Grief in the Nordic Region – four books you need to read

How do people deal with grief in the Nordic Region? While one picks mushrooms, another translates a book on the ultimate disaster – the premature death a child – while a third processes their grief by immersing themselves in an autofictional writing project. One thing’s certain – grief turns life on its head. Sometimes it walks in unannounced, sometimes you can prepare yourself. Neither makes loss any less painful.

Grief is a popular theme in Nordic fiction and non-fiction at the moment. Many Nordic authors have followed in Joan Didion’s footsteps and written about their grief processes following the loss of a relative. Didion’s novel The year of magical thinking (2006) has become a classic of Anglo-Saxon contemporary literature. The novel describes a year in the author’s life in which she lost both her husband and their daughter to illness.

Her stories of grief shatter the illusion of our immortality and bring us closer to reality. Death should not be a taboo subject. Here are our tips for some top-notch Nordic literature from recent years tackling a difficult but important topic:

1. Finland: Katriina Huttunen: Surun istukka (S & S, 2019)

Katriina Huttunen’s daughter took her life by taking medication prescribed for her depression. The book does not seek reconciliation. The text is both furious and despairing, and the author spares herself least of all. Huttunen, a translator, describes it as if she found her own voice after the death of her daughter, prior to which she had concentrated on translating the voices of others.

2. Sweden: Tom Malmqvist: In Every Moment We Are Still Alive (Melville House, 2018)

Tom Malmqvist writes honestly and heartbreakingly about the death of his wife, Karin. Karin is heavily pregnant when she falls seriously ill. The couple’s child is delivered by caesarean section just before Karin dies. This leaves Tom, their daughter Livia, and the memories of their time together. In 2016, the novel won the culture prize of the Swedish newspaper DN and was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize the same year.

3. Norway: Long Litt Woon: The way through the woods. On mushrooms and mourning (Penguin Random House, 2019)

Long Litt Woon’s novel is as unusual as you might imagine a novel about mushrooms and grief would be. After the sudden death of her husband, the narrator takes an in-depth look into the fascinating world of mycology. She gets to know many mushroom pickers and trains as a mushroom consultant. The novel has been translated into several languages and also contains recipes for some delicious mushroom dishes.

4. Denmark: Naja Marie Aidt: When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back (Quercus, 2019)

The sensitive tone of poet Naja Marie Aidt’s short novel is touching. Word reaches Aidt that her son Carl is dying in hospital following an accident. The novel explores the different stages of grief and references other depictions of grief in literature. Although the novel is tough going, it is liberating to read, not least thanks to the beautiful language.

All the novels are available at Nordic Culture Point’s library in one or more of the Nordic languages. Visit our online library or call +358105831000 to place an order. You need a library card to do this.

Kira Nalin,
specialist librarian at the Nordic Culture Point library.