Imagination needs inspiration to bloom.


9,3 på Richterskalan by Andreas Norman

It has been ten years since the fatal tsunami struck the cost of Thailand. In ”9,3 på Richterskalan”, Andreas Norman reveals great flaws in utrikesdepartementets, the Ministry of foreign affairs, help efforts. The tone is critical. Norman was a young official in the Ministry's diplomat program 2004, and got his first mission in relation to the catastrophe, without experience and preparation. The officials' telephone numbers were inaccessible during Christmas and Norman was contacted since his name was on a list of people that had been on a previous school class journey.

During his time in Krabi he tries to understand the impossible. Small belongings as bracelets and bus tickets remind him of the fact that these people have recently been alive. The prose is beautiful and colorful, the content dark and horrible. The text transforms into something similar to a movie and one of the most affecting scenes is that when a man comes up and want help with transporting two plastic bags home to Sweden. In the bags are his dead, infant children.

Andreas Norman was in Krabi for a week. He describes a world where people break down from despair and sorrow, and how inadequate he feels. Officials within the Ministry, Räddningsverket and Rädda barnen tried to remain professional and objective. That was easier said then done. Some of them broke and was sent home.

Norman witnessed a Ministry that was waiting, not reacting, in the beginning of the crisis. They opposed proposals about help efforts. The management is mapped out and the result isn't pretty. It's an uncomfortable and unforgettable read. UD is described as a Ministry with a byreaucracy and hierarchy that complicated, delayed and almost prevented its purpose. No one was prepared for the catastrophe, but according to Norman, the Ministry was nearly paralyzed, almost incapable of acting. Lower officials reacted, but the Office culture, with its ideal of self control, prevented early moves.

One has to remember that this is one man's story. One man that was situated in the middle of the catastrophe. On the other hand, this is an important testimony - for the same reason. It is an account of someone that was in the actual place, and was a part of the practical work. This story isn't polished as the Ministry's formal statements, this is the catastrophe, experienced by a help worker.

When Norman went home after a week he wasn't sure about how to return to his normal life. He had changed. It was a strange feeling to disappear into his every day life again. He had got a glimpse of the life of unfortunate people. For them the loss is constantly present, regardless of what day of the year it is. This book isn't letting go of the reader when finished. It stays with you and reminds you of the people that died that day and their relatives.


Giraffens hals - en bildningsroman by Judith Schalansky

In a little village in the former DDR, a German, strict, cynical woman named Inge Lohmark is teaching a class in biology. She views the world in terms of biology. To her, the pupils are different species, whereas some of them have potential and the rest is eventually wiped out by the relentless, natural selection. Their genes, that is. The title refers to evolution and survival of the fittest. The longer the neck of the giraff, the greater possibility of reaching the leaves of the trees and surviving. 

Evolution is, according to the narrator, based on competition, which is of great importance, both to the main character and the pupils, but also to the ideology that has begun to grow in the German society. It's ironic that the strict Inge Lohmark - who despises the modern teachers, which, according to her, lack authority - herself symbolizes a species on the way to extinction. What does that kind of society do to the people? What do an ideology based on elitism lead to?

This is no easy book. It is comical, occasionally, but not easy. It has a serious tone, with rather dark elements when it comes to the mother - daughter relationship. The book also contains a lot of the educational fragments that the title promises. The teacher's view of life represents an interesting perspective of philosophy. The content is philosophical but the prose is objective in style, with short sentences. There's not much of a dialogue, and even though it would have been preferable, the educational monologue is interesting.

Lohmark is living in her own bubble, occupied with her biological views and unaware of what happens in her surroundings. Her knowledge somehow makes her blind when it comes to relationships. Schalansky makes everyday life connected to evolution. It's an fascinating perspective that will surely lead to interesting conversations.


The Wall by Marlen Haushofer

In "The Wall", Die Wand, a woman in Austria is isolated from the rest of the world. An invisible wall has materialized during the night and everyone on the other side is dead.

The novel, first published 1963 in Austria and now translated again into Swedish, is a picture of the psyche of mankind. Bigger than the fight against famine, is the fight against depression. Haushofer explore loneliness in all its forms. Eventually, the woman learns to accept it as a form of solitude. Her name is never revealed, since it's irrelevant. A name is only necessary when talking about someone, and no one is going to talk about her. She is the only human being. A dog, a cat and a cow become her only consolation, her reason for living. They live in a mutual dependence, and form a community, a we, that seldom is described in literature.

The woman's life is a daily struggle, and there is no chapter divisions to enable the reader's breath. As much as her exterior is changing due to the hard work, her inner self is also going through a change. Her earlier every-day life seems shallow and meaningless, a slavery of capitalism. A civilization critique is a constant theme, and the human population is seen as a destructive force. Haushofer was borne in Austria in 1920, and studied in Vienna during the war. The lack of confidence when it comes to civilisation and the thought of the world as fragile can be explained through her witness of a downfall of a society. She very cleverly describes the unfathomable, surrealistic situation. The inner and outer world is melting together and raises the question whether the wall really exists in a physical form or as an opportunity for the woman's personal development. Perhaps it is a barrier between a life of illusions and imitations and a life, unique and existential, beyond the every-day life that is our existence.

The Wall is a novel of great proportions about existential values. Never has the woman felt så important and unimportant at the same time. Important for the animals to survive, and unimportant for the force of nature. The heavy, melancholy realization about her indifference when it comes to nature is oozing from the pages. On the other hand she sees herself as having become a more clear-sighted person. The philosophical prose is arising the question about relative freedom. We think we are free in the modern society, but the woman is starting to question the world of conventions. What is freedom and who are we when we are no longer formed by the norms of society?


The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg

"Utvandrarna", "The Emigrants", was published 1949 and is the first in a tetralogy about the Swedish emigrants during the 1800's. The conditions for the Swedish people back then were terrible, especially for the farmers. The ground was rocky and dry, nothing grew. The possibilities were very limited in the country-side. The men ended up with the same kind of work as their parents, often taking over their work on the farm, or becoming a farm boy somewhere else. The women were married to other farmers. Everyone fought against poverty and famine.

Karl Oskar and Kristina are fed up with their life in Småland and decide to embark on a small ship to Amerika, the mystical country where everything seems to be possible, and where there are no priests that decide what is right and wrong and you address everyone the same. Their opinions are without criticism. Amerika seems to be the perfekt place. The emigrants from Småland - Karl Oskar and Kristina, the young and curious Robert, the mistreated Arvid, the prostitute Ulrika and the religious Daniel, the latter belonging to "åkianerna", a group of a kind of puritanism - embark on the ship to Amerika. The crowded journey becomes a great challenge. It's interesting to be able to see the world from their perspective, their reflections of life and theories about the sea.

This is a glimpse of Swedish history. Many people have fought like these people for survival in a country with limited opportunities. The change Sweden has gone through in a hundred years is mind-blowing. When reading about priest's house calls examinations and the way farmers treated their workers, it's difficult to realize it's the same country as today. The hunger and poverty were wide-spread in the countryside. Everyone should think about and thank our ancestors for fighting so hard, it's through them we are living today.


När man skjuter arbetare by Kerstin Thorvall

”När man skjuter arbetare”, When workers are being shot, is based on the lives of Kerstin Thorvall's mother. In 1920's, Hilma, a young teacher from the north of Sweden meets Sigfrid, a charismatic, charming schoolmaster. She falls in love with this vivid character with his strange manner completely foreign to people from Norrland. Eventually, Hilma realizes that their different status and origin doesn't entirely explain his behavior. No one tells Hilma that Sigfrid is in fact bipolar and their wedding night is a catastrophe without proportions.

The story is dripping with injustice and prejudices. There was a horrible lack of acceptance of people being or thinking outside of the norms and bipolar persons didn't get a proper treatment for their condition and weren't allowed to marry and have children. Hence, the responsibility fell upon the two victims of the story. To make the marriage work.

The prejudiced middle class and the relentless, envious ”jante”-law - that still lingers on today, despite Sweden being one of the richest countries in the world - within the working class made it difficult for the main characters. Gossip seems to have been the main way of entertainment during coffee breaks. Religion was eminent and there seems to have been a kind of puritanism stronghold in the north. This is an interesting time since nowadays Sweden is a secularized country.

The Swedish welfare had yet to arrive. The feudal society and people with socialist sympathies, like Sigfrid, had difficulties to introduce their ideology. The title of the novel refers to workers that were shot during a demonstration in connection with a strike in 1931 - a tragic event later referred to as "Ådalen 31". Several people were killed.

"När man skjuter arbetare" is a one of a kind history lesson about the destinies of ordinary people in a country very different from today that needs to be remembered.


Vi ses i morgon by Tore Renberg

Tore Renberg's latest novel, now translated to Swedish, portrays people that stand alone. People that feel they are not part of the society, that there's no place for them. The book shows how it is to be at the bottom of Stavanger in Norway - the most wealthy city in the world, according to the author.

Most of the characters are destructive and on their way somewhere, but the destination is not clear. Among the characters is a criminal gang that view themselves as moral, a young rebel dating a religious girl, a loving father that desperately needs money. The characters meet in different way, and define each other - a complement to the third-person perspective.

Tore Renberg is a talented, established Norwegian author, "Vi ses i morgon" being the twenty-first book, published last year, but only now translated to Swedish. The language is rather expressive, but often harsh, including swearwords, and therefor it might not be a book for sensitive people. At the bottom of it, the novel is about who we are, and why.

Renberg paints a very tragic picture of society. Everyone hasn't got the same chance, not even in the most wealthy city in the world - something that is ironically repeated through the book. Most of the characters don't see a glimpse of the comfortable every-day life of the middle class and capitalism, that the town presumably is associated with. The characters unhappiness is growing. They feel they have to take matters in their own hands. They all have dreams.


The Vampyre by John William Polidori

"The Vampyre",  published 1819, is considered the first vampyre story in English literature and the one turning the vampyre folklore into the classic tale, the mythical vampyre into the aristocratic, cultivated, intellectual and seductive creature. A young man, Aubrey, becomes fascinated with the mysterious Lord Ruthven that has entered London society. They travel to Rome, but Aubrey leaves Lord Ruthven due to certain circumstances. The next time they met, Aubrey's view of him would change irrevocable.

In this short story, the vampyre isn't charming as in later stories. He's egoistical, sadistic, ruthless and without empathy. He doesn't want to be a nice person. He wants to use people for his benefit. He is very generous when giving to people, with the seemingly good purpose of charity, but only to people that will use his money to end up in an even worse situation.

A great issue for Aubrey is whether to keep his word or save the one he cares about - which can seem absurd since most people would break their promises to save their loved ones. A word isn't always that much worth today. Back then, giving someone your word was probably something highly valued and irreversible.

There is not so much character development, as in many short stories, but the main characters are very interesting. Despite an almost non-existent dialogue the prose isn't heavy at all. The story is thrilling and Aubrey's anxiety and fear are felt by the reader.

This short story is immensely influential. It began in the early 1800's when the author elite - Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley, and Claire Clairmont - came together at the Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Among these authors were Byron's physician, John William Polidori. They decided to write a horror-story. This is a historical moment. Lord Byron and Percy Shelley discarded their stories, perhaps because they thought nothing could compare to poetry. Mary Shelley wrote "Frankenstein" and Polidori used Byron's discarded attempt and wrote "The vampyre". Thus, this story is a work by both of them, and furthermore, the characters Lord Ruthven and Aubrey are based on Lord Byron and Polidori. Neither of them wanted it to be published, but nevertheless, it was.

It's impossible to describe the impact these people had and still have on authors and readers. What did they talk about? What fascinated them? These works of literature are only a small part, a tiny glimpse, of their strong imagination.