Excerpt from The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by Nathaniel Ian Miller, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven

by Nathaniel Ian Miller

The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by Nathaniel Ian Miller X
The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by Nathaniel Ian Miller
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2021, 336 pages

    Oct 2022, 304 pages


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David Bahia
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From a tiny cabin by the ocean

My name is Sven. To some I am known as Stockholm Sven, and to others, Sven One-Eye or Sven the Seal Fucker. I arrived in Spitsbergen in 1916. I was thirty-two years old and hadn't amounted to much.

I have some sense of what is said about me, by the few who might say anything at all: that I lived and trapped alone in the great bay and hunting grounds of Raudfjorden, in the farthest North; that I was the pitiable victim of a mining accident; that I had irrepressible eccentricities and abjured society. This is all true, in a way, and yet less than true. And let it be struck from the record that I was a talented and enthusiastic cook, as some have claimed, for that is a flagrant falsehood.

I expended the greater part of my life in Spitsbergen, an island archipelago due north of Norway whose uppermost reaches are but a handful of degrees from the invisible Pole. These days the place is called Svalbard by politicians, generals, and cartographers. Or, by all but the most precious few, it is called nothing. For the age of exploration is long over, and if Spitsbergen still dwells in the popular imagination, it exists only as a faint echo, a half-remembered word.

People might wonder, I suppose—or do I only fancy that they wonder?—how I kept myself busy those many solitary decades. Perhaps they think a life is made up of milestones, great monoliths rising above an endless roving sea that both washes and abrades them. I think that is rubbish. Few memoirs are written and fewer still are read, so in most cases we must rely upon only two or three markers, often dubious, when peering through the grimy glass into someone else's existence. A life is substantially more curious, and mundane, than the reports would have it. And in truth, though I am known—within the tiny dewdrop circles of the unlikely few who know of me—as a solitary, unmatched Arctic hunter, I am no such thing, and I was seldom alone.

This is my story.

Part One


I was born Sven Ormson, in Stockholm, of course. My father worked in a tannery, a profession for which I held very little respect until I began to toil with skins myself. My mother took care of me and my two sisters. There is nothing remarkable about this time of my life. I could hardly have been the only one who found the city stifling—the stench, the incessant noise, the human interaction. Because my family had little to spare, my sisters and I took on mill jobs as soon as we were able. I was never, shall we say, complacent about any of it. I did not allow that a life of menial drudgery in a filthy stinking shithole was all I should expect. I believe my mother empathized with this, but she never would have said so.

And yet I wasn't one of those young men who believe they are destined for greatness. At the time I had no interest in destiny. I knew I wasn't on the earth to please anyone, let alone God. I was just restless. National pride, military service, ribald songs, the sound of grown men laughing, air exchanged between several people in a tight space—they are all among the variety of things I found repellent. I suppose I still do. But they are also cherished staples of Swedish society. In the rather trite throes of alienation and disaffection, I turned instead, as so many youths before me have, to books.

My particular escape was polar exploration, and the myriad ways in which a person could suffer while testing his will against the merciless white death. At the turn of the century, everyone in Sweden was still talking about Fridtjof Nansen and Salomon Andrée: the former with his successful maritime innovations and spectacular survival tale, the latter with his ridiculous notions and whimpering disappearance into the Arctic void. Then Roald Amundsen had his two major triumphs. I was in my twenties at the time and remember my keen interest blossoming into a minor obsession. How I longed to strike out for uncharted territories. I had no wish to "win one for Sweden" or any such nonsense. On the contrary, I felt myself a prisoner, and Sweden my cell.

Excerpted from The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by Nathaniel Ian MIller. Copyright © 2021 by Nathaniel Ian MIller. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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