Illustration of sunset view of Houses on Stortorget square in Gamla stan in Stockholm, Sweden.

Why you should read the Swedish fiction that's been nominated for the International Booker Prize

As Sweden prepares to host this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, it’s the perfect moment to shine a spotlight on the country’s literary talent  

Written by Donna Mackay-Smith and Emily Facoory

Publication date and time: Published

It’s a small country that gifted the world Scandi-noir mysteries, infectious Euro-pop beats, and the ubiquitous presence of that iconic flatpack furniture store. But look beyond these celebrated exports and Sweden has much more to offer. In recent years, the country has quietly emerged as a powerhouse of literary talent, with many of its authors making significant waves on the international stage.

Just this year, Ia Genberg’s inclusion on the International Booker Prize shortlist for her Swedish bestseller The Details, translated by Kira Josefsson, marked the second year running a Swede had made the list, following Amanda Svensson’s appearance on the 2023 longlist with her novel A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding, translated by Nichola Smalley. In a recent interview with the Booker Prizes, Josefsson acknowledged the wealth of quality fiction emerging from Sweden at the moment, and directed English-language readers towards translated works by Andrzej Tichý, Ann-Helén Laestadius and Johannes Anyuru.

As anticipation mounts for the Eurovision Song Contest 2024, the longest-running international music competition in the world – which this year is held in the cobblestoned city of Malmö – it’s the ideal moment to celebrate the Swedish titles that have been nominated for the International Booker Prize, all of which get a maximum douze points from us.

Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog and Björn Ulvaeus performing the song Waterloo.
The Details by Ia Genberg, translated by Kira Josefsson

The latest Swedish export to make its way onto the International Booker Prize 2024 longlist after its translation by Kira Josefsson, The Details emerged from author Ia Genberg’s COVID fever of 2020, when a book fell open in her hands, revealing a small inscription from the person who had gifted it to her 25 years earlier. Told in four chapters, each spotlighting a pivotal figure in the narrator’s life, the novel is a delicately written ode to enduring effect of relationships on our lives, between friends, family, and lovers. From forgotten love letters to sudden disappearances, unexpected tokens of affection to all-consuming anxiety, Genberg’s character study asks, ‘who is the real subject of a portrait, the person being painted or the one holding the brush?’ Winner of Sweden’s prestigious August Prize for best fiction in 2022, The Details has already captured the hearts of readers and critics at home, and has since been sold in over 30 territories around the world.

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Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichý, translated by Nichola Smalley

Widely recognised as one of the most important novelists of his generation, Andrzej Tichý was born in Prague in 1978 but has lived in Sweden since 1981. Described as a delirious trip through Europe’s underbelly, Wretchedness tells the story of a young cellist, Cody, who meets a drug user while on his way to practice. The encounter forces him to reflect on his youth in the Nineties, when he grew up in poverty while travelling across Europe. As a former addict, Cody flips between the past and present, recalling his life through the lens of drugs, crime and music. Writing in steam-of-consciousness prose, Tichý eschews dialogue markers and paragraph breaks to create an exhilarating novel that captures the highs, lows, and glimmers of hope in an otherwise wretched life. 

Tichý’s first novel to be translated into English, Wretchedness was shortlisted for the August Prize in 2016 in its original language of Swedish, and was longlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2021, after being translated into English by Nichola Smalley. 

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A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding by Amanda Svensson, translated by Nichola Smalley

Amanda Svensson’s 2023 International Booker Prize longlisted novel, A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding, also translated by Nichola Smalley, weaves together a classic family saga with a gripping old secret. Described by the International Booker Prize judges as a novel which delves into ‘the enigmas of our origins, riddles of human consciousness and animal cognition, doomsday cults, and the most bedevilling of mysteries – the minds and choices of our closest intimates’, A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding follows three estranged Swedish triplets as the mysterious disappearance of their father forces them to confront their past when their mother calls with life-changing news. The novel was also shortlisted for Tidningen Vi’s Literature Prize and awarded the Per Olov Enquist Literary Prize and the Svenska Dagbladet Literature Prize.

Hailing from Malmö, Svensson began writing at a young age, and went on to study creative writing. She has translated works by renowned authors into Swedish, including Ali Smith, Tessa Hadley, and Kristen Roupenian.

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The Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg, translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner

The Faculty of Dreams is based on the real-life story of Valerie Solanas, a struggling writer and radical feminist who came to notoriety after her attempted murder of famed artist Andy Warhol. Solanas was known for writing and self-publishing the radical feminist work, SCUM Manifesto, which detailed the need to overthrow society and eliminate the male sex. Here, author Sara Stridsberg revisits pivotal places and moments from Solanas’ life, reimagining aspects that affected her immensely, including her deeply troubled childhood, life at university, her time residing at mental institutions and her ill-fated assassination attempt of the king of Pop Art. Sara Stridsberg was born in Solna, Sweden and now lives in Stockholm. 

The Faculty of Dreams, translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner, was longlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2019 and won the Nordic Council Literature Prize. It was also voted as the best Swedish novel from the 2000s in a poll held by newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

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