I’m a firm believer in looking at data to understand the world. That includes the world our ancestors lived in.
But some things are hard to capture in charts. Fiction can be a great tool for understanding how our Swedish ancestors lived.
The books below will give you a sense of what Sweden was like when your ancestor emigrated. All books mentioned here are available in English on Amazon. Most of them come on Kindle. Some of them are actually free.
The Emperor of Portugallia by Selma Lagerlöf
Taking place in 1860 or 1870, The Emperor of Portugallia follows crofter Jan in Skrolycka. Like so many others, his beloved daughter moves to the city for work at age 18. Jan in Skrolycka is convinced that his daughter will have great success in Stockholm. With every sign that her fate is less fortunate, his belief grows stronger.
Gösta Berling’s saga by Selma Lagerlöf
This is Lagerlöf’s debut from 1891. Gösta Berling is a priest in Värmland in the 1820s. But this priest is an alcoholic and makes a pact with the devil. The book describes the rural forest landscape, the vanity of the socialite, and the hardship they all shared. Like in most of Lagerlöf’s work, there’s a hint of magic.
If you want to read only one book, pick this one.
The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf
This is a textbook on Swedish geography from 1906-1907. The little boy Nils Holgersson from Scania is mean to animals and is shrunk as a punishment. He spends the next few months flying on a goose across Sweden and learns about the country.
The Way of a Serpent by Torgny Lindgren
The tragic tale of the family of Jani, born 1849 in Västerbotten. The book was published in 1982. It’s about poverty and evil. While the plot is uncomfortable, the writing is witty and it describes the region well.
The People of Hemsö by August Strindberg
This novel from 1887 plays out on the fictional island Hemsö in the Stockholm archipelago. If you’re familiar with Strindberg, this one is easier than most of his work. The widowed Mrs. Flod hires Carlsson from the city to run her farm and controversy ensues. An island Strindberg used to visit was the inspiration for Hemsö. The islanders didn’t appreciate the portrayal. But with some distance to the moral of the story, this book gives an insight to the life on the islands.
Emil of Lönneberga by Astrid Lindgren
This is a series of twelve children’s books that follows the boy Emil from the village Lönneberga, Småland. Emil is something of a pseudonym for Lindgren’s father and is always up to mischeif. The books play out in the Swedish countryside around 1899-1911. Many holidays, legendary creatures, and foods are described throughout the books.
So there you have it. These books show you the types of hardships, customs and magic that was part of your Swedish ancestor’s life.