Monday, 28 February 2011

Book Review: Underbara dagar framför oss

Underbara dagar framför ossUnderbara dagar framför oss (Wonderful Days Ahead of Us) by Henrik Berggren

Publisher: Norstedts förlag

Category: Biography

Challenges: Nordic Challenge, Memorable Memoirs

My Thoughts: 25 years ago today then Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was walking home from the movies with his wife. As they walked a man came up and shot Palme and injured his wife. Christer Petterson was convicted of the murder but on appeal was acquitted. No one else has ever been tried for the murder. Palme has acquired somewhat of a mythical reputation in Sweden.

The murder of Olof Palme is my first political memory. I wasn’t quite five yet. My abiding memory of this time is that I thought he had a funny name (Palme sounds like palm tree in Swedish) and that his successor was nicknamed The Shoe (he had a very long face) and that all the adults went around looking serious.

I wanted to love this book. And at times I did. And it is the phrase “at times” that is key here. The book is funny. At times really funny. It is in some respects highly informative. But at the same time it has many faults. The first part of the book when the author writes about Palme’s family and childhood are really good and full of information about both Palme in particular and Sweden in general. But here some of the problems start as well. The author doesn’t seem to trust that his reader has any background knowledge of Swedish history. Sometimes this is a good thing, I certainly learned a lot. But at the same time it means that he goes off on various tangents to do with Swedish (and to some extent Finish) history. As a lover of history I find this very interesting but at the same time I kept wanting to know what this actually had to do with the man Palme.

Here perhaps lies my biggest problem. The book is a fascinating mixture of modern Swedish history. All manner of cultural and political figures that have shaped Sweden in the last century make appearances. And they are all interesting characters, but at times more emphasis is put on these supporting characters than Palme himself. His time as minister for education is boiled down to the student protests in the late 60s. Despite the fact that this was a time of educational reform on many levels. The coverage of his opposition to the Vietnam war felt very fractured at times as did the time he spent in opposition. These were all issues that still today shape the Swedish identity and I think they weren’t give the space they deserved.

Although I have big issues with the book the further I get from reading it the more I realised I learned. As the anniversary of Palme’s murder comes closer media and individuals spend a great deal of time discussing his murder and his life. We spent most of our lunch break at work on Wednesday discussing both the polarizing figure Palme is and was as well as the murder itself. The colleagues with whom I had the discussion are all quite a bit older than me and I doubt I would have been able to follow the discussion had I not read the book. They were adults when Palme was in power, I was a small child. So I found myself recommending the book as we talked. And on reflection I will always recommend it, but only as a survey of the time when Palme lived, not necessarily as a biography of Palme, if this makes sense.

Unfortunately this book has not yet been translated to English.


Copyright ©2011 Zee from Notes from the North. This post was originally posted by Zee from Notes from the North. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

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