Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Scandalous Putdown for the Scandis

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Scandalous Putdown for the Scandis

Article excerpt

Byline: ANDREW BROWN

THE ALMOST NEARLY PERFECT PEOPLE: THE TRUTH ABOUT THE NORDIC MIRACLE by Michael Booth (Cape, PS14.99) TWO things distinguish Bill Bryson from his imitators. He really likes the people he writes about, and he really cares about the truth. His jokes are generally funnier, too, but the jokes and funny stories are almost the easiest part of travel writing. Michael Booth's tour of Scandinavia is an example of what happens when you don't much like your subject nor care much about getting it right. It's pleasant to read, contains some interesting facts -- at least if they are true -- and he actually knows about one of the five countries he writes about. His wife is Danish and he has lived there for long enough to get a sense of how the world looks through Danish eyes. That might have made a shorter, more interesting book in itself, had the world been interested in Denmark. But it is not. This makes a difficulty if you're trying to sell a book about it. To the extent that the English-speaking world is interested in Scandinavia, it is as a fantasy of modernity and cleanliness, like Germany without any Germans in it. This utopia doesn't actually exist and never did. So what is a journalist to do? Booth goes for the fantasy almost every time he steps outside Denmark. What further complicates the book is that sometimes he writes about the English fantasy of Scandinavia and sometimes about the Danish version. To view the rest of Scandinavia through the eyes of a Dane is like looking at the British Isles through the eyes of a disgruntled Scottish football supporter. I know something of the perils of this because I was myself an immigrant in Sweden for seven years and still have family there. In such circumstances you absorb a lot of the native prejudices: I could explain exactly how it comes about that the Danes are racist idle peasants, the Norwegians arrogant peasants who lucked out with North Sea oil, and the Finns homicidal drunken peasants. …

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