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Popular Music from Vittula

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Popular Music from Vittula tells the fantastical story of a young boy's unordinary existence, peopled by a visiting African priest, a witch in the heart of the forest, cousins from Missouri, an old Nazi, a beautiful girl with a black Volvo, silent men and tough women, a champion-bicyclist music teacher with a thumb in the middle of his hand—and, not least, on a shiny vinyl Popular Music from Vittula tells the fantastical story of a young boy's unordinary existence, peopled by a visiting African priest, a witch in the heart of the forest, cousins from Missouri, an old Nazi, a beautiful girl with a black Volvo, silent men and tough women, a champion-bicyclist music teacher with a thumb in the middle of his hand—and, not least, on a shiny vinyl disk, the Beatles. The story unfolds in sweltering wood saunas, amidst chain thrashings and gang warfare, learning to play the guitar in the garage, over a traditional wedding meal, on the way to China, during drinking competitions, while learning secret languages, playing ice hockey surrounded by snow drifts, outsmarting mice, discovering girls, staging a first rock concert, peeing in the snow, skiing under a sparkling midnight sky. In the manner of David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green, Mikael Niemi tells a story of a rural Sweden at once foreign and familiar, as a magical childhood slowly fades with the seasons into adult reality.


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Popular Music from Vittula tells the fantastical story of a young boy's unordinary existence, peopled by a visiting African priest, a witch in the heart of the forest, cousins from Missouri, an old Nazi, a beautiful girl with a black Volvo, silent men and tough women, a champion-bicyclist music teacher with a thumb in the middle of his hand—and, not least, on a shiny vinyl Popular Music from Vittula tells the fantastical story of a young boy's unordinary existence, peopled by a visiting African priest, a witch in the heart of the forest, cousins from Missouri, an old Nazi, a beautiful girl with a black Volvo, silent men and tough women, a champion-bicyclist music teacher with a thumb in the middle of his hand—and, not least, on a shiny vinyl disk, the Beatles. The story unfolds in sweltering wood saunas, amidst chain thrashings and gang warfare, learning to play the guitar in the garage, over a traditional wedding meal, on the way to China, during drinking competitions, while learning secret languages, playing ice hockey surrounded by snow drifts, outsmarting mice, discovering girls, staging a first rock concert, peeing in the snow, skiing under a sparkling midnight sky. In the manner of David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green, Mikael Niemi tells a story of a rural Sweden at once foreign and familiar, as a magical childhood slowly fades with the seasons into adult reality.

30 review for Popular Music from Vittula

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    Matti is a regular teen in 60s Pajala up in the extreme north of Sweden, where they think of themselves as Finns and speak Finnish by preference. These are guys who know how to hold their liquor, laugh at temperatures that go down to forty below zero, handle a gun, an axe or a snowmobile, build a house, butcher a reindeer and treat women the way they really want to be treated. Though it's true, Matti has also discovered rock 'n' roll. Maybe that makes him knapsu (gay), but he doesn't care. A real Finn Matti is a regular teen in 60s Pajala up in the extreme north of Sweden, where they think of themselves as Finns and speak Finnish by preference. These are guys who know how to hold their liquor, laugh at temperatures that go down to forty below zero, handle a gun, an axe or a snowmobile, build a house, butcher a reindeer and treat women the way they really want to be treated. Though it's true, Matti has also discovered rock 'n' roll. Maybe that makes him knapsu (gay), but he doesn't care. A real Finn can take care of himself if anyone's dumb enough to call him knapsu. He also turns out to be a natural writer: his voice is sort of like Huck Finn crossed with a Viking saga. Out of consideration to the guys further south, he's been kind enough to write his book in Swedish, which at least is a half-respectable language. I understand that there's an English translation too, though I'm not sure I can recommend it. Here's what Matti thinks of English:Engelska, detta språk med alldeles för svagt tuggmotstånd för hårda finska käftar, så sladdrigt att bara flickor kunde få femmor i det, denna snigelaktiga rotvälska, dallrande och fuktig, uppfunnen av gyttjetrampande kustlänningar som aldrig behövt kämpa, som aldrig svultit eller frusit, ett språk för lättingar, gräsätare, soffpruttare, så helt utan spänst att tungan sladdrade som en avskuren förhud i munnen. [English, a language which doesn't offer enough resistance to hard Finnish jaws, so slippery that only girls can get As in it, this damp, wobbly, snail-like gobbledegook, invented by muddy southerners who've never needed to fight, never been frozen or hungry, a language for lazy vegetarians who fart on their sofas, so completely lacking in texture that you feel your tongue sliding around in your mouth like a cut-off foreskin.]Unfortunately, we can't all be Finns. Girls, the quickest way to Pajala is fly to Kiruna via Stockholm, then take the bus north. But don't get your hopes up. ________________________ Consulting the Swedish wikipedia page about this book, I'm pleased to see that it's been translated into both the dialect of Finnish spoken here and standard Finnish, "together with some other languages". It also correctly describes the book as a skröna (roughly, bragging or lying as an art-form) masquerading as an autobiography. I'm afraid to say that some other reviewers have called it "magical realist". They are so knapsu that they probably enjoy the taste of wine.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nanou

    My friend who studied Swedish gave me this book to read and one evening we were reading it together and laughing like crazy hyenas. That time we lived on campus, three girls in one room, and the third girl desperately tried to study while we two were making such a noise! Бедная Настя. Она нас так и не простила.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    [2.5*] I started this novel because it was recommended on a Russian book podcast that I really enjoy, promising a funny coming of age story set in the middle of nowhere in Sweden, translated beautifully into Russian. I will lie if I say any of this is untrue. It is indeed a coming of age story set in the middle of nowhere in Sweden. It is indeed funny. It is indeed translated astonishingly well into Russian - using simultaneously poetic and crude language (there were quite some words [2.5*] I started this novel because it was recommended on a Russian book podcast that I really enjoy, promising a funny coming of age story set in the middle of nowhere in Sweden, translated beautifully into Russian. I will lie if I say any of this is untrue. It is indeed a coming of age story set in the middle of nowhere in Sweden. It is indeed funny. It is indeed translated astonishingly well into Russian - using simultaneously poetic and crude language (there were quite some words that I don't think I've ever seen written, even somewhere on neglected buildings, and I've seen quite a lot of various words written in such places.) I assume this was how the original text was constructed as well, but I applaud the translator in any case - it doesn't at all read as translated fiction, only the foreign-sounding names are giving away its national origin. The novel is presented as a collection of vignettes exploring coming of age of a boy and his friends in a place that is both part of the modern world and set apart from it, where drinking is the hobby of most of its male (and often female) inhabitants, where gender roles are stuck in middle ages but where women are nonetheless strong and powerful in their own way, the way they have always been in villages, at least in this part of the world. There is a feeling that the action could have easily been transported to the middle of nowhere in Russia, barely losing a reference. Then there is this sense of the clash of cultures, not just modernity and tradition but also actual cultures - the setting is a Finnish enclave in Sweden, which probably has more in common with the Soviet Union than the rest of Sweden. Life is rough and hopeless but, like everywhere, it goes on regardless. I had a hard time reading this novel, despite its many merits, or maybe precisely because of them. Even though I myself have been mostly living in a bubble of educated, intelligent, liberally-minded and internationally-conscious populace, I am well-aware that it is indeed a bubble and not how people generally are. I sometimes catch glimpses of the life outside the bubble and it is very similar to the life in Vittula and its surroundings. Such glimpses rattle me slightly, forcing me to withdraw back into my bubble, where life is not perfect either, just more familiar to my sensibilities. In reality, though, it is equally possible to be unhappy both inside and outside the bubble. It's just that inside the bubble we have a better vocabulary and more practice to talk about our unhappiness. It is rather curious that a book that is pretty funny has put me in such a gloomy mood. It is also curious that intellectually I acknowledge that this is really good literature but I still did not enjoy the process of reading it. Lots of food for thought though, as long as the thinking is done inside the bubble.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    This one has it all. Humanity, humour up the wazoo, insight, high emotional stakes, great use of language (it must be amazing in the Swedish but oh well),magic, and morals. Anyone who grew up in an isolated place will relate to this. Spoiler alert, if you already know you're going to read this book, stop now: seriously, why ruin it... ok here goes the scene where Niila's abusive father gets his ass kicked, then, while convalescing, finds heaven while walking the landscape i This one has it all. Humanity, humour up the wazoo, insight, high emotional stakes, great use of language (it must be amazing in the Swedish but oh well),magic, and morals. Anyone who grew up in an isolated place will relate to this. Spoiler alert, if you already know you're going to read this book, stop now: seriously, why ruin it... ok here goes the scene where Niila's abusive father gets his ass kicked, then, while convalescing, finds heaven while walking the landscape in the cracks of the ceiling was one of the most...believable portrayals of a religious experience that I have read in a long time. Ever. So beautiful. And the rest of the chapter is amazing as well. It's almost biblical in it's archetypal weight. To me this chapter is the beating heart of the book. Not funny like the rest, but the lynchpin, the keystone of a magnificent, humble novel.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rusalka

    I distinctly remember starting this book. I was on a plane home from Japan, finally from our sudden month in the UK. They had just turned the lights out after meals and drinks so that people could sleep. It was about 12am at night Japanese time, so 1am Aussie time. I was already feeling self conscious as my light was on, but Lexx and my brother were on either side of me. Lexx had taken a sleeping tablet and my brother still hadn't got the hang of sleeping on planes. And I was desperately trying I distinctly remember starting this book. I was on a plane home from Japan, finally from our sudden month in the UK. They had just turned the lights out after meals and drinks so that people could sleep. It was about 12am at night Japanese time, so 1am Aussie time. I was already feeling self conscious as my light was on, but Lexx and my brother were on either side of me. Lexx had taken a sleeping tablet and my brother still hadn't got the hang of sleeping on planes. And I was desperately trying not to piss myself laughing at this book. This book isn't really a book of short stories, but it kind of is. It's probably better described as a collection of vignettes of the author's childhood. How many of them are true? God knows. He probably doesn't know entirely himself. This is what is the most gripping part of this book. It tells stories of his childhood growing up on the far northern border of Sweden and Finland above the Arctic Circle, where they speak their own language which isn't quiet Swedish, but not quite Finnish, and considered a bastard kind of area by both Finland and Sweden. With all this in the background, he tells you these stories as absolute truths that just sort of get carried away on a child's imagination until they are fantastical in nature and far too big to be true. But you can imagine little Mikael swearing black and blue that's exactly what happened. This element diminishes slightly as he gets older, and the fantastic, almost magical realism of the book settles back into a more measured reality. But was it is replaced by is a humour and a heartbreaking assessment of the reality of the town that only teenagers can really give. That's the thing that sucks you in really. It's the brutal honesty of this book. Whether it's him telling you a story at 5 or 15 or 25. You believe his complete sincerity. In a world that undervalues honestly so much, this is a very rare gift. For more reviews visit http://rusalkii.blogspot.com.au/

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mary Overton

    On the link of literature to madness - Excerpt from a lecture delivered in the sauna by Dad; he explicates the facts of life for 14 year old Mattie so his son will know how to be a man: "Then [Dad] started going through a list of all the family idiots. I'd already met some of them: one was in the psychiatric hospital in Gallivare, and another in Pitea. In medical jargon it was called schizophrenia, and it seemed to run in the family. It would appear when you reached the age of eighteen On the link of literature to madness - Excerpt from a lecture delivered in the sauna by Dad; he explicates the facts of life for 14 year old Mattie so his son will know how to be a man: "Then [Dad] started going through a list of all the family idiots. I'd already met some of them: one was in the psychiatric hospital in Gallivare, and another in Pitea. In medical jargon it was called schizophrenia, and it seemed to run in the family. It would appear when you reached the age of eighteen or so, and was due to certain causes. Frustrated love was one, and Dad begged me to be very wary of getting involved with complicated women who were scared of sex. Dad urged me never to be too persistent with the fair sex if they declined to open their legs, but rather to follow his own example and find myself an unabashed peasant girl with a big ass. "The other cause of lunacy was brooding. Dad strongly advised me never to start thinking too much, but to do as little as possible of it, since thinking was a menace that only got worse the more of it you did. He could recommend hard manual labor as an antidote: shoveling snow, chopping firewood, skiing cross-country, and that kind of thing, because thinking usually affected people when they were lolling about on the sofa or sitting back to rest in some other way. Getting up early was also recommended, especially on weekends and when you had a hangover, because all kinds of nasty thought could worm their way into your mind then. "It was particularly important not to brood about religion. God and death and the meaning of life were all extremely dangerous topics for a young and vulnerable mind, a dense forest in which you could easily get lost and end up with acute attacks of madness. You could confidently leave that kind of stuff until your old age, because by then you would be hardened and tougher, and wouldn't have much else to do. Confirmation classes should be regarded as a purely theoretical exercise: a few texts and rituals to memorize, but certainly not anything to start worrying about. "The most dangerous thing of all, and something he wanted to warn me about above all else, the one thing that had consigned whole regiments of unfortunate young people to the twilight world of insanity, was reading books. This objectionable practice had increased among the younger generation, and Dad was more pleased than he could say to note that I had not yet displayed any such tendencies. Lunatic asylums were overflowing with folk who'd been reading too much. Once upon a time they'd been just like you and me, physically strong, straightforward, cheerful, and well balanced. Then they'd started reading. Most often by chance. A bout of flu perhaps, with a few days in bed. An attractive book cover that had aroused some curiosity. And suddenly the bad habit had taken hold. The first book had led to another. Then another, and another, all links in a chain that led straight down into the eternal night of mental illness. It was impossible to stop. It was worse than drugs. "It might just be possible, if you were very careful, to look at the occasional book that could teach you something, such as encyclopedias or repair manuals. The most dangerous kind of book was fiction - that's where all the brooding was sparked and encouraged. Damnit all! Addictive and risky products like that should only be available in state-regulated monopoly stores, rationed and sold only to those with a license, and mature in age." Kindle location 2712-2741 In the oral tradition of hyperbolic tall-tales - Chapter 10 tells the most frightening ghost story of all time. Chapter 12 tells the darkest, most evil story of all time. Chapter 13 tells the funniest mentor story of all time. Each chapter is the self-contained narrative of an event during the journey from innocence to experience.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Karl Lehtinen

    Best Finnish book ever. Well, OK, I haven't read any others. But this is what I imagine my childhood may have been like if my father had never left Finland. Some of the most endearing scenes and stories I have ever read. Too god damned cute to put down. Nothing life-changing in here, but it shouldn't be missed.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Furman

    Popular Music from Vittula is an ingenious blend of memoir, folklore, magical realism, and talented story telling. Who knew growing up in the Arctic Circle would be so enchanting? (I thought it would be too frigid to do anything but shiver.) But Niemi forms a beautiful landscape where men half a step away from Vikings raise kids who listen to The Beatles. The modern age quite literally steam rolls into an edge of the world village where citizens are treading the waters between the religions and myths o Popular Music from Vittula is an ingenious blend of memoir, folklore, magical realism, and talented story telling. Who knew growing up in the Arctic Circle would be so enchanting? (I thought it would be too frigid to do anything but shiver.) But Niemi forms a beautiful landscape where men half a step away from Vikings raise kids who listen to The Beatles. The modern age quite literally steam rolls into an edge of the world village where citizens are treading the waters between the religions and myths of their ancestors and the consumerism of the modern age. Modern marvels meets old world is not, however, what makes this book so captivating. Instead it’s the subtleties of being young that Niemi portrays so perfectly. The nuances of grade school hierarchies, the machismo of the adolescent male, the intricate blends of fantasy and reality that compound to make the world that all little kids live in—Niemi calls them up perfectly without an air of adult pandering. He doesn’t look back and think ‘we were so silly then,’ if anything he pays homage to the often vicious forces at work in the world of children and how tricky it is to move from the stage of innocence into the thrilling, taboo busting realm of adolescence.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bob Newman

    growing up as a huckleberry Finn Growing up anyplace isn't smooth, it isn't describable exactly. If you search your memories later, trying to ask why you did something, you can't, for the life of you, remember why. You just did it. Things happened. You tried to get to China. You mimicked the rock stars when you thought you were alone. You might even have licked cold locks---if you grew up in northern climes--- and got your tongue stuck. You were never the hero of your own legend. Well growing up as a huckleberry Finn Growing up anyplace isn't smooth, it isn't describable exactly. If you search your memories later, trying to ask why you did something, you can't, for the life of you, remember why. You just did it. Things happened. You tried to get to China. You mimicked the rock stars when you thought you were alone. You might even have licked cold locks---if you grew up in northern climes--- and got your tongue stuck. You were never the hero of your own legend. Well, folks, this novel captures that confusion perfectly. I've never set foot in Sweden, let alone in its far north by the Finnish border, where all the growing up takes place. But now I feel I know what it was like. Niemi's description, magical realism and all, gives you such joy, such interest, that I assure you, you will read POPULAR MUSIC IN VITTULA as quickly as you can. I haven't laughed out loud over a book so much for years. Hey, I even laughed in the Boston subway like some kind of weird, public transport cackler. But I didn't care. Kids fight in the woods with B-B guns, try to start rock bands to impress girls, experiment with sex and alcohol, get up the teacher's nose, visit scary old healers, watch the grownups pass out at huge drinkups, and dream of fast cars. In the very end, things turn out quite differently, but that's really familiar too. Most of the themes are hardly unique to the area, but it's Niemi's genius that he makes you feel it exotic and familiar at the same time. It's contemporary writing at its best and I think all readers in English owe a vote of thanks to the translator too. You've got to have a strong stomach for a couple sections, say for example, if large piles of dead mice are not your forte. If you have ever seen Kaurismaki films like "Leningrad Cowboys Go America" or "The Man without a Past", you will recognize the same deadpan Finnish humor in Niemi's novel, whose characters are mainly from the Finnish minority in Sweden's rural north. I could recount a scene or two for the surfing reader, try to "deconstruct" whatever, go literary if I could, but your best bet would be to read the book. You will not regret it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gail Francis

    The narrator in this self-deprecating Swedish coming-of-age story does a great job at capturing a child's view of things. Author Mikael Niemi keeps the reader guessing at time as to the reliability of the narrator as he winds his way through the story of the friendship of two boys, their families, and eventually their band. The story reminded me of A Christmas Story with its wry depiction of working class families in a snowy climate. The chapter in which two families engage in a drinking contest The narrator in this self-deprecating Swedish coming-of-age story does a great job at capturing a child's view of things. Author Mikael Niemi keeps the reader guessing at time as to the reliability of the narrator as he winds his way through the story of the friendship of two boys, their families, and eventually their band. The story reminded me of A Christmas Story with its wry depiction of working class families in a snowy climate. The chapter in which two families engage in a drinking contest followed by a sauna contest is one of the all-time great depictions of stubbornness and stoicism. The story bogged down for me when the boys reach puberty. Call me a stereotypical female, but there are only so many times I can maintain an interest in reading about boys discovering their sexuality. In fact, I think one reading of John Updike twenty years ago had me pretty much set for life in this regard. The average teenager's sexual thoughts and actions (to say nothing of those belonging to the adult male) really just aren't that interesting. Even so, Niemi ends the book with a final sentence of such beauty that it perfectly caps the uneven preceding chapters.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Emily (StacksandCats)

    Mikael Niemi's Popular Music from Vittula was interesting to say the least. However, I was not fond of it at all, and I tried to be. Unlike Ellen Foster, this book never really grew on me, although part of it could be due to the fact that I am not familiar with the culture, and I have read so few coming-of-age stories that deal with male protagonists. However, there were aspects I found compelling regarding the story, and I greatly enjoyed the importance of music throughout the piece, especially Mikael Niemi's Popular Music from Vittula was interesting to say the least. However, I was not fond of it at all, and I tried to be. Unlike Ellen Foster, this book never really grew on me, although part of it could be due to the fact that I am not familiar with the culture, and I have read so few coming-of-age stories that deal with male protagonists. However, there were aspects I found compelling regarding the story, and I greatly enjoyed the importance of music throughout the piece, especially at the end were Nilla had apparently followed his dream. Niemi's preface was odd to me. I didn't actually see the point with starting the story while he is hiking a mountain, unless it is what lays the groundwork for all of the really peculiar fantastical scenes throughout the story. At times I found the over description compelling while at others I was definitely taken aback by the descriptions of people, bodily functions, and the eating of boogers. Granted, this might be because I haven't read many coming-of-age stories about male characters, but the frankness of those scenes (one that really stuck out to me was the middle-aged women doing dance aerobics) really helped create and image and see the world Matti lived in. Some of the fantastical scenes confused me. At the beginning of the novel when Mattie and Nilla apparently fly to Germany, I was taken aback. They couldn't have really flown out of the country with no ticket and no parental support, but is differed from the other fantastical scenes such as the one where he is in the womb of the iron contraption. I had trouble telling if they were ways to escape the world or they were merely the adult Matti filling in areas he couldn't remember in his recollections. Either way, they took me out of the story completely in several occasions. However, I loved all of the issues that he touched. A lot of huge topics were skirted over, which I found refreshing. A child might not think much about them (the classmate being gay, the man who dressed like a woman, underage drinking, domestic abuse, sex, gangs), so it makes sense that they were mentioned almost absently throughout the novel. While Niemi focused on the violence and puberty a little bit more, the story was focused on this boys finding a way to live through the changes and their worlds via music. Sometimes, though, the drop off of topics frustrated me. I thought the whole Esperanto trial was interesting. The boys spoke this language and it wasn't until the new pastor came that they realized what it was. And then, just that quickly, it was dropped. I wanted to know more of that. I wanted to explore that train of thought more thoroughly. Did they continue speaking it? Did the pastor move on? These questions were not answered to my liking. Even though I was not a fan of the book, I can understand the good reviews, and I can appreciate the book for what it was. It was a slightly difficult read due to the translation, and I wish I spoke Swedish so that I could read it the way it was written.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lorenzo Berardi

    I've got a kind of obsession for Scandinavian literature, having lived for a little while in Norway. And yet I have to say that Swedish literature has more to offer than Norwegian one with such great novelists like Stig Dagerman, Lars Gustafsson and Torgny Lindgren. Mikael Niemi belongs to a new generation of Swedish authors and -as I suppose from his surname, he has finnish roots.- This book is a funny and easy reading which takes place in an exotic northern land, tha I've got a kind of obsession for Scandinavian literature, having lived for a little while in Norway. And yet I have to say that Swedish literature has more to offer than Norwegian one with such great novelists like Stig Dagerman, Lars Gustafsson and Torgny Lindgren. Mikael Niemi belongs to a new generation of Swedish authors and -as I suppose from his surname, he has finnish roots.- This book is a funny and easy reading which takes place in an exotic northern land, that part of Sweden on the Bothnia gulf. It's here, among creeks and forests and not much more, that a bunch of local young guys decide to play rock 'n roll. They listen to old vynils by Elvis and Beatles trying to play the same chords and mispronouncing the same words, building their instruments by themselves and so on. It's the kind of novel about music as an interpretation of life that you can really appreciate if you have read The Commitments by Roddy Doyle or The James Dean Garage Band by Rick Moody. Moreover you will surely learn something on how people used to live in Sweden during the 60s and the 70s far from the big cities, apparently in the Middle of a Nowhere Land.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    This one turned out surprisingly good actually. Even tho I've been complaining about it ever since we started reading it at school, I've never laughed so much, nor as hard, while reading something ever before. I think I might even read it again one day, as long as I find a copy with a better looking cover ;) I also think I need to do some research on the whole Finland-Sweden situation, 'cause I felt like I had to be touched in the head sometimes since nothing made sense. AND I have to warn ya'll This one turned out surprisingly good actually. Even tho I've been complaining about it ever since we started reading it at school, I've never laughed so much, nor as hard, while reading something ever before. I think I might even read it again one day, as long as I find a copy with a better looking cover ;) I also think I need to do some research on the whole Finland-Sweden situation, 'cause I felt like I had to be touched in the head sometimes since nothing made sense. AND I have to warn ya'll about the ending. It is so depressing. It's weird. The book is super duper crazy weird, so if you're not up to reading about how this boy was reborn by an kiln; get on your bike. Period.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Karen Rós

    brilliant. i read it in swedish and i just love the language so much. i usually say i hate swedish, but this swedish is so..weird... it must be dialect or something and there's finnish words mixed in and it's just so wonderful. the book is good too. really it is. it left me with a feeling of melancholy but also peace...it's such a warm and heartfelt narrative, yet brutal and harsh and just.. so full of life and truths.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Berit Lundqvist

    Pajala is a half-forgotten village in the far north of Sweden, close to the Finnish border. It’s tough up there. The winters are long and cold. You really need to know how to survive. How to rake the forest. How to chop the wood. How to hunt the moose. How to do the sauna ritual properly. How to drink and fight yourself into oblivion. In other words, a country where men are men, and reindeer are anxious. One thing you don’t need to know is how to talk, even if you are fluent in all th Pajala is a half-forgotten village in the far north of Sweden, close to the Finnish border. It’s tough up there. The winters are long and cold. You really need to know how to survive. How to rake the forest. How to chop the wood. How to hunt the moose. How to do the sauna ritual properly. How to drink and fight yourself into oblivion. In other words, a country where men are men, and reindeer are anxious. One thing you don’t need to know is how to talk, even if you are fluent in all the three languages spoken up here. Smalltalk is “knapsu”, only for sissies. So is reading and education. “The most dangerous thing of all, and something he wanted to warn me about above all else, the one thing that had consigned whole regiments of unfortunate young people to the twilight world of insanity, was reading books. This objectionable practice had increased among the younger generation, and Dad was more pleased than he could say to not that I had not yet displayed any such tendencies. Lunatic asylums were overflowing with folk who'd been reading too much. Once upon a time they'd been just like you and me, physically strong, straightforward, cheerful, and well balanced. Then they'd started reading. Most often by chance. A bout of flu perhaps, with a few days in bed. An attractive book cover that had aroused some curiosity. And suddenly the bad habit had taken hold. The first book had led to another. Then another, and another, all links in a chain that led straight down into the eternal night of mental illness. It was impossible to stop. It was worse than drugs. It might just be possible, if you were very careful, to look at the occasional book that could teach you something, such as encyclopaedias or repair manuals. The most dangerous kind of book was fiction-- that's where all the brooding was sparked and encouraged. Damnit all! Addictive and risky products like that should only be available in state-regulated monopoly stores, rationed and sold only to those with a license, and mature in age.” In this environment, surrounded by pious Christians as well as hard-core communists, young Matti grew up during the 60’s and the 70’s. Matti plays in a rock band, hence he is a bit sissy. He knows there is a world outside Pajala, and wants out. For a sissy southerner like me, this is pure gold, and very entertaining. All my prejudices are confirmed. Niemi, who is a year younger than I am, also brings back many memories from the past. He tells Matti's story in discrete chapters, each with a theme, so that the novel lacks any smooth chronology and has, instead, a jarred and vivid snapshot quality, which is, after all, how we remember our childhood.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kati Stevens

    I really loved this book. It's beautifully written, evocative of a place I knew nothing about (a Finnish village in northern Sweden during the '60s), and early on I was thinking about how I would describe this book -- like if Anne of Green Gables were written as memoir, but by a Finnish Nick Hornby, is the best I could come up with -- but no comparison really does it justice. It's one of those plotless books about childhood and culture. The only thing that keeps me from giving it a full five sta I really loved this book. It's beautifully written, evocative of a place I knew nothing about (a Finnish village in northern Sweden during the '60s), and early on I was thinking about how I would describe this book -- like if Anne of Green Gables were written as memoir, but by a Finnish Nick Hornby, is the best I could come up with -- but no comparison really does it justice. It's one of those plotless books about childhood and culture. The only thing that keeps me from giving it a full five stars is, beside it feeling like "minor" is a necessary adjective in front of masterpiece, is that there isn't a single fully-realized female character in it. I don't think this is as problematic as it is in a lot of so-called great literature written by men because that undeveloped view of women seems about right for that time period, place, and age. But still. So four stars. I highly recommend it. It's not long, but it's a good book to sit with. I hope you enjoy.

  17. 4 out of 5

    whaley

    Had to read this for school, and it's not really my type of book, but it was okay... (kinda)...

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lars Eggen

    One of the funniest books I’ve read. Nothing less than a masterpiece

  19. 5 out of 5

    Malin

    Matti grows up in a tiny town in the remote north of Sweden in the 1960s and 70s. The chapters in this book are more like little short stories about different aspects of his childhood and adolescence, chronicled with humour and the occasional forays into strange, magical realism-inspired fantasy sequences. The inhabitants of his town and the surrounding areas seem to be either deeply puritanically religious or Communists, not caring for the trappings of religion at all. The gruff and peculiar in Matti grows up in a tiny town in the remote north of Sweden in the 1960s and 70s. The chapters in this book are more like little short stories about different aspects of his childhood and adolescence, chronicled with humour and the occasional forays into strange, magical realism-inspired fantasy sequences. The inhabitants of his town and the surrounding areas seem to be either deeply puritanically religious or Communists, not caring for the trappings of religion at all. The gruff and peculiar inhabitants are set in their ways and far too prone to alcoholism. There's the story of Matti's near-mute best friend Niila, whose father, a lapsed preacher, is so domineering and abusive that neither of the many children of the family speak much, and Niila first learns to speak in Esperanto, through lessons he overhears on the radio in Matti's house. We hear about Matti and Niila's childhood discoveries of rock music, with the hits of Elvis Presley and the Beatles making a huge impact on their lives, inspiring them to form a band. There's the friendly rivalry of adolescent boys, and the organised warfare with airguns that the teens orchestrate in the neighbourhood. There's the summer when Matti is trying to make enough money for a guitar of his own, and engages in devious and gory rat extermination to keep the cabin of a visiting German author vermin free. Because the book is occasionally a straight-forward coming of age narrative about boys in a rural area in the 60s and 70s, but then all of a sudden veers into some dreamlike sequence where a boy gets trapped in a furnace for a winter and starts growing roots, or there is a cross-dressing witch in the woods who can exorcise ghosts, it's hard to pinpoint what the book is actually trying to be. As such, I found the book more frustrating than satisfying. The jumps in narrative, where the story will in one chapter talk about Matti's childhood, then his teens, then back again to earlier in his life, in very strange, seemingly unconnected episodes (all with the common denomination that they're set in Vittula, where he comes from) made the book confusing and while I appreciate the writer's skill, this book just didn't really work for me.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christie

    I didn’t get this book – at all. Everyone from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly waxed poetic about its beauty and prose that “buzzes with wonder, fearlessness and ecstatic ignorance.” Um. I didn’t get it. Translated from the Swedish, Popular Music from Vittula is a “novel” that actually seems more like a memoir – or a series of loosely connected short stories – because if there was a narrative thread here, I wasn’t seeing it. The main character and narrator is Matti and we meet hi I didn’t get this book – at all. Everyone from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly waxed poetic about its beauty and prose that “buzzes with wonder, fearlessness and ecstatic ignorance.” Um. I didn’t get it. Translated from the Swedish, Popular Music from Vittula is a “novel” that actually seems more like a memoir – or a series of loosely connected short stories – because if there was a narrative thread here, I wasn’t seeing it. The main character and narrator is Matti and we meet him as an adult “in a fix in the Thorong La Pass” (which is on Mount Annapurna, Nepal) where he finds himself 17, 765 feet above sea level, with his lips stuck to a Tibetan prayer plaque. I am sure what happens next is meant to be comical but, sadly, I didn’t laugh. And I didn’t laugh at any of the other crazy escapades Matti finds himself embroiled in from the age of five straight through to his teenage years. Matti and his friend, Niila, meet at the neighbourhood playground and their friendship is cemented during a nose-picking session. The rest of this story traces their frienship, particularly their love for music, for the next decade or so. Their otherwise straightforward lives are touched by elements of magical realism. (Did these two five year olds really manage to get on a plane and fly all the way to Frankfurt?) Matti’s story dips in and out of his life, giving the reader a chance to experience the first time he ever heard Elvis Presley sing (in his sister’s bedroom), the first time he goes to school, his first kiss. I wish I could say that the book was more than the sum of its parts, but for me I just didn’t get it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Christy

    This was one of the worst books I have ever read (and I read three of the twilight books so I'm no stranger to bad books). This was terrible writing, run-on sentences and a narrative that legitimately had no linear construction. If this hadn't been a school requirement I would have abandoned it in the first chapter. The characters were flat and unrelateable. Music was supposed to be a central theme but was just sprinkled here and there. I guess the point was to be the biography of a p This was one of the worst books I have ever read (and I read three of the twilight books so I'm no stranger to bad books). This was terrible writing, run-on sentences and a narrative that legitimately had no linear construction. If this hadn't been a school requirement I would have abandoned it in the first chapter. The characters were flat and unrelateable. Music was supposed to be a central theme but was just sprinkled here and there. I guess the point was to be the biography of a place like Crapalachia by Scott McClanahan, except this was liked Crapalachia's brain dead distant cousin.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Vår Ane

    I hated this book, I wish I'd never read it. Its really not my type of book at all. Its about a man and his journey trough life back home in Finland or Sweden or wherever. A lot of things happens to him and he seems a little unintelligent when he deals with these situations. I understand that its suppose to be funny, and if you like these type of books I think you could enjoy it, but its definitely not for me.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Darya Conmigo

    Oh man. This is like a perfect anti-Moomin book. All street smarts and zero coziness. It’s 1960s in the (very) (extremely) rural Sweden on the border with Finland, the protagonist Matti is growing up and discovering rock music, and there is always someone puking or pissing or both. I mean, the book is really well written and at times hilariously funny or even strangely poetic. But, you know, it would be really nice if people were puking only every other page or something?

  24. 4 out of 5

    Briankiwi

    Entertaining, funny and warmhearted, and yet brutally honest in dissecting the darker parts of the psyche of ordinary people getting by in northern Sweden/Finland. Surprisingly good to read when translated into English, "a language for idlers, grass-eaters, couch potatoes, so lacking in resilience that their tongues slop around their mouths like sliced-off foreskins." (p204)

  25. 4 out of 5

    Clare

    I'm not quite sure how I feel about this one. As a coming of age story about a boy it is filled with thoughts of girls and their anatomy, sneaking drinks of liquor and trying to project manliness. Added to all this posturing and teen angst is the backdrop of a small town in northern Sweden in the 1960s. Music plays a part in the young protagonist's life when rock n' roll finally makes an appearance in his home town. Small town life also comes with its entangled alliances and grievances, loyaltie I'm not quite sure how I feel about this one. As a coming of age story about a boy it is filled with thoughts of girls and their anatomy, sneaking drinks of liquor and trying to project manliness. Added to all this posturing and teen angst is the backdrop of a small town in northern Sweden in the 1960s. Music plays a part in the young protagonist's life when rock n' roll finally makes an appearance in his home town. Small town life also comes with its entangled alliances and grievances, loyalties and cliques. The scenarios that take place throughout the book are described in such detail that the reader feels as if they are part of the action. The characters, even when some are portrayed almost as a caricature, somehow ring true in this desolate landscape. The author puts in a few surreal moments but, once again, makes them fit seamlessly into the narrative. There is quite a bit of crassness throughout the book, peppered with a few lighter moments, but I found myself compelled to keep reading as the austerity of the setting and the intense descriptions pulled me along.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jing

    I heard about this book for the first time during my Swedish class at the university time. Now after 7-8 years I finally finished it. Niemi is indeed a great story teller. He narrated the stories of a timid Finnish-Swedish boy, his friends and his village with a very “spicy” tone. The rock and roll music is the red thread, but the main theme is to show how life was up in the north in his upbringing, in the middle of nowhere, and the love and hatred, all the alcohol blended in, the sexual jokes, I heard about this book for the first time during my Swedish class at the university time. Now after 7-8 years I finally finished it. Niemi is indeed a great story teller. He narrated the stories of a timid Finnish-Swedish boy, his friends and his village with a very “spicy” tone. The rock and roll music is the red thread, but the main theme is to show how life was up in the north in his upbringing, in the middle of nowhere, and the love and hatred, all the alcohol blended in, the sexual jokes, and the absurdity. I liked the beginning of the book, but then my interest fell as some stories in this specific set up was not really my cup of tea. When I almost gave up in 80 pages left, then it became better. The last couple of stories were pretty intriguing, including how he met the girl after the show, the drinking party, and finally the grandpas birthday party. The end conveys very deep melancholy. I started liking and missing Niila, which is probably my favourite character in the book for his inner passion for life and his beloved music. All that said, I rated it 3 stars.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Siri Solheim-Kristiansen

    It's charming and a bit unpleasant at the same time. The setting is small town northern Sweden in late 1950s-early 1960s: there are strickt unwritten rules for approximately everything, old family feuds, a stong believe in the gift of hard work and the set roles for each gender. We meet Matti as a young boy, who befriends the silent Niila and soon heads out on adventures. We follow the boys throughout their childhood and adolescence, how they evolve to find themselves and t It's charming and a bit unpleasant at the same time. The setting is small town northern Sweden in late 1950s-early 1960s: there are strickt unwritten rules for approximately everything, old family feuds, a stong believe in the gift of hard work and the set roles for each gender. We meet Matti as a young boy, who befriends the silent Niila and soon heads out on adventures. We follow the boys throughout their childhood and adolescence, how they evolve to find themselves and try to fit in somehow in both the local community and in relation to their own family. They dream of rock music, of the big stage, but they have to be at school, reading - which is a highly dangerous task dooming people for madness, and fight for social status. There's girls, siblings, father figures and amusic teacher. There's the happiness of playing in the snow, of learning the guitar, of friendship. And there's the family gatherings, the quarrels, and the beating. When it's nice, you want to be there. To take part in it all. When it's unpleasant, you cannot read fast enough, you cringe and hope for the best. And that feeling, and the roller-coaster it sometimes is; of laughter, love, sadness and fury, describes the talent of Niemi. Niemi's words create pictures as clear as the day, they pop out of the pages, and add the roller-coaster just mentioned, you have a book worth reading. Even if it's a bit unpleasant at times.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Helene Barmen

    My expectations of this book was very different from my reading experience. So many people have told me how incredibly funny this book is and even though I did have a couple laughs and see the comic elements that’s not what stands out to me. The book is about the early years of Matti who grows up in the way north of Sweden in the 60s. He befriends Niila when they’re kids and their adventures take us on a trip through their childhood and community. This community is not something I knew a lot abo My expectations of this book was very different from my reading experience. So many people have told me how incredibly funny this book is and even though I did have a couple laughs and see the comic elements that’s not what stands out to me. The book is about the early years of Matti who grows up in the way north of Sweden in the 60s. He befriends Niila when they’re kids and their adventures take us on a trip through their childhood and community. This community is not something I knew a lot about so it was fun to hear about and the stories are really both outlandish and exaggerated. But they are heartfelt and at times funny. I’m the end I’m really glad I got to spend some time in Pajala with Matti and Niila.

  29. 4 out of 5

    MyzanM

    An absolute delight. Even though it is set in the most northern part of Sweden, with their own culture, it still made me reminisce my youth further south more than a decade later. It was still enshrouded with the same magic Niemi paints. I love it when books not only entertain (I laughed so hard at times), but also manages to connect to my own life. I sometimes didn't just laugh because it was fun, but also because of recognition of "this is how it was back then". I don't k An absolute delight. Even though it is set in the most northern part of Sweden, with their own culture, it still made me reminisce my youth further south more than a decade later. It was still enshrouded with the same magic Niemi paints. I love it when books not only entertain (I laughed so hard at times), but also manages to connect to my own life. I sometimes didn't just laugh because it was fun, but also because of recognition of "this is how it was back then". I don't know if life was better, but it certainly was easier and perhaps more mystical.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Janelle Bailey

    11: Popular Music From Vittulaby Mikael Niemi...pre-Sweden #2. An engaging, somewhat fantastical coming-of-age take that includes many insightful moments reflecting on adolescence and its challenges. Little more than geography of setting and some cultural, societal references make it “Swedish.” Otherwise I see it could be the growing up story of nearly anyone...anywhere. I’m glad I read it.

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