While perhaps best known for its crime fiction, the Nordic literature scene is an under explored gold mine. These seven reads take place all across the Nordic countries, and offer a diverse, yet captivating glimpse into the rich literary tradition, all while exploring the human condition and culture of each respective country.

7 Nordic Must-Reads

Across the China Sea by Gaute Heivoll
Norwegian, 2017

Set against the backdrop of the waning German occupation of Norway, Across the China Sea follows Karin and her family as they move to a small southern village, where they plan to care for those who can’t care for themselves. Their rooms are soon filled with three psychologically unstable men – including Karin’s own uncle – and five siblings whose parents are deemed unfit to raise them, and they all play a part in this new, unconventional family. Heivoll’s portrayal of these gentle spirits navigating an uncertain and often unkind world is tender, gentle, and heartbreaking.

7 Nordic Must-Reads

Lillelord by Johan Borgen
Norwegian, 1982

The first in a trilogy (but perfectly fine as a standalone), Lillelord follows the well-behaved and sweet Wilfred Sagen, nicknamed “Lillelord” by his family, who sees him as a “Little Lord Fauntleroy.” To his teachers and some of Oslo’s street boys, however, Wilfred is nothing but a force of disruptiveness and danger. Aware of his split personality, the protagonist longs for control but quickly realises that this might not be possible. The book is a reflection of Johan Borgen’s belief that our lives, whether we like it or not, tend towards schizophrenia, and leave readers with a lot to think about.

7 Nordic Must-Reads

We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen
Danish, 2011

Spanning across four generations of seafaring men from the Danish town of Marstal, We, The Drowned is an epic tale, alive and full of wisdom and tension. Don’t be intimidated by the almost 700 pages, the various storylines offer a panorama of history, passion and adventure, and has been hailed as an instant classic.

7 Nordic Must-Reads

Not Before Sundown by Johanna Sinisalo
Finnish, 2003

Captivating and thought-provoking, Johanna Sinisalo’s Not Before Sundown is inspired by Finnish folklore. It follows Mikael, a gay photographer, who finds a young and injured troll – in the novel trolls are existing animals, rather than myths – and brings it home. Broken into novel segments, news articles, jokes, and more, the book challenges the conventional notions of identity while also addressing humanity’s changing relationship with nature.

Girls Against God by Jenny Hval
Norwegian, 2020

Set in rural Norway in the 90s, Hval’s thought-provoking Girls Against God merges feminist theory with experimental horror, as well as literary and artistic expression. There are neat and pristine white picket fences in Christian conservative homes, but also witches, time-travel, and an Edvard Munch who’s pursuing a dream of playing in a black metal band. In its own unique fever-dream-like way, this is a tale of womanhood, religion, life, desire and capitalism.

This Should Be Written in the Present Tense by Helle Helle
Danish, 2015

This should be written in the present tense, but it isn’t. Dorte, the book’s narrator, should probably go to her classes at the University of Copenhagen, stop sleeping with her neighbour’s boyfriend, and start doing something, but she doesn’t. Using Dorte’s random, stream-of-consciousness scribbles to move through the narrative, which is efficient in making the reader painfully aware of how unsure the protagonist is about the big picture of her life. It has a minimalism that Beckett fans can appreciate and is a perfect example of how Helle Helle has the ability to make any character completely enthralling, even without extravagant plots or language.

7 Nordic Must-Reads

The Family Clause by Jonas Hassen Khemiri
Swedish, 2020

Against the backdrop of contemporary Stockholm, a series of quickly changing perspectives portrays the chaos and closeness of a normal family wounded by the disappearance of a father and the death of a child. A prize-winning author and master of contemporary Swedish literature, Khemiri takes a perfectly normal family and paints an intimate, emotional portrait.


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