When it comes to literature, Sweden offers a veritable smörgåsbord of world-renowned classics. From roguish cartoon characters to groundbreaking thrillers, the Swedish literary canon encompasses every genre imaginable, inviting readers of all levels to immerse themselves in the country’s rich and diverse culture. To get you started, we’ve rounded up a list of the best books to learn Swedish, including work from some of the country’s most celebrated authors.
1. Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann
Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann follows the wild adventures of an elderly man who escapes from his care home and accidentally gets mixed up in a drug ring. Published in 2009, the comic novel rapidly achieved critical acclaim. After becoming a bestseller in Sweden, it was translated into English and adapted into a movie.
The protagonist’s hilarious scrapes make for a gripping read, and thanks to its simple language and use of images, this graphic novel is widely suited for intermediate-level Swedish learners. This book is also available online as an easy-read version, so you’ll never have to wait for the next installment!
2. Bamse – Världens starkaste björn
Bamse — Världens starkaste björn, which translates to “Bamse — the World’s Strongest Bear,” provides a valuable resource for beginners just coming to grips with Swedish. While this comic is predominantly aimed at children, and therefore uses simple vocabulary, Bamse often touches on complex themes that affect adults and children alike, like violence and discrimination.
Its overarching themes often have educational goals: Readers will learn vocabulary relating to animals, family, geography and different cultures. For those studying at around the A2 level, this is one of the best books for learning basic Swedish words, broadening vocabulary and getting an understanding of Swedish sentence structure.
Millennium, the phenomenal crime series that gave us The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo, beckons its audience to investigate the mysterious underbelly of provincial Sweden with a twisted tale of murder, blackmail and revenge. Centered around a journalist and a troubled computer hacker, the enduring epic continues to seize the imagination of authors and filmmakers around the world — and has firmly established itself as a modern classic.
The use of language in these novels is intensely descriptive, painting a moody picture in keeping with the story’s dark themes. Due to the complexity of these themes and language, the books are ideally suited to advanced Swedish learners. However, translations of the books, as well as movie adaptations in both Swedish and English, make Millennium accessible to Swedish learners of all abilities.
4. En man som heter Ove
The protagonist of the bestselling En man som heter Ove is a curmudgeonly old man who purports to hate everyone and he’s bowled over by the unexpected arrival of chaotic new neighbors. As a touching, often funny story of newfound friendship, the tender way in which En men som heter Ove deals with loneliness makes it as painfully relatable as it is engaging.
This is a great book for intermediate and advanced learners of Swedish (B2 and up), but beginners don’t have to miss out! The book has also recently been adapted into a heartwarming film, which has earned multiple awards and positive reviews throughout Sweden and beyond.
Initially set in 19th-century rural Småland, Utvandrarna is a novel series following the arduous journey of an impoverished farming family, whose last hope of survival lies beyond the horizon in the United States of America. As a historical drama, this series provides some insight into the lives of the millions of Swedes who were forced to leave their homeland for better opportunities across the Atlantic Ocean.
Utvandrarna is a gripping series, and its many surprising twists and turns keep readers hooked while simultaneously paying tribute to the brave emigrants who confronted the unknown. With its mature, sometimes outdated language, intermediate to advanced learners will find this a good book for learning Swedish expressions and understanding an important moment in the nation’s history.
Prefer a lighthearted easy read to a heavy novel? Enter Rocky. This autobiographical comic strip features the author, Martin Kellerman, as an anthropomorphic, hilariously self-deprecating dog. It’s not hard to see why it has been translated into several languages. Available as a daily strip or graphic novel, Rocky is an addictive yet easy way to learn Swedish.
Thanks to its hip-hop references and a certain self-aware irony, this comic oozes cool. The use of borrowed language and shared cultural references make this a laid-back way for intermediate learners to broaden their vocabulary and learn Swedish slang.
7. Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige
Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige is a classic children’s adventure book from the turn of the 20th century, where the protagonist Nils is transformed into a gnome as a punishment for being wanton and rude. After hitching a lift with a pack of wild geese, Nils ends up far away from home and must travel through every province in Sweden to get back.
The vocabulary is fairly simple, making it one of the best books for beginners to learn terms relating to animals and nature. However, the many subplots that are intricately woven into the story make this an exciting story for learners of all levels.
8. Pippi Långstrump
No list of Swedish literature would be complete without Sweden’s best-known children’s character: Pippi Långstump, known in English as Pippi Longstocking. Pippi is a brash but kind-hearted nine-year-old misfit, whose unconventional lifestyle and penchant for mischief get her into all kinds of trouble.
Since the first book’s publication in 1945, Pippi’s fantastic adventures have been transformed into countless spin-off books, television series and films in 76 languages around the world. The use of simple, everyday vocabulary makes this book particularly suitable for beginners and intermediates (around B1 level). While Pippi Långstrump may be predominantly aimed at children, this book an excellent tool to start learning everyday Swedish, especially for those seeking to truly immerse themselves in Swedish culture.