As promised, Kay here with her review of the book The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the myth of the Scandinavian utopia by Michael Booth.
To give everyone some background, I am one-quarter Swedish (and three-quarters seven other northern-European nationalities….can we say American mutt?) My maternal grandmother was first generation Swedish; her parents had immigrated from Sweden to Michigan and I still have distant relatives north of Stockholm. Ok, none of us looked like the traditional Swede–my grandmother was short with medium-brown hair–but we were Swedish nonetheless.
Still, I never really thought that much of my Swedish heritage had gotten through until I walked into Ikea and was shocked to discover that it was like walking into my family home. Also, some of the things lying around in our house, which I had assumed everyone else had, turned out to be from the relatives in Sweden. (Doesn’t everyone have hand-woven mittens they use when shoveling?) Therefore, when I saw the title of this book, it was time to get in touch with my roots.
My verdict on the book? Interesting! Michael Booth has lived in Denmark with his Danish wife and children for quite a while and I do have to admit that his section on Denmark was illuminating. Clearly, there are certain things about the Denmark people that drive him absolutely crazy. However, he then did his due diligence and visited all the other Scandinavian countries to see what made them tick. Somewhat in the line of Bill Bryson’s travelogues, this makes for a fascinating cross between a travelogue and a fact-based book. I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of each country’s history and Booth’s random explorations of those countries.
As for me, however, I was quite surprised by his section on Sweden. Booth’s view of the country was not at all what I expected. In fact, Booth describes modern Sweden as a totalitarian state:
“My dictionary describes totalitarianism as a ‘a form of government that includes control of everything under one authority and allows no opposition,’ and for much of the twentieth century Sweden was effectively a one-party state, the party being the Social Democrats. They regulated every aspect of their dutiful, acquiescent citizens’ lives […] the Swedes were rewarded for their collective compliance with a kind of modern, secular Valhalla. And Volvos.” (p. 326)
To be fair, my relatives left before any of this happened, but still… Oh well. It always nice to know when your expectations do not meet reality.
So, get your Nordic on and dive into The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the myth of the Scandinavian utopia. Then stop by the Information Desk; I’d love to hear what you think of it!