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With my sprained ankle, a relatively relaxed schedule, an interesting literature course and access to a good library, I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. The three novels I’ve read for the literature course, Cal by Bernard Mac Laverty, Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, are books that I probably wouldn’t have thought of reading if it wasn’t for the course, but as it turns out I enjoyed them all.

The two books I’ve read outside of class have something in common; they are both novelized biographies. I wasn’t aiming for a theme, it just happened accidentally.

Dreams of My Russian Summers by Andrei Makine is the story of a boy with a French grandmother growing up in the Soviet Union and eventually defecting to France. I didn’t like it at first; it seemed like overly poetic description without a plot, but just when I was about to give up on it I told myself to read a few more pages, and luckily, in those pages the story started moving.

What is the What is, quite simply, essential reading. It is the story of a Sudanese refugee, and if your reaction to reading that is anything like “Well, I’m sure that’s an important book but the world is full of so much suffering and I send money to UNICEF sometimes and what more can I do?” I especially recommend reading it, because it is, in addition to being important, good reading. I just spent an entire Sunday in bed, finishing it. And I’m adding The Valentino Achak Deng Foundation to my “Take Action” links in the sidebar.

I like reading fiction, but I’ve never taken a literature class in my life (unless you count the required Freshman Seminar in college), and it shows. I just took a book out of the library and was shocked to find that it was course reference material, meaning it has to be returned by the end of the day. “How can fiction be reference material?” I thought to myself.

The 2001 edition of Lonely Planet’s Scandinavian & Baltic Europe, the one which says that “Swedes are generally decent and serious”, also says “other Scandinavians resent Sweden’s quietly assumed superiority”. I always thought, “Oh, whatever” when reading this, but then came across this in a book from the ’70s called Så Fungerar Sverige that we found in the secondhand shop:

Hmm. Now where would other Scandinavian countries get the idea that Sweden has a superiority complex? (“Stor i Norden” means “big in the Nordic region”.) The preceding page, “Liten i världen”, (small in the world) demonstrates how Sweden attempted to get the superpowers to pay attention to the real problems in the world rather than the Cold War pissing contest.

The book seems to be aimed at pre-teens and covers all kinds of historical, political, and social issues. I get the feeling that this book was pretty popular in the ’70s and has now become obsolete; there were several copies of it in the secondhand shop. It’s a very interesting artifact and full of insights about Sweden’s self-image.

About This Blog

I'm an American who started blogging when I moved to Russia in 2004. Eventually I moved to Sweden, where life is pleasant but uneventful, and stopped blogging for lack of interesting things to say. And then I joined Facebook, which further destroyed any motivation for blogging. Maybe someday I'll start blogging again, but for now, this blog is dormant, an archive of The Russia Years: 2004-2008.

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September 2020