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Love Nordic Noir but unsure where to find your next Scandinavian thriller fix? Or do you want to read Swedish books that will transport you to the rippling pine forests of the chilly north? Whether it’s criminal underbellies, snow-covered mysteries or unlikely horse-carrying heroines you’re after, we’ve got the best Swedish novels in English to take you to Sweden’s literary world.
We’ve included books about Sweden, thrillers, mysteries, fiction, history, and classics so you’re bound to find something you love. Let’s get into it: here are 20 of the best Swedish books for total Nordic immersion!
Classic Swedish books and novels
The world of Swedish literature and particularly fiction is all about immersion. Classic Swedish books are still popular today because they give readers a taste of the past, and they’re beautifully written and translated, too. If you want to read the best Swedish books about Sweden as it used to be, this section is for you.
1. City of My Dreams by Per Anders Fogelström
The first book in a five-part series, City of My Dreams follows the fictional, although historically accurate, life of Henning Nilsson. The year is 1860, and young Henning’s possessions are limited to a pair of his father’s boots. The prose is poetic and captivating, and readers will get a taste of Stockholm’s past as a tough city where the fight for work, love, and survival is endless.
Recommended for: History lovers, people who enjoy Dickens, bildungsroman fans
2. The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg
Are you an American of Swedish descent? Or have you ever wondered what life was like for Swedes who fled their homeland to seek better lives in the U.S? This book is a must-read for you. Moberg illustrates the trials, triumphs and tribulations of one such family through beautiful prose in The Emigrants.
Recommended for: History-lovers, family tree researchers, people who enjoy documentary-style writing
3. The Saga of Gösta Berling by Selma Lagerlöf
The debut novel of the first female Nobel Literature Prize winner, Selma Lagerlöf. Lagerlöf’s story is set in Värmland, west Sweden – “the land of…wolf and bear-haunted forests, bright lakes, and mines rich in ore”. Follow a defrocked priest and his lovers through a whimsical and mystical unraveling story. Lagerlöf’s style is reminiscent of Mary Shelley and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Recommend for: People who enjoy 19th century literature, unconventional writing on (now) conventional themes.
Contemporary Swedish novels
From the past to the present, here are some of the best Swedish books that the whole world have been talking about. All of these are works of fiction, and are a great choice if you want to read books on Sweden’s attitudes and sense of humor.
4. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
One of the few exceptions to the rule that movies can’t be as good as the book. What do suitcases full of cash, a retirement village, explosives and an accidental death by a trampling elephant have in common? Allan Karlsson, the centenarian protagonist of this weird and enchanting novel. On his 100th birthday, Allan escapes his retirement home to wreak havoc wherever he goes. If you’re in need of a good laugh, this is the Swedish novel for you.
Recommended for: Readers who like comedic novels, out-there storylines
5. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Beckman
A great example of Swedish dark humor brought to literary life. Ove is a stereotypical, cantankerous man who is fed up with it all. Behind his grumpy exterior is a story of loss, pain and starting anew. Beckman’s book will reduce you to tears, belly laughs and thought-provoking musings.
Recommended for: People persons, comedic novel lovers, those who love an emotional rollercoaster
6. My Brother by Karin Smirnoff
A heart-wrenching story of abuse, addiction, destruction in Sweden’s harshest landscape, Piteå. This novel is a twist on a homecoming tale, where family relationships are put to the test. The writing is beautiful and melancholy in equal regard, but the story will grip you.
Recommended for: Character-driven novels, enjoying the northernmost landscape of Sweden
Swedish detective novels
The most famous genre of Swedish literature, these recommendations are for readers seeking gripping novels featuring unconventional and complex detectives you’ll love, or love to hate.
7. Linda, As in the Linda case by Leif GW Persson
This is the first novel of a three-part series featuring detective Evert Bäckström. He’s everyone’s idea of a nightmare – irascible, seemingly incapable of empathy but his logic defeats even the cruelest of criminals. A murder in Växjo coaxes Bäckström back into his work, and what unfolds will shock and surprise readers.
8. Watching You by Arne Dahl
If you loved The Bridge, you’ll love this two-part novel series. Detective Sam Berger confronts his personal demons while investigating the murder of a teenage girl. This book is fast-paced, absorbing and depicts a frustrating cat-and-mouse style hunt.
9. The Ice Princess by Camilla Läckberg
Set in a rainy Swedish fishing village, this novel follows the story of an apparent suicide. But that’s just one element of this multifaceted book. Developing relationships shed new light on the forked tongue of small-town gossip. New clues are juxtaposed against human ineptitude. This is book one of an incredible, must-read series featuring detective Patrik Edström.
By the same author: The Golden Cage
10. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
You may have seen Kurt Wallander on PBS or BBC, but if you haven’t, here’s an introduction to Sweden’s best-loved detective. The crimes detective Wallander solves are as chilling as the south Sweden town he lives in. The plot is as complex as the victims and perpetrators. Most importantly, this is the series that put Sweden’s literary scene back on the map.
Swedish crime novels
Nope, crime and detective novels are not the same (although, granted, they have similarities). Here are some of the best Swedish crime novels to keep you reading all night.
11. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
At the novel’s outset, we learn that journalist Mikael Blomkvist has fallen off the ladder. His career is in jeopardy when he receives a commission he can’t resist: to investigate the murder of Harriet Vanger. Lisbeth Salander, an IT genius battling her own past and present, is hired to help him. Together, they start to make sense of what turns out to be a tale of abuse, jealousy, family rivalries, Nazis, affairs and revenge. A great trilogy of books set in Stockholm.
12. Red Wolf by Liza Marklund
Meet Annika Bengtzon, journalist, mom and wife. In that order. Or is it? The Annika Bengtzon series expertly outlines the difficulties many women have juggling a career, an estranged spouse and young children. This murder mystery has prose is so vivid that you’ll see and feel the frost of north Sweden as you turn each page. There are 11 books in the Annika Bengtzon series.
13. Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson
Unwanted is a harrowing tale of a kidnapped child, parents blaming each other for the girl’s disappearance, and murder. Fredrika Bergman, an IT analyst and criminologist has to fight to be taken seriously by her peers, particularly the esteemed Alex Recht. Readers will be surprised, emotionally engaged and broken-hearted by the end of this novel.
Books about Sweden
Murder and horror not your thing? Or maybe you want to learn about other aspects of life in Sweden. Don’t worry, it’s not as dark and dangerous as it’s made out. Here are some books all about Sweden, its history and its people!
14. Made in Sweden by Elisabeth Åsbrink
Don’t be fooled, this isn’t just a cute coffee table book. Each chapter goes into detail about various aspects of the Swedish psyche, starting with the year 98 AD and finishing with soccer player Zlatan. Åsbrink goes into details about Swedish life, ideals, heroes and heroines – including IKEA’s founder, Ingmar Kamprad.
15. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to free yourself and your family from a lifetime of clutter by Margareta Magnusson
Even if you’ve already Kon Mari-ed your living space, döstädning will take it to the next level. The uniquely Swedish method of cleaning up before you die will give you insights to Swedish cultural attitudes, habits and life.
16. I Go to America: Swedish American Women and the Life of Mina Anderson by Joy Lintelman
250,000 Swedish women left their homeland from 1881 to 1920 to move to the United States in search of a better life. This is the best insight into their lives available on Amazon. Find out what their lives were like through letters, anecdotes and diary entries.
17. Lagom: Not Too Much, Not Too Little by Niki Brantmark
There is no concept as Swedish as Lagom, even Fika. There, I said it. If your life feels too fast-paced or stressful, take a look at how incorporating Lagom into your life will help mellow things out. It’s also got an adorable front cover, making it a great gift or coffee table book.
Swedish children’s books
Some of these stories are so good, I won’t judge you for reading them as an adult. Swedish children’s stories often cover difficult topics such as death and trauma in a way that helps children grow emotionally. Here are some of my childhood favorites (and yes, I still read them!)
18. The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren
Of course, Astrid Lindgren is by far one of the most prolific Swedish authors of all time. But beyond Pippi are many more tales that will have little ones clamoring for you to keep reading to them at bedtime. The Brothers Lionheart is a story about tragedy, loss and brotherly love – and imagination. A true Swedish classic.
19. Counting Sweden / Räkna Med Sverige by Linda Liebrand
Raising your kid in a bilingual household? Start them off early with this book! Liebrand uses Swedish symbols and traditions to help young ones learn how to count in Swedish, and there’s a sprinkling of fun facts in there too. Beautifully illustrated and learning disguised as fun, what could be better?
20. An Illustrated Treasury of Swedish Folk and Fairy Tales by John Bauer
A recent discovery of mine that I wish I’d had as a kid. These stories are just like the ones I remember hearing as a child. Each story feels like a pine tree is whispering to you the goings on of trolls, elves and mysterious creatures – and the illustrations are exceptional. These stories are enough to invigorate any child’s imagination and capture adult hearts too!
Famous Swedish authors
Finally, I’m going to leave you with a list of famous Swedish authors you should check out. I’ve also included works by the authors I’ve read and loved, and books I’d compare them to in case you’re wondering whether you’d like them too.
Karin Boye: One of Sweden’s greatest poets and writers of the 20th century. Boye’s anthology of poems always take me to a place of peace in times of trouble. I especially love her poem about spring, Yes Of Course It Hurts. She also wrote a dystopian novel, Kallocain, that reminds me a lot of 1984 by George Orwell.
Leif GW Persson: Arguably Sweden’s most famous criminologist, Persson is always involved in TV shows about crime. Both his fiction and non-fiction writings are famous, and he has a great gift for getting readers into the mindset of victim, investigator and perpetrator.
Astrid Lindgren: Sweden’s most famous author. Lindgren enchanted hearts all over the world and used her notoriety to bring awareness to children’s suffering. Thanks to Lindgren, Sweden was the first country to make corporal punishment illegal.
And that’s all for this time! Hopefully we’ve been able to fill up your reading list with some excellent Swedish books. Let us know which Swedish books you’re reading in the comments below!
If you’ve got Sweden on the brain, you should also check out our article: 30 Things Sweden is Known and Famous For