Sweden in Books, Plays and Movies

Sweden Scene by Malin Goteman
Sweden Scene by Malin Goteman

Destination: Sweden

Movies: Ingmar Bergman

Plays: August Strindberg

Books: My Life as a Dog, Reidar Jonsson, Hash by Torgny Lindgren, Blackwater by Kerstin Ekma

Long ago, I loved to go to art film houses and watch Ingmar Bergman films. It was in my highly emotional, love to be sad and swoony stage.  Ingmar Bergman was a genius and broke new ground in movies, but despite some beautiful scenes, his work was undeniably gloomy overall.  So my first picture of Sweden was of a place where well-to-do people lived sad lives where no one spoke to each other much and no one could be trusted. In fact, although circumspect in public behavior, Swedes have a lot of fun. I learned this in a visit to a more humble country house than those filmed by Ingmar in films like Wild Strawberries.

At the same time that I was watching nouveau cinema I was reading a lot of plays for theater classes, and made the acquaintance of  August Strindberg, who also took life very seriously, to say the least. He struck out in new directions, and his play Miss Julie stoked the fires of feminism in my impressionable youth. When I visited Stockholm, I visited the Strindberg Museum in a spare apartment in downtown Stockholm. He led a chaotic life, took some surprising photographs and broke new ground in literature. I was somewhat surprised to find that the Swedish people I knew thought highly of him, since he was so iconoclastic, and civic life in Sweden, although cheerful, seems restrained by behavioral rules.

R. Todd Felton who writes about travel and books,  replied in response to my request for suggestions for books for 10 Places. Earlier we had suggestions for travel literature  on Scotland from Alasidair Pettinger and books for Vietnam suggested by Andrea Ross and more books for Vietnam suggested by Travelers’ Bro.

Felton suggests three books to add to the traveler’s library for Sweden.

“Sweden has some great literature in translation. I have a lot of family in Sweden and they set me up with wonderful books.

  • My Life as a Dog, Reidar Jonsson’s equally funny and sad novel of a child growing up in Sweden.
  • Hash, Torgny Lindgren’s touching story of two men searching for the perfect dish of Swedish hash in post WWII Sweden.
  • Blackwater, by Kerstin Ekma – a great murder mystery in the north of Sweden. Some scary stuff.”

Thanks, Todd.  I have had My Life as a Dog on my list, both as a book to read and as a movie to see. You have pushed me closer to actually following through.  And I always love good mystery books to establish a sense of place. Although I still like Bergman and Strindberg, perhaps I should read something a bit more current.

How about all of you?  Your turn to join the discussion, make recommendations, or argue with our ideas for books, plays and movies for the traveler to Sweden.

Photograph by Malin Göteman, from the Flicker Stream of Sweden.se. Click on the photo to see their other photos

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

4 thoughts on “Sweden in Books, Plays and Movies

  1. For a different genre, those familiar with southern Sweden or Skane might enjoy Henning Mankell’s detective mystery series. You will find lots of description of the countryside as well as a main character whom you care about to make these books a good read.
    Of note PBS is currently running these stories on their mystery series.

  2. Re: Stindberg –besides visiting the Stockholm apartment museum, visitors would enjoy a boat trip to islands where he collected story material. These are the skerries, “Sweden’s Archipelago.” On one of the islands is one of his old haunts, now called the Strindberg Cafe. Folks still talk of his affair with a servant girl here. His story collection The People of Hemso is an insightful literary guide. You might also find an old or updated copy of Scandinavian Short Stories (Senate, 1955) , which includes work ranging from those of Stindberg to Hans Christian Andersen, giving many visions of life in the North. Note on Bergamn–The A few years ago in Sweden I heard young film studio artists complain that Bergman and company was still siphoning off most of the government film grants. The radical young genius was now old and keeping the next or next-next generation of filmakers from getting their work financed. Govt. money had gone to establishing scatter studios around the countryside, but not much was getting produced because the locals lacked skill and/or production money. That was the story anyway, suggesting having central bureaucrats control the arts is always a bad idea.

  3. I might also add Bille August’s 1996 movie, Jerusalem. I have to admit that I haven’t seen it, but it was filmed in the tiny village where my relatives are from.

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