The best books to understand the moody people of the Nordic countries

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an accidental emigrant now living in Auckland, New Zealand. I arrived with my then husband and our three sons in 1990 for a three-year spell. And here I am with two sons now settled in New Zealand and one in Sweden and me in a very awkward split position between the two. I am also an accidental author as my first career was in law and finance. I am presently working on my seventh novel. My novels are what my publishers call literary fiction and they often involve characters who, like me, have no fixed abode. 


I wrote...

Astrid & Veronika

By Linda Olsson,

Book cover of Astrid & Veronika

What is my book about?

My first novel was published first in New Zealand and from there took on the world. The big test for me came with the publication in Sweden. I thought that perhaps my homesickness had made me idealize my home country and its people. But the reaction was overwhelmingly positive and Astrid and Veronika (Let me sing you gentle songs) is the bestselling first novel ever in both my home countries. When I first began receiving questions about my story, I struggled to give a reply. I hadn’t so much thought of it in that way while writing. What it was about. But it is a story of friendship. And to me it is a story about my love for my home country in the far north. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Summer Book

Linda Olsson Why did I love this book?

When I first came to read this autobiographical description of the friendship between a little girl and her grandmother it was almost like reading about my own childhood. It is set on island in the Finnish archipelago, not dissimilar to the island where I used to spend my own summers with my grandmother. Read it and you will understand what made Tove Jansson the wonderful author and creator of the Moomin Troll stories. A book to read to be reminded of kindness and humanity. I return to it often.

By Tove Jansson, Thomas Teal (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Summer Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Summer Book Tove Jansson distills the essence of the summer—its sunlight and storms—into twenty-two crystalline vignettes. This brief novel tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia’s grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland. The grandmother is unsentimental and wise, if a little cranky; Sophia is impetuous and volatile, but she tends to her grandmother with the care of a new parent. Together they amble over coastline and forest in easy companionship, build boats from bark, create a miniature…


Book cover of The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World

Linda Olsson Why did I love this book?

I met Patrik Svensson at a book event in 2019, just as his novel was released and came away with a signed copy when I left. I brought it home and put it aside for a later read. When I finally picked it up, I was fascinated. This is another autobiographical story, this one about a little boy growing up in the southern part of Sweden. The father and son only really come together when they go eel fishing. The father teaches the son the elaborate technique of setting the eel traps and through this they establish a silent bond. Interspersed throughout the narrative are chapters with facts about the mysterious life cycle of eels. It is an extraordinary novel, unlike any other I have read. 

By Patrik Svensson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Book of Eels as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Part H Is for Hawk, part The Soul of an Octopus, The Book of Eels is both a meditation on the world’s most elusive fish—the eel—and a reflection on the human condition

Remarkably little is known about the European eel, Anguilla anguilla. So little, in fact, that scientists and philosophers have, for centuries, been obsessed with what has become known as the “eel question”: Where do eels come from? What are they? Are they fish or some other kind of creature altogether? Even today, in an age of advanced science, no one has ever seen eels mating or giving birth,…


Book cover of And in the Vienna Woods the Trees Remain: The Heartbreaking True Story of a Family Torn Apart by War

Linda Olsson Why did I love this book?

Based on a true story, this is an important, thought-provoking book in these times of mass migrations around the globe. The story follows the thirteen-year-old boy Otto Ullman’s journey from Vienna to Trelleborg in southern Sweden. He is sent by his adoring Jewish parents as the persecution of Jews escalates in Austria during the lead-up to the second world war. The letters between Otto and his family, other relatives, and friends left behind are difficult to read. The efforts they all make to keep a brave face in spite of intolerable circumstances are utterly moving. Amongst the letters are official Swedish documents revealing the extent of racism and prejudice in Sweden. There are many similar stories. But I find this one particularly heartbreaking. 

By Elisabeth Åsbrink, Saskia Vogel (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked And in the Vienna Woods the Trees Remain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews and a Notable Translated Book of the Year by World Literature Today 

Winner of the August Prize, the story of the complicated long-distance relationship between a Jewish child and his forlorn Viennese parents after he was sent to Sweden in 1939, and the unexpected friendship the boy developed with the future founder of IKEA, a Nazi activist.
 
Otto Ullmann, a Jewish boy, was sent from Austria to Sweden right before the outbreak of World War II. Despite the huge Swedish resistance to Jewish refugees, thirteen-year-old Otto was granted permission to…


Book cover of Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow

Linda Olsson Why did I love this book?

This is an unusual crime story set in Copenhagen, Denmark. It caused a sensation when it was published in 1992. The main character Smilla Jaspersen is a half Inuit scientist from Greenland, lonely and homesick in the big city. The death of an Inuit boy pulls her into a complex web of crime exposing Denmark’s complicated relationship with its protectorate Greenland. The title refers to the Inuit people’s understanding of their wintry habitat, and is a reminder of the threat to traditional lifestyles of many indigenous people. A thriller, but so much more. 

By Peter Høeg,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The original Scandinavian thriller

One snowy day in Copenhagen, six-year-old Isaiah falls to his death from a city rooftop.The police pronounce it an accident. But Isaiah's neighbour, Smilla, an expert in the ways of snow and ice, suspects murder. She embarks on a dangerous quest to find the truth, following a path of clues as clear to her as footsteps in the snow.


Book cover of The Emigrants

Linda Olsson Why did I love this book?

This iconic Swedish emigrant epic was first published in 1949 but has been reprinted many times, and has also been made into film, most recently in 2021. The story involves a group of people from a poor farming village in southern Sweden who decide to leave for a better life in America. The main characters are Oscar and Kristina who with their children eventually settle in Minnesota. As an immigrant myself I can relate to Kristina, who unlike her husband never quite grows roots in the new country. When Kristina is on her deathbed Oscar asks if there is anything he can bring her she says: "Get me an apple from the Astrakan tree that grew from the pip we brought from Sweden."

By Vilhelm Moberg,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Emigrants as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Considered one of Sweden's greatest 20th-century writers, Vilhelm Moberg created the characters Karl Oskar and Kristina Nilsson to portray the joys and tragedies of daily life for early Swedish immigrants in America. His consistently faithful depiction of these humble people's lives is a major strength of the Emigrant Novels.

Moberg's extensive research in the papers of Swedish emigrants in archival collections enabled him to incorporate many details of pioneer life. First published between 1949 and 1959 in Swedish, these four books were considered a single work by Moberg, who intended that they be read as documentary novels. These reprint editions…


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Book cover of Dulcinea

Ana Veciana-Suarez Author Of Dulcinea

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I became fascinated with 16th-century and 17th-century Europe after reading Don Quixote many years ago. Since then, every novel or nonfiction book about that era has felt both ancient and contemporary. I’m always struck by how much our environment has changed—transportation, communication, housing, government—but also how little we as people have changed when it comes to ambition, love, grief, and greed. I doubled down my reading on that time period when I researched my novel, Dulcinea. Many people read in the eras of the Renaissance, World War II, or ancient Greece, so I’m hoping to introduce them to the Baroque Age. 

Ana's book list on bringing to life the forgotten Baroque Age

What is my book about?

Dolça Llull Prat, a wealthy Barcelona woman, is only 15 when she falls in love with an impoverished poet-solder. Theirs is a forbidden relationship, one that overcomes many obstacles until the fledgling writer renders her as the lowly Dulcinea in his bestseller.

By doing so, he unwittingly exposes his muse to gossip. But when Dolça receives his deathbed note asking to see her, she races across Spain with the intention of unburdening herself of an old secret.

On the journey, she encounters bandits, the Inquisition, illness, and the choices she's made. At its heart, Dulcinea is about how we betray the people we love, what happens when we succumb to convention, and why we squander the few chances we get to change our lives.

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Interested in summer, refugees, and the Inuit?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about summer, refugees, and the Inuit.

Summer Explore 19 books about summer
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The Inuit Explore 20 books about the Inuit