cover image Son of Svea: A Tale of the People’s Home

Son of Svea: A Tale of the People’s Home

Lena Andersson, trans. from the Swedish by Sarah Death. Other Press, $16.99 trad

Andersson (Willful Disregard) offers the illuminating if rather niche story of a retired cabinetmaker. Ragnar Johansson is born in 1932, “year zero in Swedish history, the year Social Democracy came to power,” and the arc of his life leading to his living in the 21st-century ex-utopian “purpose built” suburb of Paradise parallels the seismic cultural and political shifts that took place in the country during his lifetime. At 34, after he marries Elisabet Berg (the “queen of the cocktail party”), Ragner becomes a woodworking teacher, accepts a “life without aspiration,” and encourages his new family to conform with the modern world, in contrast with the traditional values instilled in him by his mother. He eventually places the onus on falling in line on their children, Erik and Elsa, forcing Elsa to take up “no frills” cross-country skiing rather than ballet. Ragnar develops an appreciation for instant foods, the “servant of mankind and the liberation of women.” Elisabet, on the other hand, warns, “you could not manipulate nature without it fighting back.” As Ragnar and Elisabet deal with marital difficulties, Sweden’s utopian politics end with the 1986 assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme. The prose can feel a bit stilted, though Andersson has a sure hand in calibrating the account of Ragnar’s life to match the contours of the changes that sweep his country. This covers a lot of cultural and historical ground, but one really has to be into the recent history of Sweden to fully appreciate it. (Jan.)