should have brought with me. They come up with a lot of things that I have not thought of. This is how it begins.

Completely insignificant and senseless how it escalates into an argument. About my bag. My brother hands it over to me. My mother tells him, you are strong, carry it on board, and my little sister cuts in and says that if I am old enough to move I must be old enough to carry my own bag, and then my father must have his say, and then my brother does, too. Everything in its rightful place. And the people next to us. Only two of them. Easy enough. A long embrace. Take care. Good luck. We’ll be in touch. Calm and orderly. I board the train. I don’t think anyone notices that I do. The move has been the theme of this summer. They’ve been on my back nonstop. An intensive last-minute education to hammer home the point that I may absolutely not abandon what is Eritrean and Muslim, what is me. My parents were anxious to draw the boundaries for my personhood, and constantly saw signs of alteration—negative—and I was not permitted to change. If I happened not 49

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to read. Why not? Where has our Noha gone? If I read. Thank God. Our son is back. When my sister complained that she was tired of the unvaried fare—it was being cooked with the purpose of mak­ ing an impression on me—my mother responded, we are Eritrean, we eat Eri­ trean food. You should not be ashamed of who you are. They skewed what I said and did so that it seemed like a desire to be different, which gave them more reasons to dole out admonitions. I con­ sidered no longer eating dairy products in order to be more consistent, and they protested. You are fine the way you are. Don’t copy them. You are Eritrean. When Zemo tried to escape—Zemo was my brother’s tree frog—they didn’t scold him but rather turned it into a point about my move. That you cannot escape from who you are. Zemo had three legs and his flight was doomed to fail. He didn’t get farther than the living room. I was sent to a camp. My father tossed the brochure on the bed. To be a young Muslim in the West. Arabic text. Swedish text. Woven into each other. One person 50

who appeared to be having a very difficult time. Several people in the background who seemed to be the ones making life difficult for him. A suggestion that he was I and that there were others like me. I doubted. But no one asked me. The tuition was already paid. They hoped for friends. Preferably that I make connec­ tions in Linköping. Moving without a community poised to take over is an invi­ tation to ruin. The camp was held out in the archipel­ ago. It was a sweeping Swedish produc­ tion complete with intermittent sunshine and brief showers, endless amounts of buttercups, woods, rustic cabins, and dockside dives into water. I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the whole thing, but it was alright. In non-Muslim situations, I am left alone. My company is not sought and a no thank you is enough to scare people off. Sooner than that, even. A look suf­ fices for us to understand each other. Our relationship is limited to the necessary. I do not exist for them. In school, it was me and an empty desk beside me. In the very

front, in the corner. Where you do not see and are not seen. At recess, there was never anyone but me in the library. First dark-skinned and then Muslim too on top of that, it equaled an insurmountable obstacle. No one reflected on whether I needed a friend. I was not excluded. There was another potential group that I belonged with. Not alone but with the others, the ones who are like me. Unfor­ tunately, these peers of mine do exist. The opposite is true when it comes to Muslims. They automatically assume that we have something in common, and if I am alone they feel some sort of responsibility and take pity on me. So, no seclusion at camp. It was us, constant togetherness. When they heard that I would be studying in Linköping they too made a big deal about the move, repeated my parents’ warnings. Don’t change. You are you, the way you are now, which is good, and never forget that. This wasn’t new to them. My objections and what I thought about myself did not matter. Student life was filled with risks and would change me. People before me had

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lost their faith. A gradual transformation. You hardly notice it. Isolation. No family and friends. No one who can remind you. The influence of immoral society. Youth and curiosity. You become receptive to temptation. Just try it, you reason. Once won’t hurt. Why should I be the only one not having fun? Parties, drugs, and the women who apparently throw themselves at you. Remember what the prophet Mu­ hammad said, praised be he who resists a woman’s overtures. For a man, doing so is a feat. One of the campers had studied and lived in a dorm for a short while. He had fled home to his parents within a month. Every single word was true, he vowed. You think you can escape and focus on your studies, but the women really did throw themselves at him. They had no honor. They made shameful propos­ als constantly. Even women in his class whom he hardly knew would approach and ask him out. Get a coffee, they called it. Or should we study together. But he saw through them. It was a torment. He lied and said that he was engaged. It

didn’t help. A fine brother like you must be on your guard. In a moment of weak­ ness, one becomes easy prey for them. Don’t give in, he said. Be strong. Even though the conversations were rather bewildering—a lot seems to me unlikely—I am worried. I don’t want that to be my future. It also doesn’t sound like me and is completely counter to my own experience. That is definitely not how people have behaved previously. Rather the opposite, and it is the same people we are talking about after all. Like her in high school, a group project and a spite­ ful teacher who forced me to belong to a group that was larger than one, she who one day took the opportunity to inform me of her view of Islam. It was not what we were supposed to discuss but she said it anyway. That is was a bad religion and that she couldn’t imagine ever falling for a Muslim. It was utterly impossible. She would never let that happen. She and Muslims were too different. They wanted one thing, mainly to make her miserable in various degrading ways, and she was striving for something completely differ­

ent. She was looking for love. Real love. I hope that more people think like her. Screeching. The train comes to a stop. I have arrived. I am a little short on time, class registration is in three hours. Search for bus stop. Wait. Bus ride begins. Linköping through the windows. Cities are all alike. On the horizon, a tall, nar­ row building rises above the landscape. It doesn’t fit in. Ryd square. Get off. To the landlord’s main office to pick up a key. A sign leads me there. A line. Other students maybe. Over thirty numbers ahead of me before it is my turn. I admit that I am nervous. Will something really happen to me? Will student life break me down? Am I that banal? I want to be greater than that. A she squeezes onto the bench. Pushes her bags up against me. Excuse me. A completely meaningless excuse me. She is not remorseful. She is where she is. The bags are where they are. If she genuinely believed that she had done something wrong, she wouldn’t have excused herself. She wouldn’t have sat down next to me 51

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in the first place. She is only calling at­ tention to the fact that she is conscious of having acted intrusively. That she isn’t a sociopath. How does that make it any better? It is reassuring that my first contact with the women in Linköping is hostile. It bodes well. Number two hundred and seventyfour. That’s me. The receptionist fills the silence while he digs through a pile of papers on the desk, doesn’t find what he is looking for, and then prints out a contract. He says that they’ve had a crazy day. Lots of new students who are mov­ ing into their new apartments. Like me. What will I be studying? Religion? He thinks that sounds interesting. Have I heard about the cathedral? I should go there. It’s famous for its paintings. Okay, sign here and here. I am given keys in an envelope and directions. Past the large parking lot by the mall. A green dumpster —go straight. Right when I see the tennis court. The middle building. Pale red façade. Cars and trailers with furniture on top. Two people are carrying a sofa inside. I get stuck behind them. 52

Please leave your bikes outside. Please do not glue bottles to the ceiling. There are more friendly admonitions. A bottle glued to the ceiling. Shards of glass on the floor. A set of stairs. Key out of the envelope. In. The first room on the left. *** A narrow hallway, a few steps, and then a square room. The first apartment of my own. White. A lot of unnecessary furni­ ture. An excess of chairs. An armchair. What am I supposed to do with an arm­ chair? A desk and another lower, round table. Two bookshelves. The bed creaks when I sit down on it. A brief moment to think about how I am the latest in a long row of tenants and that it shows. Wind and branches whip against the window. A bird lives in the tree outside. It lands on the window ledge. Pecks at something. I observe it. It stops up and observes me. I hang the curtains. A circle-shaped burn mark on the desk. How did it come about? Unidentifiable discoloration on the mattress. I decide

that I don’t need to think about what has happened here before me. A great deal of terrible things, a great deal of indecent things I assume, but it belongs to other people’s pasts. Rooms are not like us people. You can wash off and cover up. I organize the rest of my things in piles on the bed. Before, I used to have to squeeze my clothes into a third of a closet. Now I have four closets at my disposal even though I still have the same amount of clothes. I spread things out. Shirts on one shelf. The pair of pants on the shelf beneath it. I place the black hooded sweatshirt on one shelf. A gift from my brother. He said that it would serve me to wear it. Make me cool. That is something positive to him. There are still too few clothes for the shelves. I put the suitcase in the third closet and the fourth remains empty. To the fridge to store the package of food that my parents sent with me. The kitchen is shared. I already knew that before, but it is much worse than I feared. Connected to a room with a TV and couches. Looks like a gathering place. A flash of panic at the thought of the

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various—completely possible, according to what I’ve heard—non-alone situations that can arise. I don’t have time to worry more. I have to find the university now. Registration, roll call, and an introduc­ tion. A person who is not our lecturer pretends to be our lecturer, talks non­ sense, and we find out that it is a joke, that she is an envoy from the Religion Department’s student organization. They have prepared activities for us. A guided tour. Games. Coffee breaks. Gather and be together. The kinds of things I’ve been warned about, the kinds of things that I don’t intend to participate in anyway. And then she says welcome, I hope you will be happy here. The real lecturer passes out a form that I fill out during the break. Pointless answers to pointless ques­ tions. What are your expectations for the course? What are your goals with your studies? Afterwards, there is a line to get into the student center to pick up pay­ ment forms for the student activities fee. Another line by a stand that is serving as a temporary bank in order to pay and receive a stamped receipt, and yet another

line at the department offices to show the receipt and get registered for the course. A letter from the student association in my mailbox. How have they found me? From the students of Linköping who look forward to meeting me. This is what their clubs have to offer me. Sports. Concerts. Film screenings. Glid­ ing. Lots. I stop reading before I’ve even gotten halfway. On the cover: a crowd of people under a disco ball. The welcoming embrace of a crazy world. Someone else’s name on my mailbox. He who came be­ fore me. I tear off a piece of paper, write my name on it, take a scrap of tape and tape over it. Days pass without me saying a single word. So far, I don’t see any traces of the supposedly irresistible temptations. The women in my dorm haven’t even said hi. I imagine that they have to say hi first. I am in the background. Invisible. Ear to the door. Peek to see if anyone is in the kitchen before I go out. Create a system. I learn the hours my neighbors keep. When they eat. When they sleep. When they are outdoors. A couple of

them occupy the common room at night and watch TV. One of them is a risk for nighttime eating. Fridays and Saturdays are hopeless. There is no rhyme or reason then. I adapt to them so that we don’t run into each other. I am the ghost of the hall. My days cannot be told apart. Wake up at six, seven. Pray, brush my teeth and so on. Read and write. Eat at one. Usually, no one else is cooking at that time. More reading and writing. Possibly eat again at night if the kitchen is free. Except for Fridays and Friday prayers and mandatory lectures. I doubt that there is anyone who has it bet­ ter than me. Certain minor distractions occur. I can’t predict every possibility. Distracted by sound that could be a person in motion, I drop my sandwich into a pot. No choice but to throw it out. My neighbors leave their unwashed kitchen things all over the place and even if it has been washed, how am I to trust them? What if a food particle remains and is transferred to me? This is how we relate to one another. I bend down: a reddish-brown stain the 53

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size of a thumbnail on the oven handle. Not the only one. I scratch at it with a fork that is not mine. The stain comes off immediately. Pretty telling about how clean-up works around here. Guy in the hallway throws open a door. Yo man—I am not man—and even if it is a friendly gesture it is premature and uncomfort­ ably forward. He tells me that there is something called the servant of the week and that I am the servant of the week. Did I not see the schedule? So make sure to take out the garbage. And they are organizing a dinner and a party. To get to know the newbies who have moved in and so that the newbies who have moved in can get to know them. Despite the fact that I am standing here at two in the morning in order to escape precisely this kind of thing. You haven’t signed up. We have differ­ ent options for dates. Pick one that works for you. He points to a slip of paper on the message board. On the message board is also a world map from before 1993. Eritrea isn’t on it. ­I show where it is. On the Horn of Africa. By the Red Sea. It 54

isn’t big. There. This is where the boarder runs. Hm, he says. Are you gonna pick a date or what? Which is basically the only thing that happens that week. Still, it is too much. I go to bed. I wake up. I read. The familiar cycle. Without being interrupted. Aside from the fact that people smoke outside the building and the room fills with ciga­ rette smoke when I open the air vent—I close it again. That is how most things can be solved. I go from the desk either to the kitchen or to the bathroom or to the bed. Once, I have a seat in the armchair for variation. I am working on a paper. In the chapter about Islam, it says that there are over a billion Muslims and that they are very different. Some believe in resurrection, others don’t. Some believe in peace, others in war. Obviously written by a non-Muslim. If everything can be Islam, nothing is Islam. What is it they mean should change? A woman in the hallway, I happen upon her once. She and I are on our way out at the same time. Who will open, she or I, she or I, and her arm brushes against

mine. That was thoughtless of me. She said hi. She said and did nothing more than that. Well alright, I leave the paper in the professor’s box. To the university library, refill my store of books, and then home. My parents on the phone. Mostly my mother. How are you? Are you eating properly? If you don’t remember to eat, you can pin up notes as a reminder. How is school going? You don’t spend all your time reading, do you? Go for a walk now and then. You grandfather is sick again. Pray for him. Have you been to the mosque? We are not worrying about you, we trust you. You are responsible. What do you think of your new apartment? Are you happy? That it is messy, beer cans and pizza cartons in the common room. That the walls are thin and that you can hear what is going on and that what is going are things that I don’t want to hear. That is seems as though I have a need for a sharp object and that I don’t have a sharp object—bite my nails, boil the carrots and peel and cut them with the spoon,

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tear open packages with my hands, if it is impossible without I let it be — and that, in the end, I cave and buy a knife. That I find more traces in the apartment of those who have come before me. That it is my turn to be responsible for the kitchen and me that has to touch sticky beer cans and garbage and scrub off dirt stains that have been there for years. The guy on my hall. I meet him now and then. He lives closest to the kitchen, has irregular habits and is the most dif­ ficult to avoid. With him, it is always a shock. We go from, it’s never been this clean before, you can pretty much eat off the floor, that’s a bad idea, to him sponta­ neously telling me about his conquering of woman. Have I ever experienced a period of time when everything was per­ fect? That is what he is experiencing now. Not a single rejection. Not a single night without. They are wearing him out. And it is me he talks to and not one of the others, and it doesn’t seem to trouble him. He is a magnet and the women… they are attracted by his magnetism. They fall like dominos for his come-ons. He ap­

proaches, chats a little, and then the deal is done. He has charisma. And charm. Whatever it is they want, he has it. He describes women collectively in gastro­ nomical terms. They are a smorgasbord and he just helps himself to as much as he wants. An assessment of the woman from last night, her physical attributes on a scale from one to ten, she was not com­ plete, but chick like chick, right? Give me five, man. They woke me up last night when they tumbled into walls. Roaring with laughter. Spilled alcohol that stunk the day after and that I cleaned up. I give him five. I can hear my father say, is he what you are going to turn into, and I argue against it. No, not at all. That does not appeal to me. I think that I don’t live in a tall tower and that I ought to live in a tall tower. A moat with sharks and piranhas and croc­ odiles and electric eels. Have a long stick and push down those who have made their way across and are trying to climb up. Me and them and distance between us. That is how it should be because you

become lesser by being among them. There are also advantages. I don’t have to share a room with noisy animals. The smell is a definite improvement. There is no one who quarrels with me. It is quiet. Previously, me and my brother and my sister lived in a smaller room. So this feels big. And mine. That I preside over. If I place a book on the table, there won’t be complications. I won’t get it thrown at me. I won’t find it later, shredded, under the bed. The university library is closer than it was in Gothenburg. I can get there in half an hour. Searching for Erit­ rea in the library catalogue results in two hundred and fifty-eight hits. I have tons of time to read. And I am left in peace. Relatively in peace.





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CRFN Caroline Ringskog Ferrada-Noli (b. 1980) was born in Simrishamn, a small town in southern Sweden. She has worked as a critic, writing about popular culture 60

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and film, and is currently studying film production at the Dramatic Institute in Stockholm. Nature (2009) is her first novel. She is now at work on a new book, to be published by Natur & Kultur in 2013.


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NATURE Original title: Naturen Genre: Literary fiction Published in 2009 by Atlas Hardcover, 192 pp. Reading material: Swedish novel, short excerpt in English


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SHORTLISTED FOR BORÅS TIDNING’S FIRST NOVEL AWARD The premier award for literary fiction debuts in Sweden; previous winnes include Jonas Hassen Khemiri and Thomas Bannerhed, who won the August Prize for fiction in 2011.


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Praise for ÂťNatureÂŤ:


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[A] wonderful little novel, like a nuclear power plant. Aftonbladet

Disagreeable literary characters are fascinating, especially women: they are still rare in art. Funny and provocative […] Nature by Ringskog Ferrada Noli is something else. There’s a beating heart. A night spent at a shelter in Harlem shows us a hyper sensible truth-teller

Funny and provocative who oscillates between the village elder’s sharp eye for class, gender, ethnicity and the vain catwalker’s mockery of “the other”. […] When I finish novel I immediately want to re66

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read it. Imagery that at first appeared to me far-fetched now seems valid, accurate. It’s beautifully done. That the novel was shortlisted for the Borås first novel award seems selfexplanatory. Arbetet

THE LANGUAGE IN CAROLINE RINGSKOG’S FIRST NOVEL IS TO DIE FOR: HIGH-STRUNG, RAW, POETIC. Raw poetry about an ugly world The language in Caroline Ringskog’s first novel is to die for: high-strung, raw, poetic. Erika moves between big bustling cities; watches and shares her uncensored contempt. The world is full of Crocs [plastic 67

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clogs], rolls of fat, and empty status. Malmö has never been uglier. She’s a misanthrope, more disgusted by what she sees around her than Parisian dandy poets, a flaneur more lost than ever [Hjalmar Söderberg’s] Doktor Glas. But sometimes there is a glimmer of real love. And of grief. Sydsvenskan

I am impressed by the dense, supple, somehow delicious contemporary tone; Ferrada-Noli is a remarkable writer— this, together with the boldness of the voice, is what makes the reading experience. A sense of freshness permeates the work… Dala-Demokraten

At first I think the novel is some kind of unfocused slacker kid’s diary, the story of a lazy and depressive character who drops out of various educational programs and doesn’t quite manage to focus her energies on anything; and stories like 68

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that are extremely hard to write, and rarely very meaningful. But then the text is scaffolded by the language, which is smart and funny and peppered with oneliners and reptile-quick observations that I would kill to have come up with myself. Expressen


Nature is the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time … […] Nature is also one of the saddest books I’ve read. There are little whiffs of Harmony Korine’s Gummo, Alicia Erian when she’s at her very rawest, Nicole Krauss when she’s a bit straightforward. But above all, Caroline Ringskog Ferrada69

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Noli has a strong voice of her own. Hypermodern, but also, reminiscent of old man-talk. Minimalist, precise, and yet one is left feeling that her style is nimble, intuitive, almost sloppy. That’s because this is poetry, every flirtation with slang, or extra word jammed into a proverb, is as exact as the medicine dosage you’d give to a child. Borås Tidning

Caroline Ringskog Ferrada-Noli has a somewhat angular, but shimmering language, full of well-found expressions and metaphors. She writes things like, “The birch trees hang around like skinny young gays in white jeans”, or “the cabs looked like mucus in the night”. Phrases which turn a different and surprising searchlight onto reality; turn it upside down and make it new again. This is a novel that convinces in the details, through atmospheric snapshots and precisely captured descriptions of an inner landscape. Svenska Dagbladet 70

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Journalist Caroline Ringskog Ferrada-Noli’s first work of fiction Nature will be described as a novel for its generation. Or a roman a clef, taking the form of a punch in the face against our time’s romanticized image of the suburbs, of Möllan [a “multicultural” area] in Malmö, of the media socialites in

A PUNCH IN THE FACE AGAINST OUR TIME’S ROMANTICIZED IMAGE OF THE SUBURBS Stockholm, of the AMS [the Swedish unemployment agency] humiliation. Which indeed Ringskog Ferrada-Noli’s book is. But let us leave the heaviness of our moment for a minute and turn to what really hurts and compels in the book: death, romanticism, and the legacy from Freud. […] We encounter an 71

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inner state on the verge of a breakdown, a sketch resembling a painting by Caspar David Friedrich, updated to suit the postmodern alienation of the 21st century, not unlike Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club. Upsala Nya Tidning


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About the Book The narrator, Erica, is a flaneur for the 21st century; like the Parisian dandies, the Meursaults and Roquentins who have come before her, she moves list­ lessly in urban spaces: New York, Paris, Malmö. With a sort of raw poeticity she conveys the details, textures and

sensations of her contemporary mo­ ment and finds it ugly and revolting. But what initially appears as a crystallization, in this character, of our time’s elitism and dreams of bodily perfection, soon proves to be a sort of neurosis, expressed through a refusal to deal with what is most human: weakness. Erica’s decision to leave the city and enter nature marks the breaking of an impasse, and the be­ ginning of a transformative process of an inner landscape, changed forever by the death of a beloved brother. In glowing fragments, Nature chronicles one year’s labor of grieving and the form it takes as self-chosen exclusion.

In angular, shimmering prose, full of surprising images, Ferrada-Noli tells the winding story of a hypersensible, hyper­ modern young woman’s grieving process as the interface between lived experience and an outward relationship; to moder­ nity, womanhood, capitalism. 73


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century, a Meursault or a Roquentin, whose discontents with the culture they’ve absorbed and found pointless manifests as boredom/restlessness, Erica moves listlessly in urban spaces. The narrative offers scenes from New York, Paris, Malmö in which Erica hyper-sensibly registers the details of her contemporary moment: its ugliness and the reflection of this ugliness in people’s bodies. People are either fat, or they are so thin they have started to grow fur, like the anorexic girl she visits in the hospital. There’s an obsession with surface emblematic of the postmodern, yet Erica’s cynical remarks have a depth that marks her off from other recent blasé Nausea, said one reviewer, would have been an apt title

narrators of the glitzy spaces of media, advertising,

for this novel, if it hadn’t already been taken by Sartre. A

banking, where everything begins and ends with a la-

sort of hypermodern feminist update on the existential-

ment about consumerism, and a realization that mon-

ist novel? Except it’s not necessarily feminist; though it

ey can’t buy happiness. Erica aspires to their status in

has a protagonist who is accused of not liking men and

placing herself above, as commentator, but she doesn’t

practices close examination of sex, the body, corporeal-

match it materially. In fact, it turns out, she’s very ex-

ity in a way reminiscent of Charlotte Roche in Wetlands.

posed: she drops out, needs welfare, needs people

The young woman who narrates, Erica, is a flaneur,

but cannot really connect to them. This exposure is the

a rootless observer who sees ugliness and decay every-

heart of the narrative, its source of warmth.

where. Like the Parisian dandies of the turn of the last

What initially appears as a crystallization, in the nar75

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rator, of our time’s elitism and utopian dream of perfec-

turbing. The novel’s fragments stand alone as scenes,

tion and strength, takes on the shape of a sickness. A

but also build upon each other to sketch a forward-

neurosis expressed in a refusal to deal with that which

moving narrative. They have a kind of raw poeticity,

reminds her most of what is human—weakness, non-

an insistence on naked examination, so that the result

perfection, the messiness of lived everyday life and

is writing that one critic described as “microscopic”,

relationships. The decision to “enter nature” and see

“pore-intrusive prose”. Ringskog Ferrada-Noli’s has

what is there functions as an image for the breaking of

been acclaimed for her singular style, which is described

this impasse: the beginning of a transformative proc-

as angular, shimmering, rich in images and smells. It’s

ess of an inner landscape, damaged by the death of her

concrete, lingering in and around the body; but it can

younger brother in a car accident in Scotland.

also suddenly turn to the abstract, to delicious images

Divided into four sections, Nature chronicles one

of beauty and rest. Really, it’s about pushing words to

year’s labor of grieving and the forms that this takes.

the limit of what they can express. Here, this is the final

Erica’s extroverted sorrow, her self-chosen, warped ex-

loss of death, and the promise of living on.

clusion from the community that could potentially make her feel human, as culture/not nature again, is narrated at the point where private meets public, indeed history: a woman’s grieving process as the interface between a lived relational experience and another outward relationship: to modernity, to womanhood, to capitalism. Critics have dubbed it “a novel for its generation” and its tapping-into and hyperbolizing tendencies of our moment is super clever, hilarious but also deeply dis76

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References garnered from reviews of Nature: Stephan Mendel-Enk (THREE MONKEYS) for its poetical examination of loss and grief; Alicia Erian; Nicole Krauss; Chuck Palahniuk.

CRFN’s influences include Michel Houellebecq and Swedish cult writer Stig Larsson. 77

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1. Nature is split. To walk in it. I scratch my legs, not able to get through. The rosehip bushes catching my dress make it all old fashioned. I see a valley exhale. It sinks as if it were someone’s chest. But I’m alone in this landscape, am I not? I think of the sky as a dome: a lid that descends in baby blue with specks of red. ­A refraction. Colours of caramel, crème ­brûlée sometimes. ­ A lowering cheese dome. I feel my stride rushing through my veins. No I don’t. I can’t feel my blood. Who cares what I feel. But I was there, right in a magnificent landscape, walking. There had been a flea market in the valley and teenage boys in orange 10-pack t-shirts were hanging around. They don’t look after their skin the same way city people do. It’s all yours for ten kronor, one of them said. His torso was a V. That’s a good deal, but no thanks, I replied. When I deny the young, male Scanians something, their response is sexual aggression. Football-trained and well-built 20-year-olds. Ten kronor is nothing and I say no just to provoke them. They get excited. The countryside is just like candy; the desexualised feeling after eating it, the sense of having behaved like a child. Go swimming, don’t look in mirrors. Or is it a female thing, to be so self-obliterating and to deny oneself? Cut back on makeup?

*** 78

I might go as far as to say that I hate the countryside. It used to be modern, right? But not anymore. DH Lawrence and Goethe. Who cares about poetry? Really?

2. A Labrador is lying on the floor. I’m scared she might die. Edward and I are looking after the country house. We are alone. I’ve actively declined things. I turned down an invitation. I’m hard on myself and despise my constant need for stimulation; I live close to my mobile phone, all the newspapers, the internet. Every­thing I love is information. Not very sexy, not very Zen. ­ I am like a Western white male. At the first sign of emotion I have a drink. Today has been riddled with animals. A cat, naturally named Tiger, was spewing up grass next to my rustic bed this morning. I went somewhere around 6 pm. We got a ride there, but not back. We climbed electric fences and barbed wire, wheat fields, almost mustardy pastures. Passing below oak trees. A flock of cattle seemed wild as they ran away at the tremor of our steps. Then there were horses. A deer ran across the stalks of sugar beets on the field. The sky was dark and divine. On one side there was a hazardous cage, a node for the electric fence. It would give you shocks and housed some sort of weird power unit. On the other side of the small pathway: thistles and nettles. When we reached the road my legs were slashed by rosehip thorns. We should have filmed it. I’m scared the dog might die. She is fourteen years old and she’s shaking now. A toad greeted us in the hall when we got home. I can’t be bothered; this won’t win me any points. I just

don’t do animals. I have never used them in that way, I don’t play the animal card. Love of animals isn’t highly regarded in my book. Meanwhile, my romantic relationship is a beached whale. Kind and large. I watch it die and it reminds me of something from my childhood. I see it as if on the pages of a children’s book, I just leafed past.

3. You could see the workers in the garden through the windows at Edward’s parents’ estate. Snipping and pulling at a steady pace, as if they were part of some opera: the regular switching on of the machines, the snapping branches and the rhythmic humming of the lawnmower. Oh, well. I went to the back of the house with a pot of Earl Grey and marmalade sandwiches. I set it down on the wicker table. Someone’s idea of Britishness: they drink tea all year round, every afternoon in the UK, but it’s like this, the sun blazing and blinding. I sat rocking in the rose patterned hammock, sipping the tea. My inside as warm was as warm as my outside by now. I turned my head, squinting, and noticed one of the workers. He blocked the sun and I could relax my eyes. I knew him. His name was Tor. He was the one with one and a half arm. He was the one who had done that to the land: cut hundreds of acres of grass to a stubble. Left it almost as if soldiers had passed through, or neurotic golfers. It didn’t matter. I kind of liked him. Once, on one of all those boring and endlessly light summer evenings, when I was sitting in the garden trying to drink alone, he came from a party in the village and, probably after having had quite a bit to drink, admitted that he had once bought Greenlandic whores in Copenhagen. “They get what they want, money, and I get sex, he he.“

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We’ve had a special connection ever since. This time he hadn’t touched the roses. They stayed as they were. Cultivated to perfection, some of them almost meaty, too many petals. The one called Peace is really nice, Tor said and pointed with his naked stump, culminating in a sloppy, blind scar instead of a hand with fingers. Mm, nice. Well, I’m going to need 4 000 for the machine, he said, and cradled his deformity, mimicking what others do when they cross their arms. Sure. It takes days to clean up your garden, he said. And you need the right tools. That’s why it gets so expensive. Ok, fine. But we can handle it from now on. You don’t need to do it anymore. I don’t have the money. And besides, it’s good exercise for us, getting our fingers dirty in the yard. No, I mean, I want to do it, but it’ll be expensive. But I can’t do anything about that. It’s not up to me, you know? The grass doesn’t have to be that short. It’s OK if it grows taller. It’s almost perverse having it that short, don’t you think? His mother had obviously taken that medicine in the 60s, causing his deformity, and it was clear that this person was also on drugs. He wanted the money, fast. It sometimes gets embarrassing when social heritage becomes too obvious. He wore a necklace with pearls and wooden beads, the kind you buy on a beach in Thailand. He used to live in Copenhagen. Now he was unemployed and had, without telling the owners, my hosts, moved into the guesthouse. Heaps of his underwear covered the floor outside the sauna. Someone needed to talk to him about it. Address the

issue. But I don’t think anyone had noticed. The family always stayed in the main building. While he was talking about the money he cuddled with the dog, petting her behind the ear with his stump. As if animals were kinder, as if they didn’t have that selective system and could accept anyone, disabled, handicapped. It’s not true. The Labrador lurched towards me and lay down under the hammock by my feet. I’m teasing! Of course you’ll get the money! But not from me. I don’t have it. And I’m not in charge, you know. Ask Rolf. Or Edward. It’s their place, after all. Tell them you’ve talked to me about it. Thanks! My pleasure.

4. Sleeping with Edward was a little like being raped. Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to. Sometimes we lay in his brass bed in the rococo style apartment on Birger Jarlsgatan in Stockholm. I told him no and smiled. He organized my limbs. Pressed down an arm if he needed to, held onto a leg. He was cleaning up, making the bed with me in it. It was a matter of keeping things in order. If you want to get somewhere in life you have to make some effort. I took the subway on one of those warm red, near death August nights. That time of year the evenings are orange, putrid and saturated, not like the light pink of June. People had let vacation sink in. In Hornstull hoards of couples stood tongue kissing outside the subway. It was hot. Outlines of breasts and the sight of naked bits of too old torsos. We also stood kissing. We stopped in the street. Two days earlier we had

been to the archipelago, at the other country house. We had shared a bed. I had tried to break up with him and talked in a lazy way about our relationship from a queer theory perspective: a permission of friendship, person instead of gender and person instead of boyfriend/girlfriend, that sort of thing. We slept together in the narrow, former bunk bed in the little yellow cabin. The super green pines and the sea just outside. The local social democrats had used the cabin as a sort of portable headquarters in the election campaign back in the 90s. Edward’s parents had bought it from them when the party lost, a kind of right wing joke. Now it was placed on the grounds of the main house: a grand, yellow fin de siècle villa on the waterfront. He held me. Refusing to take off his jeans even as we were about to fall asleep. I could feel his erection. He squeezed my breast, again too hard. I didn’t want to have sex. I could feel his hardness throughout the night. He kept his pants on like one big condom of restraint. We lay there, like two children or siblings in a narrow wooden bed, close together, awake through the light night.

Translated from Swedish by Christine Antaya 79

Peter Handb



Peter Handberg (b. 1956) is a writer and translator. He is the author of two works of literary nonfiction about the Baltic states, and two collections of essays of which the latest, The Disconnected Heaven (Den nedkopplade himlen) was published in 2011 to critical acclaim. Handberg has also been widely praised for his translations to Swedish, particularly his interpretation of Thoreau’s Walden, published in 2010.

”Handberg’s style is impressively confident: reading him is like watching a cat moving across a well-set dinner table. There is not one word not where it should be; there is not one dead period; not a single false note.”

Peter Englund historian, writer and permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, whose intimate history of World War I, The Beauty and the Sorrow, is published by Knopf


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SHADOWS Original title: Skuggor Published: January 2012 Genre: Literary fiction Hardcover: 237 pp. Reading material: Swedish novel


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awards 88

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Samfundet De Nios översättar­ pris 2002, translation award from Samfundet De Nio, ­ a prestigious literary academy Albert Bonniers 100-årsminne 2007, a prize in memory of Albert Bonniers’ centenary 89

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Sorescupriset 2009, awarded by the Romanian Cultural Institute Axel Hirschs pris 2010, awarded by the Swedish Academy Lotten von KrĂŚmers pris 2010, awarded by Samfundet De Nio 90

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About the Book A man sits at his father’s deathbed in a sterile hospital room. The two of them have had a tense relationship to each other, marked by lack and aggression, and faced with the fact that his father’s time has now run out, the son wants to come to terms with his own sense of alienation, of beside-ness. As he begins sorting out his father’s possessions he is invaded by memories, but also by ques­ tions, about why their life turned out the way it did.

Why did his father keep a gun in his apartment? Did he actually threaten his mother at gunpoint, and what was that big invention that kept him pre­ occupied? Was he unable to love his second son? The son now steps into his father’s suit—quite literally—to try to understand what actually happened.

Shadows is a beautifully written novel about loss and the work of grieving, arresting in its insistence on uncovering the truth, or a version of the truth that one could live by. While unearthing the intertwined roots of his and his father’s life, or lack thereof, together, the narrator is also putting himself on the couch, attempting to illuminate his own opaque self with a sort of desperate humor. 91

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Praise for ÂťShadowsÂŤ:


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Peter Handberg’s precise writing and formal elegance continue to surprise, and reach new levels with Shadows. We are familiar with his singular ability to give literary rendition to bare facts, to things as they actually look, from his earlier books about the Berlin Wall and the conditions in the post-Soviet Baltic states. [With Shadows] he takes another step, writing himself into what one might call a moralpsychological genre, home to writers like Jane Austen and Dostoevsky. GÜteborgs-Posten

In prose simple yet beautiful (Handberg is a brilliant stylist) the author renders his childhood years in Blackeberg [a Stockholm suburb] of the Sixties, interspersed with sporadic, undesired visits to his father in a divided Berlin, while reflecting on how behaviors are passed down through generations. Svenska Dagbladet

His is a decoding optic, which zooms in on the details and leaves it to the reader to interpret the image. I like it; and I like the stubborn quality to the descriptions of the mundane. Dagens Nyheter 95

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What makes the novel interesting is … Handberg’s enormous lucidity, combined with the constant moving in time and in space. Every word is polished and balanced in order to push this existential reckoning to its extreme. Smålandsposten

handberg’s enormous lucidity

And thus I am increasingly captivated by a narrative about a son searching for his father; a literary theme as worn out as any, but made new again this time by the fact that Peter Handberg approaches it with his defences down, and with such an unyielding desire to pry and unearth. Kulturnytt P1 (public service radio) 96

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Above all, Peter Handberg’s novel is a desperate, wound-covered story, told with black humor, about the losses and confusions of a middle-aged man grown up with an absent and self-absorbed father. Sydsvenskan

DESPERATE, WOUND COVERED STORY, TOLD WITH BLACK HUMOR “Brilliant novel about a father and his son” Though I have my own investments—my father was in many ways similar to Handberg’s—I venture the objective statement that this is a masterpiece, at once dense and spacious; focused and unpredictable; packed with black humor and melancholy. Few writers write prose like this: matter-of-fact, it can suddenly appear unreliable: it is hands-on and, at times, lyrical. Against the father, the viveur, the son 97

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offers Epictetus, the Stoic sceptic. Who to believe in, in a world that resembles a dress up party? What is original, what is copy, who is fooling who in the game of charades that is living? (…) I … can’t turn away from this superb novel’s most dizzying scene: the writer decides to visit his father’s combined office and workshop space, where he finds—among production plans and circuit cards—that the old man


used to hold fictitious world championships in darts, involving both real and invented nations. 32 teams, a strictly regulated drawing procedure, probably with himself as commentator. Some fifteen pages later, the author repeats his achievement with a self-produced world championship. It’s sublime humor, and sublime literature. Norrköpings Tidningar 98

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A man sits by his father’s death bed, in a sterile hospital room. They haven’t been in touch for years, but faced with the fact that his time is now running out, the son has come to say goodbye.This son is Peter Handberg, a character bearing the author’s name, in this novel about grieving the loss of a father who was never actually there for him to lose. Handberg joins a number of Scandinavi100

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an authors who in the past decade have written

the void which was always there, but has now been

at the intersection of autobiography and novel,

made manifest. Now that the father is gone, there

fictionalizing “true”events and using literary nar-

is a sort of desperate urgency to find out who he

rative to capture moods, sensations, memories for

actually was. To wait until after his death to write

which there are no corresponding life events to be

his story is also, of course, a way for the son to ex-

verified by a diary or old letters. We’ve seen this

ercise power over a laughable figure whose absence

type of autofiction in the work of Sofi Oksanen,

has shaped his entire life.Yet the approach here is

Kerstin Ekman, and more recently in Karl Ove

open, searching: the self-appointed task of trying

Knausgård’s six-part autobiography My Strug-

to fathom his own sense of catastrophe about how

gle.These books have in common a raw emotional

things turned out—the non-existent relationship

energy, a certain visceral quality, as well as a des-

between him and his father, the broken family, the

perate kind of humor, a playfulness built into the

hash smoking brother, his own inability to main-

writing practice of separating out truth from lie

tain romantic relationships—is as much a confron-

and then jumbling them back together again.

tation of his damaged self.

The father dies, and the son is left to take of the

Safely holed up in the apartment, the narrator

practical arrangements. Peter takes up in his fa-

digs and pries through objects, stories and memo-

ther’s apartment, moving among his things, drink-

ries, piecing together the traces he can find of his

ing his whiskey and smoking his cigars. His only

father and their life together.Two objects: a pock-

company is the father’s cat, whom the latter has

et watch and pistol, are given particular attention

asked that he be cremated together with. Soon, he

and work to structure the meditations on time

begins to dress in the father’s tailored suits and

and memory, and of violence both physical and

wear his silk ties and hats, quite literally entering

emotional. 101

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The search for some idea of his father brings him

als; taking trips by taxi to Stockholm’s fanciest

back to his childhood years in Blackeberg, a sub-

restaurants where he feasts on lobster, oysters and

urb north of Stockholm, and the occasional visits

champagne, smokes cigars and seeks out random

to a divided Berlin, where the father worked as

encounters with women. One of them breaks off

an engineer. From very early on, the relationship

what might well be the beginning of a relation-

is jarringly dysfunctional, a sort of inverted Oedi-

ship, saying she cannot be sure of what is Peter

pal drama, where the father blames the son for the

and what is Peter playing the role of his father.

mother’s recoiling from a once happy marriage. So

The cover image, of a man in a suit and hat with a

begins a life-long battle in which father and son

blank void for a face, is not just an illustration but

dance seem fated to perform a claustrophobic

corresponds to the mother’s practice of cutting

choreography, unable to get close and repair what

out her ex husband’s face in all the family photos

was once broken, but unequally able to let go.The

after the divorce.

narrative shifts between the mundane and the ex-

The father emerges a fundamentally contradic-

travagant; the stories from Berlin are filled with

tory figure, a hard-working, rule-loving engineer

fantastical characters (dwarves, prostitutes, a

who is actually ashamed of his long-haired sons;

Nazi hairdresser) and hidden half-illegal joints.

but also something of a madman, constantly at

The story of his childhood and the disintegrat-

work on an invention that he says will revolution-

ing family, told in fragments, are punctuated with

ize our relationship to time.A liar, in other words,

a parallel narrative, which brings us back to the

and a bon viveur known for his extravagant tastes

present and Peter’s life in the weeks following the

in food and drink, a gentleman praised for his

death. Life is a dress-up party; with the cash he

generosity and good humor. He chases and beats

finds around the house, he enacts his father’s ritu-

up his hippie son with a baton, and keeps a gun


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in his apartment which Peter, many years lat-

woods to spread his ashes. But the urn won’t stay

er, finds himself holding to his own head. There’s

on the floor, so he wraps it and sets in on the front

a story that he once threatened his wife with it.

seat next to him, buckles the belt. With typical

She ends up hating him; he finds new women.

dry humor, he muses that this is the only time he

His sons remain alienated from him. At the fu-

and his father have ever ridden a car together. ­Ten

neral, the only people present are these two sons,

years later, he repeats the feat with the cat Viktor.

their mother and this lingering hatred; there are

A story of process, this is the closest Shadows ­gets

no card, no flowers, no condolences. When Peter

to narrative resolution.Yet these surprising imag-

calls to inform his father’s “friends”, there are no

es: of the invention, the urn, the gun, the cremated

real reactions, other than from the man who was

cat, conveyed in carefully layered prose, make this

once his hairdresser in Berlin. Again, the picture

novel lively enough that the narrator’s act of writ-

is like a jigsaw with mismatching pieces: some

ing about what he only later understands to be

remember him as kind, some as a mean bastard.

the work of grief, is itself that resolution.

Mask, semblance, shadow—these figures ripple through the text and turn back upon the narrator himself: he is, in the end, unsure of whether there is anything there at all. Self-definition requires something to define oneself against; but if all that there is are shadows, and shadows of shadows, then does the self become a shadow, too? The finale is moving in its absurdity: Peter, carrying out his father’s last will, drives out to the 103

Jesper Weithz



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Jesper Weithz Jesper is a journalist and graphic designer. He is editor-in-chief of the quarterly Effekt, a journal devoted to climate issues. This is his first work of fiction.


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ALL THAT DOES NOT GROW is dying Original title: Allt som inte växer är döende Genre: Literary suspense Publishing date: October 2012 Hardcover, 220 pp. Reading material: Swedish edited manuscript, English sample translation


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About the Book As though you are standing on a block of ice and hearing the first, crackling sounds of disintegration Henrik and Lotte are a successful couple with a young daughter, Molly. A second baby is on the way. But this time something has gone wrong. Lotte is ill, and the doctors don’t quite know what 114

to do. As the family packs up the house to leave for São Paolo, it is with the hope that the specialist treatment on offer there will finally make everything alright again. A goodbye kiss seals the promise that life is starting over in Brazil in a few days’ time. Henrik just needs to stop by London to take care of some business; Lotte is travelling directly. But then one thing after the other starts to go wrong: cancelled flights, strikes, faint flickers of

menacing news. Divided by thousands of miles of land and water, they seem to be falling freely. Nature is merciless, invading from the inside and the outside simultaneously. And what chance, really, does the artifice of civilization stand against its blind, impersonal rage?






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Henrik and Lotte are a successful couple with a young daughter, Molly. Out in the glittering snow, surrounded by the dark waters of the Stockholm archipelago, stands their modern home. It is all glass and space, a testament to the control they exert over their own situation, two hard working parents with something to protect. Control and discipline, the ethos of capitalism, is also theirs, and as long as they abide by the rules, they seem to be allowed within this harsh order a warm private space where they can nurture their love. But the romantic fantasy of isolation also car117

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ries within it the promise of its own destruction:

to be on edge, always achieving, pushing himself

what, exactly, is being protected here? The truth

toward the next contract, and the next. When

is that Lotte is ill, and that the secret being pro-

Henrik and Lotte kiss each other goodbye, it is

tected is the one of her pregnancy, where some-

because Henrik is making a stop in London on

thing has gone terribly wrong in the process. As

his way to Brazil for a meeting with his younger

the novel begins, the family is packing up their

business partner, Jonatan.There is a contract the

home to leave for a six month stay in São Paolo,

firm needs, in fact, depends on—a big project in

where a particular treatment for her rare disease

Colombo, Sri Lanka. Once the deal has been done,

is on offer.The mood is hopeful, yet the hopeful-

Henrik is supposed to reunite with his wife and

ness is of a cheery, forced kind. Because of what

daughter in São Paolo, where he plans to focus

each in the couple represents to the other, the

wholeheartedly on Lotte’s treatment and creat-

possibility that something may go wrong smoth-

ing the best possible conditions for her recovery.

ers the whole endeavor in a kind of raw despair.

So what is ahead of them is all logistics; car rides;

The wide-eyed vulnerability of the daughter

waiting at the airport, then the long flight across

keeps them going. They have to: for how to ex-

the Atlantic for Lotte and Molly and the detour

plain to her that the baby mommy is carrying

to London for Henrik.

inside isn’t growing with her, in natural symbio-

Yet once the couple has been separated, things

sis, but rather draining her of energy, making her

start to go wrong. What begins with the cancel-

ever more anemic and frail?

lation of a flight because of protesters on the

Henrik is successful, but as a businessman run-

runway, quickly escalates into something much

ning his own company, he is constantly forced



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Lotte is very tired and ill, and she is counting

privileged; he has, Henrik thinks, been “brought

on this last effort of bringing her daughter half-

up to be a warrior”where the battlefield might be

way around the globe, to give her something in

nothing less than the marketplace in which his

return: health for informed choices, the consum-

kind thrive, while others go under.Yet something

er’s prerogative. And so when she hear the news

is off here, too: is the otherwise loyal Jonatan get-

of the cancelled flight, the only thing that seems

ting impatient, planning some kind of interven-

to offer some consolation is to give in to Molly’s

tion? He can’t be certain. What is certain is that

wish that they go home, enter again that safe

something has gotten stuck in the smooth ma-

place. Laboriously, Lotte drives back—out into

chinery that keeps the global marketplace which

nothingness, into their exclusive isolation, and,

is their enabler and, possibly, their destroyer, go-

after narrowly escaping a fatal car crash, turns

ing. Getting a taxi to take him to the airport

the key to the dark and now empty house. Now,

seems impossible: there is a massive, aggressive

Lotte and Molly are alone; they never make it to

strike.The mood is tense, explosive. On the news,

São Paolo.

they say that Bangladesh is now entirely under

Henrik, meanwhile, is busy decoding his busi-

water. Henrik has to fight to get on the plane,

ness associate’s signals. As in the flashbacks of

and finally manages.

Lotte and Henrik’s life together that punctuate

With faint flickers of a looming disaster, the

the parallel narrative, the relationship between

screw is turned: or rather, the carefully depicted

Henrik and his bright young associate is subtly

reality in which we’ve dwelled so far starts to blur

rendered in terms of social class and its impli-

around the edges as the outside bleeds into the

cations. Jonatan has the self-assured air of the

picture.Weithz’ literary technique is one of small 119

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shifts and vague innuendos; a sort of minimal-

ening them in a kind of breathless, feverish fash-

ism which creates the sense of a landslide, of the

ion. Most uncanny of all, perhaps, is the way in

world quite literally going to pieces. Everything

which the idea of man’s mastery of nature—and

is the same, anchored in the reality of Stockholm,

its modern-day avatar, the notion that you cre-

London—and Colombo, where Henrik finally

ate your own destiny—is quietly dismantled on

ends up in order to secure the elusive project, but

multiple levels. Here, nature is invading from the

only after escaping a nerve-wrecking experience

inside and the outside simultaneously: Lotte is

of hijackers boarding the plane.

sick because of the thing that is growing inside

Henrik somehow makes it out of the plane,

her, and their carefully wrought private space in

where Mr Senanayaka has a car ready for him;

the woods, seems upon their return to be brim-

Lotte thinks she is protecting her daughter by

ming with threats from the outside.

taking her home, out of the public eye. What

And what chance, really, does the artifice of

they have in common, of course, is that they are

civilization, the frail body, stand against nature?

both privileged, people who will brandish their

Nature is blind and merciless, as in the blank

economic and cultural capital when the catas-

hard stare of the deer that circle the house. It de-

trophe hits, and so escape being subjected to

mands nothing other than its own existence. Be-

nature.Yet the text seems on some deeper level

yond good and evil, it is of an anarchist order, a

to question even this truth.As the epigraph sug-

meaningless void: the question to which Henrik’s

gests, the ice of modern life, of civilization, is thin.

and Lotte’s love is the answer. And yet why is it

Weithz’ achievement lies in baring the cracks in

invading now? Who is to blame, who can be held

it, and, using the suspense novelist’s tricks, wid-



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All That Does Not Grow is Dying is an existential thriller set against the backdrop of an imploding modernity. Climate change and its potential disasters hover at the edge, but do not take center stage. Rather, the conflict is between anarchy and order; the narrative is one of how quickly the illusion of control breaks down in the face of illness, isolation, and loss.Weithz’ minimalist aesthetic allows for a clever play with the reader’s assumptions and fears. With barely noticeable shifts, reality gives way to something massive and menacing, something just around the corner. Indeed, this short novel induces the sense that we are standing on an ice floe and hearing the first crackling sounds of disintegration.


Jesper on his novel

It’s 2004. A couple of days after Christmas. T They’ve survived a tsunami which has killed a for millions of people around the Indian Oce West is to blame for the flood wave. He says Nobody argues with him. No one interrupts

This scene is not part of my novel. But the te news of what had happened to my parents,

My novel is about other people, and other d the novel was born. In the image of the hous he’d helped two westerners, who in his eyes Sri Lanka. They were his guests, they were h to him. There and then, the traditional balan ever —and at the same time un­familiar and e

Two Swedes sit on the floor inside a poor Sri Lankan home. around 250,000 people and demolished homes and lives ean. The father in the house speaks. They listen. He says the s the curse of the whites has descended upon Sri Lanka. him. Out of politeness? Fear? Out of shock?

ext vibrates with the feeling I had while I was waiting for the two Swedish tourists, who were 50,000 miles away.

dangers. Still, it was in the image of the ageing man that se where he was the master. In the irony of the fact that s where the people who’d brought this destruction upon his executioners, and they had no other choice but to listen nce of power had been voided. The world was the same as extremely frightening.

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Fiction: Nonfiction: Michael Ondaatje (THE CAT’S TABLE) Anna Enquist (DE VERDOVERS) Teju Cole (OPEN CITY)


David von Reybrouck (CONGO: A HISTORY)


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Natur & Kultur Foreign Rights



Nonfiction Elif Batuman (THE POSSESSED)

Barbara Demick (NOTHING TO ENVY) Lydia Cacho (ESCLAVAS DEL PODE) Wael Ghonim (REVOLUTION 2.0) Joshua Foer (MOONWALK WITH EINSTEIN) 127

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Marisha Pessl Nam Le Steinar Bragi Joshua Ferris Daniel Woodrell Slavenka Drakulic Marilyn French Mohsin Hamid Andrey Kurkov Gary Shteyngart Sarah Waters Michal Witkowski David Wroblewski Ian Buruma 131

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* WINNER OF THE AUGUST PRIZE 2011 ** shortlisted for the Nordic Council Literary Award 2012 *** SHORTLISTED FOR THE AUGUST PRIZE 2011


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Lotta Lundberg

Elisabeth Åsbrink


Ola Nilsson


grand agency

grand agency


salomonsson agency

grand agency


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Eva-Marie Liffner





salomonsson agency

nordin agency


stilton agency

stilton agency 135

About Natur & Kultur · Natur & Kultur is a not-for-profit foundation with a mission to “counteract totalitarian ideas and forms of government and foster economic and political freedom” · The trade publishing division puts out around 80 titles a year · Genres: literary fiction, narrative nonfiction (history, politics, cultural history, ­pop ­culture), poetry, ­classics, popular psychology, children and YA, illustrated nonfiction · Natur & Kultur’s literary list is a small but essential part of Natur & Kultur’s identity · We publish around 30 titles of fiction and narrative nonfiction a year, Swedish and translated. The ­fiction and nonfiction list has a strong literary profile We handle foreign rights to our fiction titles, as well as our children’s books, in-house, but work with subagent Trine Licht of Licht & Burr in Copenhagen for all other projects. If you are interested in a Natur & Kultur title which is not a children’s or a fiction title, please get in touch with Trine Licht. She can be reached at

Contact Us Adress: Karlavägen 31, Box 27 323, 102 54 Stockholm, Sweden Tel: +46 (0)8 453 86 00, Fax: +46 (0)8 453 87 90 Richard Herold, Editorial Director Fiction/Nonfiction – Nina Eidem, Editor & Foreign Rights –

Richard Herold

Nina Eidem

Natur & Kultur Foreign rights- Fiction 2012  

Natur & Kultur Foreign rights- Fiction 2012

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