Skipping Through Several Scandinavian Writers

Lisbeth SalanderI’ve blogged about fiction written by women of color, Hispanic authors, Jewish authors, Irish authors, Canadians, etc. Now it’s time for a look at some works by…Scandinavians.

(Speaking of Canadians, Vancouver-based blogger Rebecca Budd interviewed me again for her great podcast. See the link near the end of this post.)

Anyway…fiction by Scandinavian writers. I won’t revisit Swedish author Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove, because I discussed that wonderful novel last week. Instead I’ll start with the late Stieg Larsson, whose posthumously published Millennium Trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, etc.) is not only ultra-page-turning but has much to say about his native Sweden. That social-democratic country is humanistic in many ways, but is by no means immune from corporate corruption, some problematic government bureaucracy, and other ills that dot Larsson’s books. And the trilogy’s brave, brilliant, beleaguered, abrasive computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (pictured above) is a complex character for the ages.

Another Swedish writer of note is John Ajvide Lindquist, whose eerie Harbour is the one novel of his I’ve read. That book is about a girl who goes missing one winter day, and the mystery behind that is quite absorbing.

Also from Sweden is the late Par Lagerkvist, whose works included the quirky, symbolic, biblically tinged The Death of Ahasuerus. Lagerkvist won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1951.

Turning to Denmark, there’s the late Karen Blixen (pen name Isak Dinesen), who’s best known for the memoir Out of Africa that inspired the Meryl Streep/Robert Redford movie. Dinesen’s short story “Babette’s Feast” spawned another well-known film. Her most prominent fiction work might be Seven Gothic Tales, a collection that includes several memorable short stories.

And there’s of course Hans Christian Andersen, the Dane who did all kinds of fiction writing but is most remembered for his fairy tales and other stories — including “The Little Mermaid,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Red Shoes,” “Thumbelina,” and the heartbreaking “The Little Match Girl.” (Check out his interesting relationship with Charles Dickens.)

From Denmark, too, is Peter Hoeg, whose works include Smilla’s Sense of Snow. That novel — whose protagonist is the daughter of an indigenous Greenlandic mother and Danish physician father — is a detective thriller that also contains plenty of cultural commentary.

Scandinavian writers often put their characters in snowy, wintry settings. I wonder why? 🙂

Norway’s most internationally known wordsmith is probably playwright Henrik Ibsen, who penned Hedda Gabler, A Doll’s House, Peer Gynt, An Enemy of the People, and more.

Obviously, I’ve only read a handful of Scandinavian works, so this is a rather shallow overview that I hope your comments will flesh out. Which writers would you like to mention — whether ones I named or didn’t name?

Here’s the link to the aforementioned podcast: In the just-under-13-minute segment, Rebecca Budd and I discuss libraries, indie publishing, how parents can help get their kids interested in books, the fact that many millennials are avid readers, how literature affects creativity (in areas such as music), and novels that had a major impact on us when we were teens — in my case, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for The latest piece — partly about a controversial police presence at a local Board of Education meeting — is here.

76 thoughts on “Skipping Through Several Scandinavian Writers

  1. I went to the county library a few days ago and not surprisingly couldn’t find either “Swede Hollow,” recommended by demori, and “Palm Beach Finland,” mentioned by Elena. I was able to take out “The Thirst” by Jo Nesbo, which I’m looking forward to reading, because it’s the first book in a long time featuring Harry Hole. Nesbo was writing standalones for a while, none of which I’ve read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kat Lit! Sorry you couldn’t find “Swede Hollow” and “Palm Beach Finland,” but glad you were able to grab “The Thirst.”

      When I make my next library visit in a couple weeks, it will be interesting to see how many Scandinavian titles mentioned in this comments area will (or will not) be there!


      • I don’t know if they were just checked out (I doubt it), but I had run out of steam by finding the Nesbo and three others that were on my list. I’ve graduated from a walker to my cane, but I still have problems with walking, especially while juggling the cane, my purse and hardcover books. It seems quite often that everything I want to look at is on the bottom shelf, or at least a low one, no matter where I go. Thank goodness I’ve got my friend Bill to assist! :)..

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember reading two books from Finnish writers: Memory of Water and Rabbitt Back Literature Society. The books were very interesting, and I often think of how much is lost in translation from the original and how much nuance is actually in the English versions. I enjoyed Memory of Water more than the latter.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks, Dave, for another fun way to group literary works! I repeat my wholehearted recommendation for anything by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård; add The Ice Palace by Norwegian Tarjei Vesaas; and further add an Estonian (close enough, right?) author Andrus Kivirähk The Man Who Spoke Snakish. All three authors are extremely unique, and I can’t praise them enough. Special thanks to Rebecca and Liz for remembering Pippi!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Mary Jo! I love grouping literary works in a logical — or not-so-logical 🙂 — way.

      I appreciate seeing the titles you mentioned — more to add to my list and others’ lists!

      And, yes, Estonia is geographically close enough to be an honorary Scandinavian country. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Dave,

    I will say that I’m not a huge reader of crime or thriller, but I did gobble up the first two Millennium books pretty quickly, and the third is coming up soon on my TBR.

    My only other offering is The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, written by Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. Though the main characters and locations are also Swedish, the book actually jumps around in time and goes all over the world. A very different story from the unputdownable Larsson trilogy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susan! I’m impressed with how many categories “The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” fits into! 🙂

      And, yes, “unputdownable” is the word for Stieg Larsson’s trilogy. The third book is breathtaking.


  5. This is definitely a category where I come up short with reading! However, I wanted to mention there is an excellent Hans Christian Andersen museum in the upper floor of a bookstore in Solvang, California. My husband and I have been through there multiple times, and I never get tired of looking around in there! They have a bunch of early editions of his works, all of them in absolutely beautiful condition and some of them for sale (out of my price range of course haha).

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Naturally I’d like to add some Finnish writers; Elena already mentioned Tuomainen, I enjoyed reading one of his thrillers Little Siberia. Tove Jansson is well worth reading, especially her Summer Book is superb (the Moomin books are also enjoyable for grown-ups). I also really enjoyed The Howling Miller and The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna, very quirky and funny. Another interesting and unusual novel was My Cat Yugoslavia from Pajtim Statovci.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Like Kat Lit, I also enjoyed mystery novels by Maj Sjowall/Per Wahloo and Jo Nesbo. From childhood, some of my favorite books were by Swedish Maj Lindman, who wrote and illustrated two series about triplets (Snipp, Snapp, Snuur and Flicka, Ricka, Dicka).

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I have enjoyed reading Ibsen, Dinesen and Andersen. A friend living in Sweden recently gave me a copy of “Swede Hollow” by Ola Larsmo. It is a powerful immigrant story about the struggles of families who move from Sweden to a small community on the edge of St. Paul MN at the end of the 19th century. I highly recommend it for realistic historical fiction and Swedish literature fans.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, dcmori! Those three “ends with ‘en’ ” writers all did memorable work.

      And I appreciate the “Swede Hollow” recommendation! It sounds really compelling, and is now on my list.


  9. Loved your podcast, Dave!!!

    I can’t add much to this blog. “The Little Match Girl” is the only story I’ve read, and it haunts me still!

    Loved the movie version of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”, but never read his work!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dave, I’m sure I’ve mentioned before about my dad being born in Sweden and my mom’s mother being born somewhere on the shifting border of Sweden and Finland. So imagine my delight when, as a long-time lover of mystery/detective fiction, there was the boom in publishing Scandinavian books about crime. The first one I remember experiencing myself, prior to the increased interest in Nordic crime due to Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, was the series of ten novels by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. The first novel was “Roseanna” published in 1965 and ending with “The Terrorists” in 1975. The main character in all the books was a Swedish police detective, Martin Beck, and it was sometimes grouped as “The Story of a Crime.” It remains today one of my favorite crime series, and not just Scandinavian. Other series that I’ve read most of, at least until I entered my reading drought stage, were from Swedish authors: Camilla Lackberg’s Fjailbacka series (“The Ice Princess”); Asa Larsson’s Rebecka Martinsson series (“Sun Storm”); and Helene Tursten’s Irene Huss series (“Detective Inspector Huss”). The titles in parentheses are the first books published, not necessarily my favorites. I haven’t read many of the books by the well-known author from Sweden, Henning Mankell, who wrote the Kurt Wallender series (“Faceless Killers”), but there was a pretty good standalone, “The Man from Beijing.” From Denmark:comes the Jussi Adler-Olsen series about Department Q (“The Keeper of Lost Causes” and the Sara Blaedel series about Louise Rick (“The Forgotten Girls”). The last series I’ll mention, though I’m probably forgetting some, is from a Norwegian author and one of my favorites, Jo Nesbo, who features Harry Hole as his very flawed detective. The first book in the series is “The Bat,” but my favorite is “The Snowman.”

    Sorry for the lengthy list, as I often seem to do. As for the books you mentioned, I loved the Stieg Larsson original trilogy and “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” by Peter Hoeg. I also read “The Sibyl” by Lagervist but honestly remember nothing about it! .

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Kat Lit! Long is good in this case. 🙂 I’m VERY impressed with all the authors and books you named in your ultra-comprehensive list! Many reading possibilities for me and others who see your comment. (I had remembered you mentioning that you’ve read a lot of Scandinavian crime fiction. You certainly have!)


      • I must admit to having to research this and many of your topics on Wikipedia and other websites about books. I wouldn’t have remembered all of the book titles for those that were the first in a series without such help. Making such lists is a good exercise for my aging brain and memory! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  11. As a writer who is half Swedish (and half German), I root Swedish writers and think there’s here room to mention Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf, a Nobel Prize winner. My Swedish mother (born of immigrants in this country) had planned to do her masters degree focusing on Selma’s work, partly at Upsalla University in Sweden, but she got married instead. About which my three sisters and I are glad. But when writing about Scandinavian authors, don’t forget Lagerlöf.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Bill! I will look for Selma Lagerlöf’s work, which I have never tried. Do you have a novel or two of hers that you like best?

      Sorry your mother didn’t get to study Lagerlöf’s writing, as planned. But, yes, not doing that resulted in you and your three sisters’ existence.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Peter Hoeg started me on a life-long love for Nordic fiction! I’m currently reading “Cage,” by Lilja Sigurdardottir. I’m enjoying it but maybe not overwhelmed by it. I really enjoyed Antti Tuomainen’s “Palm Beach Finland” recently. It’s a dark comedy thriller set on a failing beach resort in Finland.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Elena! It’s so great when one author has a major influence on our future reading choices, as Peter Hoeg did for you!

      I just put “Palm Beach Finland” on my list after seeing your recommendation — and seeing the offbeat title. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  13. I always enjoy our podcast discussions, Dave. We cover a lot of ground in a few minutes – always a whirlwind of discovery. I asked you what books inspired you so now it seems that it is time to tell you the first book(s) that inspired me. And it couldn’t come at a more serendipitous time, for it was the Swedish writer, Astrid Lindgren who changed the way I viewed childhood and influenced my adult life. Pippi Longstocking (Swedish: Pippi Långstrump) had red hair, just like I did, except she wore her’s in pigtails while I had a ponytail. Pippi was indomitable and courageous. She lived alone. Her father was a ship’s captain who was away most of the time. Confident, strong (she could carry a horse and take on sharks) and independently wealthy. She believed that she would always find a way and challenged the status quo with elegant rhetoric. “You understand Teacher, don’t you, that when you have a mother who’s an angel and a father who is a cannibal king, and when you have sailed on the ocean all your whole life, then you don’t know just how to behave in school with all the apples and ibexes.” Astrid Lindgren, Pippi Longstocking. Every time I stop by, I feel like I’m going through a marvelous library. Take care – talk soon.

    Liked by 5 people

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