Osebol: Voices from a Swedish Village
'Osebol: Voices from a Swedish Village' brings to life the stories of the 40 remaining residents of a remote village in Sweden. Marit Kapla interviewed nearly every villager between the ages of 18 and 92, recording their stories verbatim. What emerges is at once a familiar chronicle of great social metamorphosis, told from the inside, and a beautifully microcosmic portrait of a place and its people. Below is an extract from the shortlisted book.
Hans Emilsson 1939–2019
& Ingalill Hagström 1942–2021
When I left school I became a timber measurer.
That involves holding a chain, two of you
and measuring logs.
They were known as dogs on chains!
One person measured the width with callipers
and someone else made a note of it.
This was down along the river.
Trees were being measured up for logging firms.
We used a little axe
to cut a mark
in the end of the log.
it had already been measured.
We were living in the forestry lodge
at Granberget at that time.
How old was I?
Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen.
We were paid eighteen crowns a day.
But it was a long time ago.
In nineteen sixty-three
I joined the Klarälv Timber Rafting Co-op
and worked for them for ten years.
Timber was being floated down the river here.
The companies employed the raftsmen.
Uddeholm and Billerud and Vargön
and the rest.
I spent the winters at home in Ändenäs
hauling out logs with a horse.
I frequently worked the boat from Deje
taking timber through the locks
One time the logs had to be taken
all the way to Skoghall.
Gösta . . .
his name was Gösta Larsson as I remember . . .
What the hell are we going to do
when we get to Karlstad?
Well, I said
You’ll have to drive so slowly
that the boat is hardly moving.
On the bend in the river by the Stadshotellet
there used to be a café on a boat
where you could get coffee in the summer.
A bloody big boat.
But Gösta Larsson
went at top speed.
He went so fast
that his load
swept right into the floating café.
It cost the Klarälv Timber Rafting Co-op
thirty-seven thousand crowns
to get the shambles fixed.
The chipboard factory was looking for people
So I got to start there
in the steam section.
We were there
several days and nights
waiting for the first sheet
And it was never ready.
But eventually one night it was
and bugger me it was good.
It was so hush-hush
and they chopped
that sheet into pieces.
We were all there
all of us who were on that shift.
It’s all been sold up now.
God, what a mess they made of the factory.
They just knocked holes through the walls
and pulled out everything
it was all to be taken away.
Terrible . . .
the number of people they let go.
More than forty.
If you look at it in proportion . . .
Stockholm and here.
It was a terrible blow.
Come the end, they were producing chips
here in Norra Ny
and taking them by lorry
to Lit in Östersund
and selling them there.
As the fellows from Lit said
It would be a damn sight better
for the lorries to pick them up here
and take them where they were supposed to go
rather than load them here
take them to Östersund
and then reload them
to take them where they were supposed to go.
István Fóth b. 1943
We arrived in Sweden
on the sixth of December nineteen fifty-six.
There were three buses from Austria
We crossed from Helsingör
I stood at the front
as they lowered the ramp
to let us ashore.
I was taken by surprise
to see cars driving on the wrong side of the road.
They were still driving on the left.
All the cars moved over from the right
to the left
before driving on.
A handsome policeman in a dark blue uniform
with gold bits and a sabre
was standing on the quay.
We were impressed.
We saw something else
we’d never seen before
I’d never seen a television at all.
This was around the time
they were being introduced to Sweden.
The Hungarian Uprising . . .
why it made such an impression on people
why it was perceived in a different way
had a lot to do with TV, I think.
It was the first time you could see things live
things going on out in the world.
Before that there was only the radio.
I didn’t become a Swedish citizen
until I was twenty-seven.
It took a hell of a long time.
It meant I wasn’t called up
for military service
when I was eighteen . . .
I was attending art college
or had just finished there
when I was first called up.
By that stage I’d done some thinking about existence.
And then there’s the fact that our history
during the Second World War
was pretty dramatic.
It’s actually a miracle
I’m sitting here now.
When I was called up I said
I don’t think this is going to work out.
I don’t believe in it.
I’d rather do civilian service.
I want nothing to do with weapons.
Their response was
In terms of your conscience
there is nothing to prevent you from doing armed service.
They threw me out
after sixteen days
and I was sent to gaol instead.
I was kept in for a month the first time.
Then a year or two later
they re-called me
What’s your attitude to military service now?
Just the same as before.
I don’t want anything to do with it.
OK . . . in that case it’ll be two months.
Consequently when the entry date
for this property arrived
I was still inside.
I came here two weeks later.
I went up to Sysslebäck first
and picked up Ulla and Johan
Then we drove down here in our old VW.
When we got to the farm
the house was packed
absolutely full of people.
The jungle drums had been beating in Stockholm
István has bought a farm in Värmland
That’s how our commune started.
We hadn’t really planned it
it just happened.
Our commune . . .
it could be hard work
but it could also be completely wonderful.
It took up six years of my life
that I wouldn’t want to have missed.
This kind of commune
is like a mirror
of our society at large.
All the problems you find out there in society
you also get in this small society.
I’ve got used to having space.
Both inside and out.
and then people . . .
In a place like this you don’t have people around you
you have individuals.
You get closer to one another.
Karin Håkansson 1926–2017
We had rationing, of course,
on food and coffee.
Anyone with a farm
got by all right, though.
They had food.
But they had to inform the people
who issued the ration cards
if they slaughtered
a pig or a calf.
You couldn’t just polish off
however much you wanted.
It had to go on the card, you see.
Other people got coupons
to buy meat in the shop.
We’ve been spared the wars
suffered by the countries round us.
We’ve just sort of sat here, we have.
But we’ve certainly got a lot of foreigners.
If there’s room for them, why not?
They need help.
But the people still left there need help, too.
Perhaps even more.
the way the world is these days.
the world is upside down
and it is.
and war after war.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful
if everyone could just come together and agree.
But that was back in the old days.
Maybe it wasn’t really like that
but we didn’t get to hear about everything then
the way we do now.
They talk about everything now.
This is the almond cake
I made this week.
I just thought one day
I’m blowed if I’m not going to give it a try.
I can’t manage to bake white bread these days.
I can’t stand for that long
what with my back.
But doing this I can sit and beat it
over by the worktop.
I can manage that.
I’ve made lots of them.
I used to take them to sell at the market in Osebol.
© Marit Kapla from Osebol: Voices from a Swedish Village, Allen Lane, 2021
Osebol: Voices from a Swedish Village was shortlisted for the 2022 British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding.
Marit Kapla grew up in Osebol in the 1970s. She has since served as a Creative Director for the Gothenburg Film Festival, and now works as one of two editors at the Swedish cultural magazine Ord & Bild. She won multiple awards for her first book Osebol, including Sweden’s prestigious August Prize in 2019. It became an unexpected bestseller in Sweden, selling over 30,000 copies.
British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding shortlist event
Meet the authors shortlisted for the 2022 British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding at this special in person and online event organised in partnership with the London Review Bookshop. Join the six shortlisted authors for an exploration of urgent and globally significant topics. This event will be chaired by the award-winning journalist Rosie Goldsmith.