In Stockholm, a young man’s death forces his friends to consider their culpability.
At the outset of Swedish novelist and playwright Khemiri’s novel, the protagonist is already dead. The mission of the novel is to piece together the how and why. Samuel, the main character, is killed in a single-car collision with a tree, whether due to bad brakes or suicidal intent is unclear. Flashbacks and flash-forwards follow, narrated in short segments by, among others, Samuel; his friend and housemate, Vandad; and his ex-lover Laide. Samuel and Laide met through their work; he is a functionary with the Migration Board, dealing with residency permits, and she is an interpreter of Arabic and other languages. Laide is also an activist who participates in demonstrations against anti-immigration policies and who establishes, in a house vacated by Samuel’s grandmother, a shelter for women, many of them abused, who have fled the Middle East. Vandad, who, it appears, may be gay and attracted to Samuel, is a large man who works as an enforcer for a loan shark until his conscience gets the better of him. He tries more legitimate employment as a mover without much success. Samuel’s grandmother, who suffers from dementia, has moved into a nursing home. At first Laide and Samuel’s affair blossoms, but it sours in less than a year. When Laide breaks it off, Vandad, out of misguided loyalty to Samuel, reverts to thuggish form in trying to persuade her to reconsider. The grandmother’s house is soon overrun with refugees, a fire starts, and Samuel’s despair mounts as his family questions why he allowed this to happen, and he himself wonders why he trusted Laide. The piecemeal structure, an agglomeration of vignettes, makes it hard to identify who is narrating. Although the postmodern presentation is initially off-putting, the characters, once we discern who’s talking, are deftly drawn. Their voices, resonating with internal conflict and arch humor, are ably rendered in Willson-Broyles’ translation.
Initially confusing but ultimately moving and grimly funny.