As of April 2020, Sweden is the seventh-happiest country in the world. And it’s no wonder! Its residents enjoy one of the highest standards of living on the planet with low unemployment, one of the world’s longest life expectancies (80.6 for men; 84.1 for women), a commitment to caring for the environment, and a strong sense of community. Ninety-one percent of Swedes agreed that they ‘know someone they could rely on in a time of need.’
Plus, there’s ABBA.
Which is all very sweet and life-affirming. But also raises the question: Why are Swedish novels so murdery?!
The answer to the riddle lies in the question itself. Sweden — and, really, all of Scandinavia — is a happy, outdoorsy place. (More than 50% of the country is covered in forest, and there are 100,000 lakes.) There’s a commitment to tradition, including robust celebrations of both the dark of Christmas and the light of Midsommar. The population is well-educated, friendly, content, and always down to eat a cardamom bun while taking a minute to talk about life.
So when violence strikes a community — whether it’s in the capital city of Stockholm or a fishing village along the coast — it’s shocking because it happened in this near-utopian version of the world.
The contrast between the before (idyllic, bathed in golden sunshine or pure, white snow) and the after (dark, bleak, and icy) is impossible to resist — at least on the page.
In this episode, we discuss everything that makes Sweden one of the happiest and most liberal places on Earth. Then we share the books that transported us there: a historical novel steeped in royal intrigue, a coming-of-age story rich with atmosphere (and food), and examples of excellent Scandi noir, including a classic of the genre set on a bleak island, a twisty whodunnit in an isolated village, and a missing-persons case set in the forest during Midsommar.
For a complete roundup of all the books we recommend, plus a full transcript and the other cool stuff we talked about, visit the Episode 10 show notes.
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