In recent times, we have come to favor all things Scandinavian—their food, furnishings, fiction, fashion, and general way of life. We seem to regard the Swedes and their neighbors as altogether more sophisticated, admirable, and evolved than us. But what if Sweden has in fact never been as moderate, egalitarian, dignified, or tolerant as it would like to (have us) think?
The recent rise to political prominence of an openly neo-Nazi party has begun to crack the illusion, and here now is Swede Elisabeth Åsbrink, who loves her country “but not blindly,” presenting twenty-five of her nation’s key words and icons afresh. “There is,” she writes, “a dark side to Utopia.” As she did in her acclaimed 1947, she creates a collage that helps us not only see a more complex and problematic society, but also illustrates how national identity is constructed as much by what (or who) is excluded as what (or who) is included.
“Challenging and stimulating on Swedish words…In common with Orwell she condemns chauvinism, but leaves room for patriotism, as love for a specific place, or language, matters as such one would not want to force upon others.”
View all reviews
“Åsbrink as ever writes with clarity, sometimes incisive and poignant, and always with a great curiosity…The chapter on what the Swedes knew or did not know of the Holocaust is one of the most eloquent literary executions of Jan Guillou that has ever been written, this on his quite recent assertion that the Swedes did not hear of the genocide until after 1945.”
“Åsbrink’s book is a singular achievement. It reveals more about the Swedes than it does Sweden. More on values, more on language and the world of ideas than on dates, or regencies and their length. The line of thought is unrestrained, leaping between different eras as it stumbles across parallels, the broad strokes of narrative freely punctuated with anachronism and digression, and as a work of reference for those of us who mostly spent our history lessons looking out of the classroom window, it is unbeatable.”
“I hope Made in Sweden becomes a widely read book.”
“This quirky inventory of Swedish values explores the shades of grey behind the branding of Sweden as the shiny home of ABBA and Volvo…But it’s not all Bergmanesque gloom. Åsbrink also celebrates Swedes’ sacred relationship with nature, the achievements of its social reformers and the indefatigable biologist Carl Linnaeus.”
Fiona Capp, Sydney Morning Herald
“This handsome little book surveys the things that have made Sweden the place it is today, from the suffragette who was Jane Austen’s “literary soul sister” to the “interesting lie” of Swedish neutrality during World War II.”
The Weekend West