Steve Sem-Sandberg (b. 1958) divides his time between Vienna and Stockholm. He has won a number of literary awards (such as the August Prize in 2009, the Aftonbladet Literary Award and the De Nios Grand Award) and has been shortlisted for the prestigious Nordic Council Literary Award on two occasions. His trilogy on three women (Milena Jesenská, Ulrike Meinhof and Lou Andreas Salomé) in the 20th century won great acclaim in Scandinavia. Härifrån till allmänningen (From Here to the Great Commons), published in 2005 and set during the interesting period between 1965 and 1975, has received outstanding reviews. He is often regarded as one of the most interesting authors to arise from Scandinavia during this past decade.
His critically acclaimed and powerful novel, De fattiga i Lodz (The Destitutes of Lodz) was published in September 2009 and has been sold to over twenty countries in major deals and has been awarded The August Prize in 2009.
The novel Chosen (De utvalda, 2014) has received similar critical acclaim. He has been awarded the Prix Medicis in France for the best translated novel in 2016, as well as Prix Transfuge for the best European novel.
His latest novel The Tempest (Stormen) was published in 2016.
In 2018 he was awarded a scholarship from the foundation Natur & Kultur, for great literary contributions.
About the novel The Chosen Ones (De Utvalda)
Like the novel, “The Emperor of Lies”, that came before it, “The Chosen Ones” is a polyphonic story, located between the historical and the fictitious. Steve Sem-Sandberg takes us so close to the children that were sacrificed for the Nazi ideology of preserving the Aryan race. This very strong novel rests heavily on thorough and rigorous research work. Through brilliant writing, the author makes us live through the same story as his characters while witnessing the atrocities of the treatments they had to endure. This moving book is for reading and never forgetting. Nobody can come out unscathed after reading this novel that honours the children tortured during the Second World War.
Like his previous novel, ‘The Emperor of Lies*, which described life in the Lodz Ghetto, Sem-Sandberg’s new book is also documented strongly. But at the same time the writer has coloured the facts, to give a voice to the voiceless victims of history. In this he has succeeded brilliantly. He portrays the hard lives of children who were doomed in advance because of their ethnicity and health. Sem-Sandberg’s detailed account of life in this closed Nazi microcosm is a chilling monument.
The old truth about reality being stranger and more horrible than fiction comes into force in Steve Sem-Sandberg’s new documentary novel. What makes ‘The Chosen Ones’ great – besides its literary qualities – is its expansion of the history we already know.
Carin Elisabeth Beddari, Morgenbladet
A master in the art of empathy
Because what this novel manages to achieve in the first 550 pages is to capture the reader in a vise of merciless credibility, where the author’s empathy for the most crippling pain, the most bottomless humiliation, the most chaotic helplessness calls out a despair and a powerless anger that makes our cozy living room walls vibrate with shame and guilt, 70 years later[…]
Steve Sem-Sandberg’s latest novel cannot, in authenticity, measure up to the self-experienced testimonies that Nazism’s victims convey. But I know of no other contemporary author anywhere in the world who, with such a symbiotically congenial and hallucinatory sensory transmission, succeeds in portraying the tormented’s experiences to the innermost core of that pain.
Nils Schwartz, Dagens Nyheter
Steve Sem-Sandberg is undoubtedly one of the leading European writers. His novel The Emperor of Lies has expanded his renown outside the borders of Sweden and earned him major European awards. It also defined the author as a writer whose thematic interest focuses on the Holocaust and suffering of the innocent during World War II. (…)
The Chosen Ones speaks about a hospital in Spiegelgrund where the Nazis locked those who were “racially impure” on various bases: mentally ill, of different sexual orientation, or not Arian enough (…)
Sem-Sandberg’s novel is magnificent. Exciting and horrifying, thrilling and wild, evil and gut-wrenching, just like any great literature is supposed to be. In it, there is no room for pathetic and fake sappy emotions; that is why the author refers to documents in order to show us that the text is not a figment of imagination, but that it was the way it happened, and we are involved one way or the other. Because the very act of reading this kind of prose must provoke some kind of a response from us; it must, if possible, following the classical Aristotelian formula, cleanse us from pity and fear and make us aware of the potential for evil and good that we have and that we have to exercise every day. Because we have been chosen.
Vladimir Arsenić, from the afterword
About the novel The Tempest (Stormen)
On a small island off the coast of Norway, late 1990s. Andreas is going over the estate after his late foster father, Johannes. Amidst the clutter he finds the tale of the island’s past: the truth about the State Councilor in the Quisling government who allowed the island to become a colony for poor children; the story of the parents who went missing during suspicious circumstances, and about Andreas’ sister Minna, who has left him alone with guilt impossible to atone.
Steve Sem-sandberg’s new novel is a hypnotic tale of an island, overrun with stories and myths. The Tempest portrays a hatefulness that is inherited generation after generation and a love that will conquer all.
The book thrums with building intensity, the writing deceptive in its simplicity but with a hypnotic rhythm and cadence which echoes the novel’s dreamlike exploration of the past, of the shadows which loom. With harmonies and discords to Shakespeare’s play, it expresses the power of nature in its beauty and cruelty, how there are monsters which lurk within and how myth and legend build their own kind truth. Most of all it questions our own understanding of what has gone before: That something is closely remembered does not always mean you recognise the reality of it.
Ruth Mckee, Irish Times
Sinister mysteries thicken and swirl like the island’s mist as this densely atmospheric novel progresses, culminating in a conclusion that avoids easy answers.
This is a novel about the way historical crimes are written on a landscape, about the manner in which moral decay takes on physical form. What makes The Tempest truly special, though, is the risks that Sem-Sandberg takes with narrative conventions, the way that his prose seems to break every rule in the creative writing handbook, and yet does so joyfully, recklessly and utterly convincingly. That such stylistic complexity is rendered in a manner that feels entirely natural is testimony to the great skill of the translator, Anna Paterson. The prose leaps wilfully between past and present tenses, the voice suddenly breaks into the second person and at one point Johannes takes over Andreas’s first-person narrative. Perspectives telescope in and out, giving us sweeping passages of history or wide-angle landscapes followed by intimately observed and close-up moments in time. It’s as if the book’s most significant borrowing from Shakespeare’s play is not the island setting, but rather Prospero’s total control of narrative, the omnipotence of the author-magician.
Steve Sem-Sandberg’s name is printed in gold on the cover of The Tempest. This is hardly a coincidence, he is a golden writer and his writing absolutely sparkles. […] I want to highlight Sem-Sandberg’s sharp eye for intricate psychology, his ability to depict the goodness metamorphosis to the subtle evil, the irresponsible egotism’s destructive force. And to turn all of this into mighty and moving storytelling.
Tommy Sundin, Västerbottens Kuriren