Osebol: Voices from a Swedish Village

Marit Kapla

'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.

That showed

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.


Cheap labour.

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

in Forshaga.

One time the logs had to be taken

all the way to Skoghall.

Gösta . . .

his name was Gösta Larsson as I remember . . .

asked me

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

in seventy-two.

So I got to start there

in the steam section.

We were there

several days and nights

waiting for the first sheet

to come.

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

unload them

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

with refugees.

We crossed from Helsingör

to Helsingborg.

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

television aerials.

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

and asked

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

my son.

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

Let’s go!

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 space

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.


It’s horrifying

the way the world is these days.

People say

the world is upside down

and it is.

Endless injustice

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.

The media.

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.

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