Eleanor Wachtel's notes from Stockholm

For a special series on the Nordic imagination, Eleanor Wachtel travelled to Stockholm, Sweden to learn more about the city that inspires such ominous fiction.

Nordic countries typically rank among the happiest in the world, so why do their artists produce such dark and haunting work? For the first episode in a special series, Darkness and Light: The Nordic Imagination, Eleanor Wachtel travels to Stockholm for answers and interviews Swedish screenwriter Hans Rosenfeldt.

The interview with Rosenfeldt will air on April 22, 2018 on CBC Radio One.

From Eleanor Wachtel:

Sweden is in some ways the leader of the Nordic countries — in population, immigration and noir. It's the largest with close to 10 million people, almost double its neighbours Finland, Norway and Denmark (Iceland with 330,000 is another story). And although all the Nordic lands have been attractive to immigrants, Sweden especially has typically welcomed refugees. In fact, during the crisis of 2015, it accepted more migrants per capita than any other country. At the same time, the recent influx of asylum seekers is causing divisions between and within the countries themselves, testing long-held values.

Sweden is also home to the most successful of crime writers, the originators of Nordic noir, going back to the 1960s and 1970s with Mai Sjowall and Per Wahloo's Martin Beck series, to Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series and Henning Mankell's Wallander.  All were made into hugely popular movies or TV series. But probably the biggest today is the Swedish-Danish phenomenon The Bridge, created by Hans Rosenfeldt and broadcast in more than 170 countries. 

Set on the border between Denmark and Sweden, an actual bridge that links Copenhagen to Malmo in southern Sweden, it revolves around the collaboration, the relationship between a Swedish detective, Saga, and her Danish counterpart. In addition to the serious political and social issues raised in these crime dramas, Rosenfeldt also plays with cultural differences between the characters and the countries they reflect. Certain stereotypes associated with Swedes, such as efficiency and following the rules, are emphasized. I wondered about this when just down the street from my hotel in Stockholm, I noticed a plaque in the sidewalk commemorating the spot where Sweden's Prime Minister Olaf Palme was assassinated in 1986. Famous for his progressive policies and fierce non-alignment during the Cold War, Palme's murder was a shock to the country and was never really solved, the investigation somewhat botched.

After my conversation with Rosenfeldt, he suggested I visit a couple of museums on one of the many islands that make up Stockholm. As I walked down to catch a tram, I passed a large group of people who'd gathered at Kungstradgarden to honour the victims on the one-year anniversary of the terror attack in central Stockholm — on April 7, 2017 — in which four people were killed and 15 seriously injured.

These markers left me reflecting on the darker undercurrents, under a lowering sky, which — as Rosenfeldt points out in our conversation — are the basis for much of the literature and dramatic work coming out of the country. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?