I started the three “city” books by Per Anders Fogelström after family friends showed us Byggartappan playground, which is based on City of My Dreams. These books were often grim, sometimes up-lifting, and always beautifully written. I like that the author didn’t shy away from the gritty reality of urban poverty in this time; lice, infant mortality, body-crushing work, and the constant struggle to earn enough to eat. Hanna’s Daughters similarly felt like a good introduction to rural poverty in approximately the same time period. (Followed by less grim stories leading up to almost modern times.)
City of My Dreams, Children of Their City, and Remember the City are very much about a particular time and place, with the characters and their stories being important, but secondary. Hanna’s Daughters is more focused on the lives of three particular characters, all of whom are shaped by their time and place. I enjoyed reading all of these novels.
I really wanted to like The Almost Nearly Perfect People, which was kind of a combination modern-day travelogue and social commentary that covers Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, in that order. It was humorous, and I did enjoy the peek into history and cultures through his perspective. However, when I reached the chapters on Sweden, I lost some of my faith in Booth as a reliable narrator, which made me retrospectively doubt other parts of the book.
For example, in one chapter, Booth decides to wander around Stockholm trying to push on Swedish stereotypes and (surprise, surprise!) found that they were all very much true – he finds that Swedes refuse to jaywalk, are extremely uncomfortable riding in an elevator with a stranger, and are reticent in conversation! And maybe what he writes IS close to what he experienced. However, considering that I saw people in Stockholm jaywalking every day, had loads of conversations with strangers (many initiated by Swedes), and didn’t have anyone jump out of an elevator when I entered it, I’m a little skeptical that he wasn’t strongly filtering his experiences for the sake of humorous narrative. This filtering would be less frustrating to me if he weren’t also weaving his report of these experiences into his social commentary.
Some of his statements also seem to miss essential context, such as when he quotes that Sweden has the highest number of reported rapes per capita in Europe. It does. In some comparisons, it’s the highest in the whole world! However, a quick online search reveals that this is almost certainly because of differences in classification and reporting, not because of an actual higher incidence rate. This context is both very relevant and entirely omitted.
Anyway, I’m not an expert on this topic and can’t comment on the accuracy of the book as a whole, but if you do read it, I’d recommend keeping your skepticism intact. All of us are going to see the world through our own perspectives, and Booth does a great job at humorously sharing his thoughts and those of the people he interviews. However, there is a difference between travelogue and nuanced, fact-based social commentary. This book seems to be an attempt to pursue both forms, and I think that it pursues the latter much less successfully.
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