A new version of Sweden with Jonas Hassen Khemiri

Back in 1995, when I first moved to Sweden, I had this lofty idea that I would learn Swedish in a matter of six months, have tons of Swedish friends and completely embrace all things Swedish. I was in that honeymoon period that everyone goes through when they first move here. In actuality, it took me roughly two years to learn enough Swedish to feel competent enough to speak to people, most of my friends are non-Swedes and as much as I like living here I still veer towards non-Swedish things–especially novels. I have tried to be one of those people who loves Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell novels–to no avail. I couldn’t finish reading any of the Larsson books because I thought they were boring and poorly written. And Henning Mankell’s books just don’t speak to me.

But now I find myself intrigued by Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s novels. Maybe it’s because we are both immigrants and writers living in Sweden at a time when the country is struggling to deal with anti-immigration political parties with ties to neo-Nazis and a growing number of young people who come from immigrant backgrounds challenging the notion of what it means to be Swedish.

So when I was reading BN Review today and saw a review of his novel, Montecore, I began to wonder why I haven’t read anything by Khemiri other than a few chapters of his first novel, Ett Öga Rött, which we read in my Swedish class at ABF. After reading the review and then watching an interview with Khemiri from “Kulturnyheterna”(note: the interview is in Swedish so if you don’t understand Swedish, at least you can hear what the language sounds like), I decided I needed to add his books to my reading list.

Intrigued? Well, I’ve included a list of his work in Swedish and English:

  • Ett Öga Rött (unfortunately, this one hasn’t been translated to English yet but perhaps Knopf will translate it since they will be publishing Montecore in English)
  • Montecore (the official release date for the English translation is 1 March 2011)
  • Invasion! (a play + collection of short stories and commentaries by Khemiri, not yet available in English)
  • Fem Gånger Gud (or God Times Five, a play that was performed by the Swedish National Theatre and Stockholm City Theatre)

So it looks like I will be reading some Swedish books this year, which I guess we can say is part of my becoming a better reader in 2011.