As we delve deeper into the autumn season, Sweden inches closer to its darkest phase. The cold and rainy weather, coupled with the shift to winter time has resulted in shorter days and longer evenings. “Seasonal depression” is a common experience in Sweden, probably affecting us all to some degree. To repel this distressing condition, we must discover ways to embrace the extended darkness and infuse it with some joy. Personally, I find solace in my loyal companion, the bookshelf, where I can transcend into the world of fiction. Reading books also has a lot of great benefits; it expands your vocabulary, increases general knowledge and serves as a great stress reliever. This article will highlight four books that hold top positions on my personal favorite list. I will try to give them the justice they deserve, without spoiling too much of their plots.
RU by Kim Thúy, 2009, 154 pages.
When I first got the idea for this article, this was the first book that entered my mind. In 2010 the author received the General’s Award, which is Canada’s premier literary prize, and I believe that it was fully deserved. The word “ru” holds a wealth of meanings in both French and Vietnamese. In French “ru” means stream or flow of money, tears or blood. In Vietnamese “ru” means cradle or lullaby. The essence of this novel lies within those words. Thúy’s novel, while short yet dense, vividly depicts the struggles of a war refugee. It poignantly portrays the challenges of leaving behind one’s home, culture, and identity, and the complexities of assimilating into a new and foreign country. The incorporation of short anecdotal stories throughout the main plot adds a personal touch, increased by the author’s own experiences. Thúy skillfully balances foreignization and domestication, offering insights into a life and culture far removed from our “western world”, yet making it accessible and relatable. Moreover, the embedded anecdotal stories within the broader story reveal the human side of war, drawing attention to the civilian suffering as a result of geopolitical conflicts, a theme sadly very relevant today.
The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, 1987, 399 pages.
Paul Auster is personally one of my favorite writers, and the New York Trilogy is his most prominent novel. It consists of three shorter novels, “City of glass”, “Ghosts” and “The locked room” and is a postmodern interpretation of detective and mystery fiction. My copy contains an preface by the swedish author Jonas Hassen Khemiri which begins with this quote that I personally believe encapsulates the trilogy perfectly:
“First a warning: There is a risk that this book will drive you crazy. Because the New York Trilogy is no ordinary detective story. It is an inverted detective story. A Lacanian detective story. A quarrelsome detective story that quite soon grows tired of being a detective story and decides to transform your entire world into a codable system”.
Khemiri’s observation is clear, this is no ordinary detective tale. The trilogy’s three parts not only engage you in their individual plots but also provoke questions about their interconnectedness. You’ll find yourself contemplating whether the characters are new or intertwined in ways you hadn’t previously imagined. The enigmatic presence of a character named “Paul Auster” further adds layers to the narrative, prompting you to reflect on the nature of identity and authorship. Numerous theories can be made, the only way to truly grasp the complexity of Auster’s fantastic trilogy is to read it and formulate your own analysis.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005, 319 pages.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” is a psychologically challenging read, characterized by a distinctly dystopian atmosphere. Although it contains several classic dystopian elements, it defies easy classification within the genre. Unlike the iconic dystopian works of Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World, it does not rely on the oppression of a totalitarian government or the protagonists’ struggle for rebellion. Instead, it revolves around the mysteries surrounding the characters’ world and their purpose in life. The story unfolds through the eyes of Kathy, a 31-year-old protagonist whose recollections of her formative years at the secluded Hailsham boarding school begin to uncover the secrets behind its enigmatic “special purpose.” The narrative’s first-person perspective aligns the reader’s discoveries with Kathy’s, intensifying the intrigue and making the book a hard one to put down. What sets this novel apart for me is its pervasive touch of melancholy, spread through the entire plot and rendering themes of love and aspirations both touching and bittersweet. The novel quickly became a bestseller, leading to its movie adaptation that you might have watched. However, I still recommend reading the novel, it is way better.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, 2003, 933 pages.
Where are you supposed to start when describing this book, it is long, heavy and absolutely amazing. Set in 1980s Bombay, India, the novel follows the journey of Lin, a former heroin addict and bank robber who flees an Australian prison using a forged passport, eventually finding himself immersed in Bombay’s criminal underworld. Determined to transform his life, Lin endeavors to aid the citizens of Bombay’s slums by establishing a healthcare clinic. However, his pursuits attract unforeseen complications, setting off a chain of events that leads to his involvement in the Soviet- Afghan war, fighting with the Mujahadeen. Shantaram is a testament to the power of friendship, love, and second chances. Simultaneously, it serves as a commentary on the deeply rooted societal divisions, rampant drug abuse, profound suffering, and unscrupulous manipulation that characterize an economically unequal society. Shantaram skillfully portrays the separation of human nature, mixing the finest and darkest aspects of humanity in an affecting narrative that lingers long after the final page.
And thus concludes my list. It is my hope that these book recommendations will inspire you to delve deeper into the captivating worlds crafted by these exceptional authors. Happy reading! Note: all the books can be found in both Swedish and English.