The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden, by Jonas Jonasson
More than the other books by the author, this particular volume takes a long time to get to the point. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as this book is nearly 400 pages and is a compelling and enjoyable read, although definitely an odd one. Indeed, it is not clear for a long time how it is that the girl in question will save the King of Sweden, or why he would need saving, and by the time one knows it is a rather inevitable sort of situation if one is familiar at all with the author’s previous writing. There are definitely plenty of ways where the author shows himself to be in familiar ground, writing a book that makes constant fun of the incompetence of the Swedish police, which prompts an angry comment from a kidnapped Swedish prime minister that this ought not to be a surprise, and the characters in the book are definitely quirky and odd and live at the margins of Swedish society and engage in behavior that is contrary to Swedish law but are nonetheless intended to be viewed positively by the reader, and in this case are for very particular reasons.
There are really two stories that combine in to one here. In alternating chapters the author tells the story about a clever black girl born into poverty in South Africa who takes advantage of her gift in learning languages and learning things in general very quickly to find a job helping out the South African nuclear program, which has some complications, and the story of two twins with only one identity who have unequal personalities who are born of a dysfunctional couple led by a father with a passionate desire to overthrow the kingdom of Sweden. By the time these two plotlines converge, the South African refugee is in Sweden seeking to avoid the Massoud, who have been tricked by some Chinese fellow slaves of hers, and finding a hesitant relationship with Holger Two, who officially does not exist. Holger One finds himself an angry girlfriend and everyone involves finds themselves a lot of trouble. Eventually the angry girlfriend and her noble (?) grandmother get involved in a plot involving a lot of money and a determined Israeli spy who wants to wipe out the clever South African woman, and eventually there is a happy ever after story that shows the King of Sweden to have the right sort of common touch to preserve the monarchy and win over his enemies.
As an American, it is interesting reading a novel like this one, or the other novels by the author. Even without a great familiarity with Scandinavian literature, it is obvious that the author is working with some well established tropes, namely dealing with Sweden’s role as a magnet for immigrants and refugees, the vagaries of Swedish politics, as well as the way that misfits and criminals exist on the outskirts of what seems like an oppressively mediocre mainstream society. That said, the author manages to make in Nombeko and Holger Two, as well as the king, appealing characters that the reader will root for, and makes the more unappealing characters like Holger One and his whiny girlfriend more blocking characters that are openly called idiots by others, who clearly are in the know. Novels like the authors, with the sorts of tropes that the author is working with, are only really appealing when one is dealing with characters that the reader can root for. Without a doubt, that is the case here, as nuclear diplomacy and geopolitics and translation all combine to make a compelling plot with some worthwhile characters.