Originally published in 2018 in Stockholm by well-regarded journalist and novelist Lena Andersson, Son of Svea offers an allegorical tale about a character named Ragnar Johansson. Born in 1932, Johansson strives to uphold the tenets of Swedish social democracy in his every move. Yet his children—like the modernizing nation itself—are less interested in the collective good than in individual accomplishments, vexing Johansson as he loses his footing in modern life.
Andersson uses her powers of analysis to dissect a more systemic love gone wrong: a middle-aged Swede’s disenchantment with his country as it shifts away from the ideals of Social Democracy ... In depicting Ragnar’s rigid, collective mindset, Andersson succeeds in striking a fine balance between sympathy and satire. While she has clearly organized the novel so that Ragnar and his family can stand in for the 'People’s Home' mindset, she never loses her investment in them as real people. Ragnar may be a totem, but we still feel his hopes and sorrows ... Son of Svea succeeds through its clarity, precision, sympathy, and charm. Examining Ragnar as he grapples with his beloved country that is slipping away, Andersson’s intellectual acuity drives this quiet narrative with both humor and heartbreak.
Although it has been described in the Swedish press as a feat of allegory, Son of Svea has very little interest in hidden meanings. Ragnar isn’t a symbol of the welfare state; he is its literal manifestation, a relation, Andersson suggests, like biological inheritance ... While reading, I wondered at times if the conceit needed to be so explicit. Novels, especially those concerned with allegory, are sustained on suspension of disbelief, but the simultaneity, for example, of Elsa’s declaration of independence and the falling of the Berlin Wall seemed an unnecessary, if astute, convenience. In any case, such moments pale in the swell of the novel’s circuitous, laugh-out-loud wit, adroitly captured in Sarah Death’s elegant translation. For all his insistence on absolutes, Ragnar is mired in ambivalence. It’s what keeps his twisted logic fresh, even as he ages, and his country, along with his children, evolves beyond the plot he’s imagined for them.
... [an] illuminating if rather niche story ...The prose can feel a bit stilted, though Andersson has a sure hand in calibrating the account of Ragnar’s life to match the contours of the changes that sweep his country. This covers a lot of cultural and historical ground, but one really has to be into the recent history of Sweden to fully appreciate it.