OFF THE MIDDLE WAY: Report from a Swedish Village by Sture Kallberg

OFF THE MIDDLE WAY: Report from a Swedish Village

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This excellent oral history by 12 working-class individuals from a small village west of Stockholm will be read not merely as sociologically interesting material but as expose. In Sweden the book should rattle the Social Democratic myth of universal prosperity and stability in ""the welfare state""; in the U.S. it should counteract illusions about the Swedes as carefree, middle-class inhabitants of a democratic-cum-socialist ""middle way."" As in Ronald Blythe's English village Akenfield (1969), the turmoil and misery of the shift from the land to industrial and clerical jobs in the city is recounted; the older speakers vividly recall the landlord-tenant system while the younger are entirely wage workers. And if the elders are conscious of class distinctions, the younger workers seem wholly apolitical. For those in the middle-aged group, fulltime employment began at 13 or 14 with Iow pay and depression insecurity; for those born after World War II, work also began early, via vocational courses at school. Vacations and holidays have been life's high points. For the pensioners and the middle-aged, memories of 5 A.M.-to-midnight work every day are typical while the young talk of urban aimlessness. All agree that inflation will get worse and jobs are scarce; the housing shortage is acute but far less severe than in Stockholm. For those tenant farmers who mechanized, ""the money goes to pay interest on loans and mortgages. . . . It sort of cancels out the way it did before."" The young tacitly express despair: dancing, sports, friendships, sex, drinking and vacations are escapes -- but this is not a Bergmanesque emptiness, rather the ordinary, decidedly sub-affluent life like that of other wage-earners in Northern Europe and the U.S. A decidedly valuable work, comparable to the best entries in the Pantheon ""Village"" series, and a striking counterweight to trivial surveys of Sweden.

Pub Date: June 27th, 1972
Publisher: Pantheon