Book review:

Posted on 14th May 2017 at 17:26 by SELTA Web Editor

Swedish Book Review 2017:1 didn't quite have enough room to fit in this review by Agnes Broomé of Zulmir Bečević's book, Avblattefieringsprocessen (The Swedification Process) so we are publishing it here.

 

Zulmir Bečević, Avblattefieringsprocessen (The Swedification Process)

Reviewed by Agnes Broomé

In his third novel, Avblattefieringsprocessen (The Swedification Process), Zulmir Bečević continues to explore the issues of ethnicity, national identity and alienation around which his two previous books were built. This time, however, Bečević approaches his subject from a darkly satirical angle in a dystopian portrayal of modern-day Sweden.

Read on:
 

Zulmir Bečević

Avblattefieringsprocessen (The Swedification Process)

Reviewed by Agnes Broomé
 

In his third novel, Avblattefieringsprocessen (The Swedification Process), Zulmir Bečević continues to explore the issues of ethnicity, national identity and alienation around which his two previous books were built. This time, however, Bečević approaches his subject from a darkly satirical angle in a dystopian portrayal of modern-day Sweden.
   The novel’s protagonist, Alen Živković, is a young man of Bosnian descent, born in Sweden to a Swedish mother, who has long since passed away, and a Bosnian father. As the novel opens, Alen’s father is in prison and Alen has been placed in the care of the ethnically Swedish Stensson family. We quickly learn that Alen feels deeply alienated and is responding to society’s perceived rejection with defiant scorn, primarily aimed at his foster family and school. His only friend is the school’s other rebellious outcast, Hannes. In other words, Alen is a young man in some trouble.
   So far, so generic. As we soon become aware, however, the Sweden Bečević depicts is not quite the one we know. In Alen’s Sweden, the Party has recently risen to power. A dystopian version of Sweden’s far-right, nationalist Sweden Democrats, the Party is xenophobic and violently nostalgic for a time when Sweden and Swedishness were easily defined, ethnically straightforward concepts. In an effort to return to this imagined past, the Party quickly sets about enacting laws to expel non-citizens, strip naturalised individuals of their citizenship and force Swedish-born children of foreign parents to undergo a Swedification process.
   Given his background and attitude, Alen is naturally one of the first to be singled out for Swedification. He is assigned a Swedification mentor, who is tasked with breaking the barbaric foreign habits Alen does not, in fact, have and teach him how to behave like a proper Swede. It comes as no surprise that the process makes Alen, who has lived all his life in Sweden, incredulous and, in due course, outraged. Eventually, Alen chooses to abscond and go into hiding at his new girlfriend Melinda’s house. It is not long, however, before the authorities locate him and decide to escalate his Swedification into the realm of dystopian horror.
   Avblattefieringsprocessen was given a very warm reception when it was first published in 2014, just in time for the election which saw the Sweden Democrats win their first-ever parliamentary seats. Reading it two years on, however, it is difficult not to wonder whether some of the enthusiasm for this highly topical novel was not context-driven. Because while it is true beyond a doubt that Avblattefieringsprocessen, like Bečević’s previous works, raises issues of racism, xenophobia and national identity that Sweden urgently needs to confront, its treatment of these issues are at times so on the nose and didactic it verges on the excruciating. I can’t help but wonder whether the lack of subtlety would not ultimately aggravate and offend a young reader, rather than inspire and educate her.
   Given the heavy-handed satire on the one hand and the at times mortifyingly hammy romance between Alen and Melinda on the other, Avblattefieringsprocessen could easily have been a chore to read, and at times it was. However, struggling through, I gradually became aware of something lurking underneath the novel’s obvious shortcomings: Bečević is not an unskilled writer. In Alen, he has created a compelling character and there is a momentum in the narrative that makes you want to stick with it, even when you are compulsively rolling your eyes. It is not enough to make Avblattefieringsprocessen a great book, by any means, but it makes it worth reading, especially given its topicality and important leitmotif.

 

Alfabeta, 2014
208 pages

Bečević’s 2006 debut, Resan som började med ett slut (The Journey that Began with an End, 2006) was nominated for the Slangbellan prize. Svenhammeds journaler (Svenhammed’s Journals, 2009) was nominated for the August Prize. It has been translated into Danish and Norwegian, and dramatised in Sweden.