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Summary and book reviews of The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by Nathaniel Ian MIller

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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  • Published:
    Oct 2021, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
David Bahia
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About this Book

Book Summary

The "ceaselessly brilliant" story of one man who banishes himself to a solitary life in the Arctic Circle, and is saved by good friends, a loyal dog, and a surprise visit that changes everything (Adam Johnson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Orphan Master's Son).

Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

In 1916, Sven Ormson leaves a restless life in Stockholm to seek adventure in Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago where darkness reigns four months of the year and he might witness the splendor of the Northern Lights one night and be attacked by a polar bear the next. But his time as a miner ends when an avalanche nearly kills him, leaving him disfigured, and Sven flees even further, to an uninhabited fjord. There, with the company of a loyal dog, he builds a hut and lives alone, testing himself against the elements.

The teachings of a Finnish fur trapper, along with encouraging letters from his family and a Scottish geologist who befriended him in the mining camp, get him through his first winter. Years into his routine isolation, the arrival of an unlikely visitor salves his loneliness, sparking a chain of surprising events that will bring Sven into a family of fellow castoffs and determine the course of the rest of his life.

Written with wry humor and in prose as breathtaking as the stark landscape it evokes, The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven is a testament to the strength of our human bonds, reminding us that even in the most inhospitable conditions on the planet, we are not beyond the reach of love.

Prologue

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. ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Sven wastes no time addressing the reader with a summary of the presumed facts: At the age of 32, he moved to a remote Arctic archipelago called Spitsbergen. It was 1916, the height of the seemingly distant First World War. He suffered injuries in a mining accident and later made the long journey to an even more remote region just a few degrees below the North Pole to live and trap on the untouched grounds. As though reading our minds, he acknowledges without answering the inevitable question of how anyone would willingly choose to seek out such daunting geographical desolation, a realm beyond the normal purview or aspiration of the vast majority of humans. Sven states he was almost never alone in the barren landscape of ice and snow, and with that claim we are drawn yet further into this curiosity of a world, sifting through exaggerations and embellishments to discover the true adventure that lies at the heart of a lifetime of experiences...continued

Full Review Members Only (734 words).

(Reviewed by David Bahia).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Sven's ugliness is only skin-deep, and readers will love the beauty and depth of his story.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[C]aptivating...Miller offers a marvelously detailed look at a way of life and a profession practiced in an extreme environment, and though purportedly based on a historical figure, the character's colorfully rendered experiences are the stuff of powerful dramatic fiction. This has Miller off to a promising start.

Booklist (starred review)
Miller's prose is lit by sparks of Sven's somber humor and descriptive elegance...Miller's characterization is exceptional and thoroughly engaging, as are the vividly portrayed island denizens…Miller has given [Sven] an imagined life told in his own words in this engrossing fictional memoir.

Author Blurb Adam Johnson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Orphan Master's Son
Ceaselessly brilliant as an arctic sun, The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven illuminates the very nature of human yearning and perseverance. In attempting to inhabit the uninhabitable, one man shows us that no place is inhospitable to the human heart, and in delivering this searing portrait, Nathaniel Ian Miller ascends to the firmament of today's most exciting young novelists.

Author Blurb Christina Baker Kline, New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and The Exiles
The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven is pure delight. From the first page, I was transported to a world unlike any I've experienced or even read about—a bleak and unforgiving landscape where ice bears, subzero temperatures, and Sven's own worst impulses conspire against him, where loneliness and terror coexist with his growing appreciation for the flinty beauty of life. Only in such a place, I came to understand, could such a solitary man—emotionally stunted, misanthropic, self-pitying, disfigured—discover the bonds of friendship, and find family in a ragtag band of misfits. This novel's hard-won wisdom, droll humor, and offhanded insights about human nature will pierce you to the core.

Author Blurb Andrea Barrett, National Book Award–winning author of The Voyage of the Narwhal and Ship Fever
A kind of Odyssey, complete with dogs worthy of Argos and a few precious human companions, this spare and unusual novel plumbs the dark side of polar narratives. Sven, as mysterious to himself as he is to us, is an unforgettable character.

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Beyond the Book

Svalbard, Norway

Town of Longyearbyen in Svalbard, Norway, buildings of various colors with snow-covered mountains in background Svalbard, formerly known as Spitsbergen, is a mountainous, snowfield-covered Norwegian archipelago located above the Arctic Circle that provides the primary setting for Sven's adventures in The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by Nathaniel Ian Miller. As described in the novel, there are three primary seasons in Svalbard: sunny winter, a period that sees an increase in daylight from early March to mid-May; polar summer, a period of milder weather and some weeks of round-the-clock light from mid-May through September; and Northern Lights winter, the darker winter period from early October through February during which the stunning display of the Aurora Borealis becomes visible. November to January marks the peak of what is called "polar night,"...

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