Imagination needs inspiration to bloom.


Kungar av Island by Einar Már Gudmundsson

Einar Már Gudmundsson tells a story about the history of the Knudsen family in the fictitious city of Tangavik in Iceland. A family that made a mark, because of business, politics or criminality. The story begins with Arnfinnur Knudsen, the man with the biggest hair in the country, living in the biggest house, according to the author.

Gudmundsson paints a humorous, colorful picture of Iceland and its people, especially the self-appointed kings that ruled Tangavik. The Knudsen family is going back two hundred years. They have built empires and been politically involved. But they also have their flaws, sometimes dysfunctional and dangerous. Arnfinnur was a teacher, a seaman, a guittarist and an expert of explosives. He falsified letters and tried to blow up the school. But he was also loyal to his pupils, helping them when they needed it.

Even if the Knudsen family is fictitious, the book is in many ways a criticism of society and how it was run, and hopefully there is some fragments of truth in it. The prose has a tone of sarcasm, and the power of these so called kings, their unbelievable deeds, frauds constant fights and drinking are entertaining for a while, but eventually they feel repetitive and eventually, the surrealistic touch runs the risk of losing its charm. The book contains many people and it's difficult to tell them apart and really get to know them. But, perhaps it's the author's intention to keep it mysterious and mythical. Perhaps he is inspired by the old, Icelandic sagas. Iceland has a tradition of stories and Gudmundsson names several of old authors and poets. A persistent reader, who manage to keep the characters and happenings apart, gets an exciting image of a special place.


Ali, the cairene merchant by unknown author

Ali, the cairene merchant is belonging to the epic One thousand and one night stories that were collected for several hundred years in the middle ages.

This is a tale involving treasures and destinies. When the young Ali has wasted away his inheritance, he leaves his family in a safe place and embarks on a quest. Eventually, courage earns him not only one but two fortunes. Naturally, there's a king and a princess thrown in there, as well. Rather entertaining.

Theses stories give insight into the eastern culture in the middle ages. Even though most of it is fiction, the culture back then probably influenced the tales. It's interesting to discover fragments of how these countries looked like and functioned. The society seems to have been very harsh and unfair, especially towards women and slaves. They were often treated worse than animals. Another matter worth mentioning is the rich culture back then, which is fascinating since it consisted of many fragments that originated before the time of Islam, such as magic and mythical creatures.


Abu Muhammed the Sluggard by unknown author

One thousand and one night is a collection of Asian stories and folktales from around the middle ages, collected over several centuries. The initial story that serves as introduction to the tales is about a Persian ruler, Shahryar. After being betrayed by his wife and thinking all women are bad, he takes a new wife every day and executes her the morning after. Then, he marries Scheherazade, who tells stories for 1001 nights, leaving him in suspense every morning so he will keep her alive to the next night. After 1001 nights, he has regained his trust in women and lets Scheherazade live.

Abu Muhammed the Sluggard is one of the One thousand and one night stories. The character Abu Muhammed has a great adventure, involving a voyage, a monkey, and supernatural creatures like jinn and marids.

The story is entertaining, but it's short, and it would have been nice to read more about the characters and what is on their mind. The story has a moral message, and the purpose is not evolved characters, but it's difficult to imagine a character that loves someone, and in the next second, threatens to murder the same person. 

The injustice is immense. Even though it is written so long ago, during a certain culture, it's still irritating that no one seems to care about the slaves or the fate of the women. They are treated as if they have no human value, given away as merchandise or rewards.


Doktor Nasser har ingen bil: Kairo i omvälvningens tid by Tina Thunander

The journalist Tina Thunander's latest book is about the revolution in Egypt, and its influence on the people. Thunander studies Arabic in Cairo, and her private teacher, Nasser, is a doctor but teaches Arabic to earn extra money. Nasser comes from simple circumstances in the countryside, and thinks highly of the Society of Muslim Brothers. But, eventually, he begins to doubt his conviction, and to think there are other solutions.

The image of Cairo is emerging through meetings with many people belonging to different class, with different opinions and dreams. When president Hosni Mubarak resigned, in 2011, the people were acquainted with freedom of speech, and politics and religion's part in society were discussed in public places. The concept of freedom and democracy are important and complex themes in the book.

Just as in her book "Att resa I Sharialand - Ett reportage om kvinnors liv i Saudiarabien", about women in Saudi Arabia, Thunander meets many different people, from the top of the class pyramid, the Tahrir square, poor villages in the countryside and extreme poor suburbs, where people literally live on garbage. They all have voices, and the reader gets a clear picture of people's conditions. Unfortunately, it's repetitive at times, especially Thunander's many visits to the same hospital or the same practice. Perhaps it's a way of really show the reader to the atmosphere, but it's somewhat exhaustive.

The book is about change. It's also about a city with immense injustice. The concept wasta, a person's social network, is the most difficult barrier to pass. Wasta confines people in the class they were born. Nasser wants to give his patients an impression of a successful and trustworthy doctor, and is bothered by not affording a car. His struggle to earn enough money for his family each month and the injustice he witness lead to a heartbreaking comment: ”Now you understand why I need a God”.


The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

"The Luminaries" is a world of history with a magical atmosphere and timeless human destinies. The novel is taking place during the gold rush in New Zealand, where no one is flawless and nothing is as it seems. The character Walter Moody is coming to Hokitika, a town on the west cost, in 1866 to dig for gold. In the hotel he meets twelve men from different levels of society without, apparently, too much in common. He thinks the men are there for a reason, and are very aware of his presence, because they seem to try a little too hard to not react and notice him when he enters the door. Details such as a man reading a book, but never turning the pages, is creating a suspicious and strange atmosphere.

Eleanor Catton was born in 1985 i Canada, but the family moved to New Zealand. She earned the Man Booker Prize for the book in 2013, with two records - she is the youngest prizewinner, with the thickest book.

"The Luminaries" is about som incidents - a man, found dead in his home with a fortune, the disappearance of a rich man, and a prostitute, almost killed by too much opium. Letters to unknown relatives, dresses with gold and other secrets are telling a complicated story. In a small society, no one is left unaffected by these events, and suspicion is growing.

The book is reminding of Agatha Christie's locked room-style, where the guilty is among a number of people, all known to the reader. There are twenty characters with different professions such as politician, opium dealer, journalist, priest, goldsmith, pimp and prostitute. They all contribute with pieces to the puzzle, but the characters are complex. Different sides of their personalities are shown, constantly, depending on the first person narrative. Catton's world is hard and the characters are flawed as a result. There are many psychological factors and destinies, as timeless as convincing. Thus, the book is so much more than a mystery and an investigation.

To show characteristics from different perspective is an interesting style, to make the story evolve. Catton is using different time periods to reveal clues, and intertwines people and events perfectly. She uses time for the dramaturgy in an impressive way. The reader has to keep up when the characters secrets are hinted at and the story unfolds. The key is what the secrets might imply.

The novel is carefully crafted, and Catton's master degree in creative writing is not surprising, at all. She has a unique style and frames the story in a unique way, beginning every chapter with the characters zodiac signs and connection to the planets of the solar system, something that obviously reveals parts of the characters personalities if you are competent in astrology. To place the story in history is giving the book yet another dimension, considering prose and expressions, something Catton is a master of. Catton manages the historical technique and tone. The book resembles a 1800's novel on a wast series of levels. However, the difference is that novels back then had morals and she doesn't moralize. She is objective to everything from corruption to prostitution. 

However, the book demands something from the reader. To be able to get the broad spectrum of the story, a concentrated, attentive and active reader is needed. There are many characters and time periods to remember. It's more than 1100 pages. Nevertheless, it doesn't feel heavy.

What's interesting is that despite it taking place in the 1800's, the themes about human destinies like loneliness, abuse and the fact that we are products of our surroundings are timeless. The result is a special reading experience.


The stranger beside me: Ted Bundy, the shocking inside story

Ann Rule, a former police officer and author for the magazine True Detective, worked with a case of serial murders in the 1970's. Eventually, something made her remember her colleague at the Seattle Crisis Clinique. Was it possible that a man she had known for several years - and worked with at a place where humanity and empathy are essential - could be something else than a sweet, modest man?

This is the story of Ted Bundy, who murdered approximately 30-100 people in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado and Florida. The reason can only be speculated on. His childhood was peculiar and probably left a mark. Later, the break-up with his girlfriend humiliated him and might have revealed his vulnerable self and building rage. All the victims were women, and resembled her. Disappearing day and night, in a park or on university campuses, kidnapped or murdered in their beds at home, they had all brown, long hair, parted in the middle.

The book, first published in 1980, is about these truly horrible and incomprehensible events, and written by a friend of the murderer. This is the revised 20th anniversary edition, with the added afterword about the aftermath and an interesting reflexion about additional murders that fit the profile and might, according to Ann Rule, be commited by Bundy. He was on a killing rampage in the 70's, but some experts, Rule included, think that his first murder happened during his teenage years in 1961, when an eight-year-old girl disappeared in his neighborhood.

Like many biograhies, the main reason is to tell a true story, and the writing is rather ordinary. The flaw is merely the somewhat repetetive passages and the sometimes over detailed descriptions, such as the rambling of names of the police officers, judges, jurors and endless attorneys, and what clothes everyone wore. None of this is interesting and it doesn't contribute to the story. Of course, some of the names should be mentioned, but not all of them. It only slows it down. Another thing that makes it feel drawn-out is the several chapters following the epiloge. Even though they tell some interesting facts they drag on for a long time and slows down the pace. However, the story, as many true stories, stands for itself, and especially the psychological aspect of the novel makes it interesting.

Ann Rule had always liked her friend, and, at first, had a difficult time believing he was guilty. It was interesting to finally meet the real Ted Bundy, the grandiose and not so modest man. At some point during the trials, he was beginning to show his true self, the unpredictable, hostile person that he had been trying to hide. Being in a delicate situation and needing all the help he could get, he decided to fire one attorney after another, thinking he would do better by himself - in total, he had fourteen attorneys. Suddenly, he was both defendent, defence attorney and witness at the same time. But the attorneys came in handy when the death sentence was signed. What's most surprising, he survived three death sentences.

Bundy was very intelligent and knew how to claim his rights. He demanded certain benefits in prison and his manipulation granted him the kind of freedom he needed to escape – twice. It's almost comical. Another thing outrageous and really tragic is the investigators destructive ability. They kept damaging the case by destroying evidence. The mold of Bundy's teeth was destroyed during preservation, and the remains of two of the victims were cremated by mistake.

As much as this book is a psychological thriller, it is also a portrayal of a man with profound darkness, and his difficulty to control it. It's about the core of a murderer, the human part of a psychopath and the broken part of a human. Not being able to feel emphathy and guilt makes it easier to commit a crime. A hate of women so profound that it's impossible to even try to imagine it is clearly a factor that fueled his antisocial personality. All together, what was needed for him to be able to commit these crimes was manipulation, a quality he was in possession of. As Rule puts it, people with antisocial personality are charming and able to manipulate the other sex. Even when Bundy was convicted of all these murders, there were still young women in his life, believing he was innocent and doing everything for him.

This book, one among many, tells us that we should listen to our sudden unexplainable hesitation or instinct, however ridiculous. When meeting this kind of man, the warning signs are subtle and easy to overlook. In some of the cases, the women who survived said they had felt a moment of doubt, or just an uneasy feeling, but ignored it. In a sorority house, where two women were murdered, some of the other tenants felt an unexplained panic creep up on them that night when walking in the hallway, which made them lock themselves in their rooms. That probably saved their lives.

Finally, the book is about a woman's doubt and want to believe in a friend's innocence, despite the signs indicating otherwise, and eventually realizing that he is a stranger. That awakes the question. Do we really know the people among us?