A book so engagingly written and incisively reported that it will make readers who have never given a second thought to Denmark give at least passing thought to moving there.
It would be a mistake to think that there’s nothing rotten in Denmark, but this interconnected series of cultural essays by Guardian Egypt correspondent Kingsley makes a convincing case for how much the country has going for it as well as an indication of the challenges that lie ahead. The author examines the international success of The Killing, a TV series which “wasn’t so much a cult hit as a state religion” in its homeland and subsequently became the rage of the author’s native England (and didn’t fare as well but earned a cult following in its American adaptation). He extends his appreciation through the country’s “extraordinary culinary revival”—Noma is widely considered the world’s finest restaurant—and social services that encompass “childcare, healthcare and education,” including “university education and most of its living costs.” “Students aren’t seen as a burden on the state, but as people whose skills will one day support it,” writes the author. “They’re future participants in Danish life, and they’re treated as such.” Demographic challenges include the increase in retirees who benefit from that welfare state and the difficulties faced by anyone who doesn’t fit the Danish norm—not only immigrants, but also Muslims and others who were born there. Kingsley makes a strong case that Muslim protest over the cartoons of Muhammad, cast as a free speech issue throughout most of the democratic West, was a response to caricature “intended to provoke and humiliate an already marginalized section of society.”
Though the scope of the book is small and the style conversational, Kingsley renders the quality and complexity of life in Denmark with an outsider’s fresh perspective and a journalist’s sharp instincts.