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.
Read the full transcript of Episode 10: Sweden.
Aifur Restaurant: This is the Viking restaurant we mentioned at the top of the show. Highly recommended for a super-fun night. See the menu and make a reservation on the Aifur web site.
The Vasa Museum: Though not directly related to books, the Vasa Museum is rich with stories and a strong sense of life in Sweden in the 17th-century. Everything you need to visit is on the Vasa Museum web site.
World Happiness Report: Here’s the 2020 version of the World Happiness Report with Sweden at #7.
Swedish music: As promised, here some of the catchiest Swedish pop exports, so you can host a dance party at your place.
IKEA Billy Bookshelf: An IKEA Billy bookshelf is sold somewhere in the world every five seconds.
Midsommar trailer: It is our understanding that Midsommar celebrations are generally more festive and way less murdery than this.
Fabrique Bakery: This is where we enjoyed our first official fika experience in Stockholm. Highly recommended. Visit the Fabrique web site for hours and location.
Icehotel: Now on our wish list: a night at the Icehotel.
Donald Duck Christmas Special: The annual Christmas tradition in Sweden:
Cool online goodies associated with the The Stockholm Octavo: Author Karen Engelmann has put together a walking tour of the locations in her novel, a reading guide, and Mrs. Sparrow’s Guide to the Octavo. Get all the extras on her web site.
The language of hand fans: Hand fans play a significant role in The Stockholm Octavo; here are a bunch of links if you want to fall down the rabbit hole.
Will Dean in Sweden: The author of the Tuva Moodyson series lives in a cabin the Swedish forest with his very St. Bernard Bernie. In this interview, he talks about the settings of his books. And this video gives you a look at the beautiful woods, his writing cabin, and Bernie:
The Codex Gigas, a.k.a., the Devil’s Bible: Blog post coming soon with the whole story, but here’s a sneak peek.
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Top image courtesy of David Becker.
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