DAY 18. – Fishing in Utopia – Andrew Brown
I blame the sadness. It caught me completely off-guard. In my defense, I would claim that I had only recently returned from an exhilarating vacation in Scandinavia, and had almost made it through the mandatory 3 weeks of post-holiday, emotional doldrums, that consistently ‘kneecap’ me on my return to the sunburnt land in which I live, when I borrowed this part-travelogue/ part-memoir, at my local library.
I will admit, of course, borrowing the book was a way to to feed my addiction: this inner longing for a land I had just left, (and would not see again for an indefinite period, or at least until my savings account rose significantly). If I can’t be in Sweden, (or Denmark or Norway ), I fathomed, I can, at least, immerse myself in a book about the place. After all, a trip in your imagination is a trip, after all. (And at least I won’t have to contend with jet lag). And so, it was with this mindset that I read Andrew Brown’s book based in Sweden, titled, “Fishing in Utopia.”
The Author is a storyteller and journalist who skillfully weaves a story spanning 30 odd years of his life, first as an English ex-pat married to a Swede living in Sweden in the 70’s, and then later again later in life, both through the lens of a recreational fisherman and the lure of ‘Pike’.
Through his fishing expeditions, Brown encapsulates well that special atmosphere that is the Scandinavian summer, with the long hours of daylight where people languish in a idyllic red timber cottage in the countryside, fringed with crystalline lake waters and air so fresh you would think it is pure oxygen, and where, according to Brown, “everything floats in a quality of light like mercury” or the water “glitters like pollen.” [Reading this, certainly didn’t actively cure my ‘Scandinavian withdrawal’ at all and I began to wish I lived in this book!] To Brown, ‘fishing is a form of inquiry. The patient, watchful wonder of the fisherman seems to me the root of all science’.
Brown goes further than mere descriptive and romantic accounts of Swedish life. He delves deeper into what he sees as the ‘psyche’ of the Swedes themselves, who less than three generations ago, were mere subsistence farmers, conformist, religious, yet fundamentally conservative. Was Sweden in the 70’s really that different with its egalitarian welfare state where poverty and crime was nonexistent and the Prime Minister lived an ordinary life? Judge for yourself:
… its language is shaped by the cold, so that one spends as little time as possible with one’s tongue exposed. How even on wide, open roads its motorists keep to 55 mph. How to be expelled from the consensus there is ‘like being thrown out of a space station’. http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/1736216/the-end-of-eden/
Brown maintains the Swedish individual was less important than the nation as a ‘whole’ : “It was the life of a battery salmon: packed into a crowd in the middle of a boundless stretch of water by a cage of netting that you could not see at all. It appeared to be part of the sea.”
But life changes with the passage of time, as did Brown’s marriage, and Sweden and its people; so that when he returns in 2006, he laments the disappearance of the traditional, uncomplicated Sweden (where Swedish lapland supermarkets stock reindeer blood and industries were owned by the state) and the Sweden he thought he knew had been transformed into a multicultural ‘cafe’ society, now a common phenomena throughout Europe. Gone is the the socialist welfare state and like many large cities, crime rates and unemployment has risen. This Sweden is seeminlgy more open, and every village, even those villages too small to support a local grocery store has, Andrew claims, ” a Kurdish family running a pizza restaurant.”
So is this so bad?
“I had mocked Sweden for failing to live up to its own ideals, but I had always supposed these were ideals that everyone shared. I had not considered the possibility that some people could want a less equal society.” Even with this statement, I still get the distinct impression Brown has a soft spot for Sweden. After all, his son is there and therefore like me, also a small piece of his heart.
To know Sweden and live there in the 70’s, sounds awfully much like Utopia to me. Yet, while I wait for the development of the time machine that will take me back to the 70’s, I must be content living in my imagination, through this book, and the egalitarian and romantic Utopia those words created in my mind.
Something I often ponder about.
DAY 19. – A favourite author.