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The Best Contemporary Scandinavian Fiction to Read Now

Contemporary Scandinavian literature is having a moment internationally. A huge number of books are now being translated into English language, making it possible for many more people to read contemporary Scandinavian literature than ever before. The best Scandinavian fiction authors are climbing the international bestseller lists; but great literature is not only defined by how well it sells. This list of Scandinavian literature explores both locally and internationally acclaimed fiction books from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Finland.

The global rise of Nordic Noir, also known as Nordic crime fiction, has in some senses paved the way for literary Scandinavian fiction on the international stage. Though we do consider Nordic Noir to be a genre of contemporary Scandinavian fiction, we have not included those books in this list and have instead opted to focus on non-Noir literature. You can find out about the best Nordic Noir authors here.

Here are our recommendations for the best in contemporary Scandinavian literature:

Danish
Fiction

Swedish
Fiction

Norwegian
Fiction

Finnish
Fiction

Icelandic
Fiction

 

Contemporary Swedish Books

Welcome to America by Linda Boström Knausgård

Welcome to America by Lina Boström Knausgård, originally published in 2016, is an exquisite portrait of a sensitive child, Ellen (also the narrator), who may never talk again. The novel is about how a family deals with trauma, and how each member longs for togetherness while growing in their own ways. This is Lina Boström Knausgård’s second novel, which was nominated for Sweden’s prestigious August Prize for Best Fiction Book of the Year in 2016.

Welcome to America by Linda Boström Knausgård

 

 

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

A lovable novel, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald tells a story about an international friendship built from love for books. The main character, Sara, starts a bookstore in honor of her friend’s memory. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, published in 2013, is a reminder of why we all love books and how literature can transform us. A New York Times and USA Today bestseller, this debut novel by Katarina Bivald is genuine warmth for a cold evening.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

 
 

Willful Disregard by Lena Andersson

Winner of Sweden’s most prestigious literary award, the August Prize for Best Fiction Book of the Year in 2013, a Willful Disregard is a fantastic novel about an otherwise sensible woman’s Esther’s obsession with an unrequited love. Sometimes funny, sometimes dark, and always fascinating, Willful Disregard is the sixth book by the Swedish author Lena Andersson. Lena also wrote Acts of Infidelity, the second book about the Willful Disregard‘s main character, Ester Nilsson; these books can be read together but also stand on their own.

Willful Disregard by Lena Andersson

 

 

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Swedish author Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove (soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks!), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry and many more books. His latest novel is Anxious People. Published in 2019, the book is about a crime that never took place, a bank robber who completely disappears, and eight anxious strangers who realize they have more things in common than they could have ever imagined. This book was a nominee as a Goodreads choice 2020 Best Fiction.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

 

 

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Unique, raw, and truly fun, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared has reached more than six million readers all around the world. After a long and fruitful life, Allan Karlsson lives in a nursing home, which he believes to be his last stop in life. Despite his own wishes, Allan reaches 100 years old. While his birthday party is in progress, he decides to…run away! This comic novel was published in 2013; it’s heartfelt and a real romp that you’re sure to love.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

 
 

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

The international bestseller and the book behind the film and play Let Me In, Let the Right One In is a 2004 vampire fiction novel by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist. The story focuses on the relationship between a 12-year-old boy, Oskar, and a centuries-old vampire child, Eli. Beautifully written but quite disturbing, this book takes on such issues as bullying, pedophilia, revenge, and much more.

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

 

 

Valerie: Or, the Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg

In this novel, the line between fiction and fact is fuzzy. Stridsberg explores the life of Valerie Solanas, radical feminist, writer, and convicted attempted murdered of Andy Warhol. The narrative goes back through her childhood, her mental health issues, and her death. Stridsberg recreates and fictonalizes Solanas’s life through a series of monologues and conversations. Stridsberg herself is a highly-acclaimed feminist writer. She won the Nordic Council Literature Prize for Valerie in 2006.

Valerie: Or, the Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg

 
 

Everything I Don’t Remember by Jonas Hassen Khemiri

The winner of the August Prize in 2015, one of Sweden’s upcoming young writers and activists Jonas Hassen Khemiri published the thrilling and gripping murder mystery Everything I Don’t Remember. It’s a tale about a man named Samuel, who dies in a horrible car crash. But was it really an accident or a suicide? This fascinating book explores what is hidden behind our memories.

Everything I Don’t Remember by Jonas Hassen Khemiri

 

 

Contemporary Norwegian Books

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

The fascinating novel Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson begins with an ending. Sixty-seven-year-old Trond decides to settle down in an isolated area and to live a quiet life until he meets his neighbor, who forces him to reflect on one very fateful summer. This 2003 book was a breakthrough for Per Petterson, which was awarded two top literary prizes in Norway: the Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature and the Booksellers’ Best Book of the Year Award.

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

 
 

The Half Brother by Lars Saabye Christensen

The Nordic Prize-winning novel The Half Brother by Lars Saabye Christensen is an epic story of four generations of an extraordinary family. The story follows a man Fred who grows up in Oslo and is a misfit and boxer conceived during a devastating rape, who is in a bizarre relationship with his half-brother. The novel is brilliant, strange, and has made a splash everywhere it’s been published.

The Half Brother by Lars Saabye Christensen

 

 

A House in Norway by Vugdis Hjorth

Vigdis Hjorth’s novel A House in Norway explores the dilemmas of living in modern society. The book tells the story of Alma, a divorced textile artist, who recently started renting a floor of her house to a Polish family. Their activities become a challenge to Alma’s image as a feminist. Is it possible to combine the desire to be tolerant and have a need for personal space? Modern and thoughtful, this novel was published in 2014.

A House in Norway by Vugdis Hjorth

 
 

Days in the History of Silence by Merethe Lindstrøm

Merethe Lindstrøm, Nordic Council Literature Prize winner’s novel Days in the History of Silence, published in 2011, is a story about the secret of the past and silence. The narrative focuses on Eva and Simon, who have spent most of their lives together. They have three grown daughters, yet what binds them is not the family only, but well kept, as well as painful secrets from the past. But things happen, and the past that was so well hidden cannot be repressed anymore. Lindstrøm, in this beautiful novel, explores the theme of silence, nostalgia, and psychological dilemmas.

Days in the History of Silence by Merethe Lindstrøm

 

 

The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I Am by Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold

The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I Am, published in 2011, is a highly-acclaimed debut novel written by Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold. The story follows Mathea Martinsen, who is afraid that she might die before she does anything notable,. So she heads out into the world to leave her mark. This novel, raw and relatable, asks what it means to “live life to the fullest.”

The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I Am by Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold

 
 

The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann

The Cold Song, published in 2011, follows Siri Brodal, a chef and restaurant owner. Brodal is married to Jon Dreyer, a famous novelist who is having writer’s block. The couple and their children usually spend their summers on the coast of Norway. Suddenly, their nanny completely disappears. This mysterious story is about how life is continually invented and reinvented through the stories we tell.

The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann

 
 

Novel 11, Book 18 by Dag Solstad

Novel 11, Book 18, published in 1992, is an existential novel for which Dag Solstad received the Norwegian Critics’ Prize for Literature. It follows Bjørn Hansen, a man who left his wife and a two-year-old son for his mistress. But that relationship faded, and now Bjørn is living alone. He finds a companion in Dr. Schiøtz, who urges Bjørn to go to Vilnius, Lithuania. Soon, he is questioning his own reality.

Novel 11, Book 18 by Dag Solstad

 
 

My Struggle: Book One by Karl Ove Knausgård

Knausgård’s My Struggle: Book One (2013) is the world’s introduction to an entirely unique, controversial, and brilliant autobiographical six part series. Known for addressing life’s big questions as well as it’s banalities, My Struggle is essential to understanding contemporary Norwegian, and Scandinavian, literature.

My Struggle: Book One by Karl Ove Knausgård

 

 

Contemporary Danish Books

The Endless Summer by Madame Nielsen

A passionate love story written with a sense of longing, The Endless Summer (2014), is about time, sexuality, and tragedy. The writing style is totally unique. Madame Nielsen is one of Denmark’s most daring artists and a finalist for the Nordic Council Prize. Nielsen is best known for “dying” in 2001 and trying to live in Denmark without any identity papers.  

The Endless Summer by Madame Nielsen

 
 

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal (2015) is a funny, modern tale about one woman’s journey of self-discovery. Sonja is a Swedish crime novel translator who is trying to reconnect with her sister and is learning how to drive. But things are not working the way she would like, so Sonja’s mind keeps wandering back to her childhood. It’s a novel about contemporary loneliness and was short-listed for the Man Booker International Prize.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors

 
 

Babboon by Naja Marie Aidt

Baboon is a short story collection from 2006. All the stories in Baboon are built on common themes of sex, gender, and love and then pushed through the author’s frantic realm. The first book from the widely-lauded Aidt to be translated into English, Baboon is brilliantly written; Aidt received the Nordic Council Literature Prize for it in 2008.

Babboon by Naja Marie Aidt

 

 

The Skin Is the Elastic Covering That Encases the Entire Body by Bjørn Rasmussen

This coming-of-age novel, published in 2019, is truly powerful. The story follows a teenage boy named Bjørn who begins a sadomasochistic affair with a much older riding instructor. Bjørn Rasmussen received the Montana Literary Award in 2011 for The Skin Is the Elastic Covering that Encases the Entire Body, and was subsequently awarded a three-year work grant from the Danish government.

The Skin Is the Elastic Covering That Encases the Entire Body by Bjørn Rasmussen

 
 

One of Us Is Sleeping by Josefine Klougart

Josefine Klougart has been called one of Denmark’s most significant contemporary writers. She is also the first Danish author ever to have two of her first three books nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize, the first one being when she was only 25. She’s been compared to a range of authors, including Virginia Woolf. This is her English-language debut, published in 2012; itøs a haunting novel about a loss in all its forms.

One of Us Is Sleeping by Josefine Klougart

 

 

Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg

Smilla’s Sense of Snow is a 1992 novel by Danish author Peter Høeg that earned Høeg immediate and international literary celebrity. The novel is ostensibly a thriller, but beneath the surface, Høeg is concerned with Denmark’s post-colonial history and the nature of interpersonal relationships. To really dive into contemporary Scandinavian literature and how it has led to the advent of Nordic Noir, this novel a must-read!

Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg

 
 

We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen

From one of Scandinavia’s most acclaimed storytellers, Carsten Jensen, We, the Drowned is an epic drama of passion, courage, and adventure. This maritime novel is about generations of men who go to sea, and the women and children they leave behind. Jensen was awarded the Danske Banks Literature Prize, Denmark’s most prestigious literary award for this novel in 2006.

We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen

 
 

Silence in October by Jens Christian Grøndahl

After eighteen years of marriage, an art historian wakes up one morning to find his wife standing in the doorway of their bedroom with all of her things packed. The more he reflects on it, the more mysterious his wife’s actions seems to him. Exploring the idea of living together without connection, Silence in October is a masterfully-written psychological novel.

Silence in October by Jens Christian Grøndahl

 
 

 

Contemporary Finnish Books

True by Riikka Pulkkinen

True is a psychological drama that explores memory. It charts the experiences of generations and unfolds the secret that Anna, the granddaughter, discovers in the very heart of her family. The book raises the questions: how do we know the people close to us? And how can we be faithful to each other? This sensuous novel, the second one by Riika Pulkkinen, came out in 2010 and was shortlisted for Finlandia Prize, the most prestigious literary award in Finland.

True by Riikka Pulkkinen

 
 

Troll: A Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo

Troll: A Love Story (also called Not Before Sundown) is an enchanting novel. A young photographer finds a demonic troll from Scandinavian mythology and takes it home. What he fails to learn is that Pessi, the troll, is the interpreter of man’s darkest, most forbidden feelings. This brilliant novel quickly became a cult favorite in Finland. It was considered Finland’s best novel that year (2000) and won the Finlandia Prize.

Troll: A Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo

 
 

My Friend Natalia by Laura Lindstedt

Told from the perspective of an unnamed therapist, this book explores a therapist’s reaction to a sex-obsessed patient, Natalia. The way the patient-therapist power dynamics play out while the therapist employs experimental techniques explores the inherent tension in the relationship as well as what Natalia really wants in therapy. Lindstedt is an acclaimed Finnish author; her 2015 novel Oneiron won Finland’s highest literary prize, the Finlandia Literary Prize.

My Friend Natalia by Laura Lindstedt

 

 

The Midwife by Katja Kettu

The Midwife (2011) is a powerfully-written novel that tells a story of a midwife in Finland during World War II. A stormy romance unfolds as she falls in love with a war photographer and follows him, volunteering to work as a nurse in a prison camp. The highly-acclaimed The Midwife is Katja Kettu’s English debut and has been massively popular in Finland.

The Midwife by Katja Kettu

 

 

The Beggar and the Hare by Tuomas Kyrö

A beautiful, satirical, and unusual tale from an award-winning Finnish author Tuomas Kyrö. The Beggar and the Hare (2011) follows a young Romanian construction worker who is dreaming of two things: a pair of football boots for his son and a future for himself. So he moves to Helsinki to beg. Soon, he runs into trouble and finds himself hiding from an international crime organization as well as the Finnish police. Amidst these issues, he starts a friendship with a hare.

The Beggar and the Hare by Tuomas Kyrö

 

 

They Know Not What They Do by Jussi Valtonen

A thriller you won’t want to put down. The main character, Joe Chayefski has what seems to be a perfect life. He is recognized as one of America’s top neuroscientists, has a family, and a stellar reputation. When animal rights activists attack his lab, Joe is forced to face his past and reconnect with a son he abandoned years ago. This novel won the Finlandia Prize in 2014.

They Know Not What They Do by Jussi Valtonen

 
 

My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci

My Cat Yugoslavia is a love story set in two countries in two radically different moments in time. It is the story of a young Muslim girl in 1980s Yugoslavia, who is married off to a man she doesn’t know at all. Years later, the story follows her son, Bekim, who grows up in present-day Finland. The novel explosres an outsider’s life in modern Europe. This was the first book for Kosovo-born Finnish writer Pajtim Statovci and it won the Helsingin Sanomat Literature Prize for the best debut novel.

My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci

 

 

Purge by Sofi Oksanenn

This international sensation by Finnish-Estonian writer Sofi Oksanen’s is an incredible story of two women dogged by their shameful pasts. The book, so raw and intimate, explores topics such as sexual terror and Estonia’s Soviet occupation. Purge is Oksanen’s third Finnish-language novel. It was published in 2008 and is based upon her original play of the same name, staged at the Finnish National Theatre in 2007.

Purge by Sofi Oksanenn

 
 

The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna

The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna is a comic novel published in 1975. A journalist and a photographer go out on a work assignment for work when they hit a hare with their car. This leads to a drastic change in journalist Vatanen’s life; he decides to leave it all behind and spend a year with a rabbit. The novel has been translated into 29 languages and was included in 1994 in the UNESCO Collection of Representative Work. It was adapted into two feature films and is one of Finland’s most beloved books.

The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna

 
 

 

Contemporary Icelandic Books

Hotel Silence by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

The heartwarming novel Hotel Silence is the story about a middle-aged handyman, Jónas, whose life seems to be falling apart. His wife leaves him, his mother is sick, and he learns that he is not his daughter’s biological father. So the handyman decides to pack his toolbox, some of his clothes and flies to an unnamed country where he books a room at the Hotel Silence. There, he learns that there are things other than his own life that need his attention. This book celebrates second chances, transformations, and self-discovery. The delightful novel by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, published in 2016 won the Icelandic Literary Prize.

Hotel Silence by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

 
 

Woman at 1,000 Degrees by Hallgrímur Helgason

Woman at 1,000 Degrees (2011) by Hallgrímur Helgason is an award-winning novel that has been translated into 14 languages so far. The story is about eighty-year-old Herra Björnsson, who lies alone in her garage waiting to die. She continually thinks about how little time she has left and has booked her cremation appointment at 1,000 degrees. But until then, she has her memories with her. From husband to kids to kissing a Beatle, to World War II, the financial crash, and mastering the internet. This historical novel was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2013 and the Icelandic Literary Prize in 2011.

Woman at 1,000 Degrees by Hallgrímur Helgason

 

 

Tómas Jónsson: Bestseller by Guðbergur Bergsson

Tómas Jónsson, a grumpy retiree, decides to write a memoir. He rants, he is cynical, he writes in many different styles, and criticizes everything. In our culture obsessed with memoirs, this book shocked Icelandic readers back when it was published in 1966. Written by Guðbergur Bergsson, the novel reinvented what’s possible in Icelandic writing in the post-war years due to its many styles, structure, and wordplay. Therefore, Tómas Jónsson: Bestseller, was, in fact, a bestseller, proclaiming a new age of Icelandic literature.

Tómas Jónsson: Bestseller by Guðbergur Bergsson

 
 

Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón

The main character of this exceptional novel is a young queer boy, Máni Stein. The year is 1918, and homosexuality is taboo in Icelandic society. During the year, the Spanish Flu hits the world and reaches Iceland. So do cinemas. And Máni Stein is deeply affected by both. The book sheds light Iceland’s past homophobia. This novel won all literary prizes in Iceland, including the Icelandic Literary Prize, in 2013. 

Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón

Want more Scandinavian books? See the best classic Swedish children’s books and the best Scandinavian cookbooks.

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