Eija Hetekivi Olsson's debut novel, Ingenbarnsland / No Child's Land, has become a bestseller and a focus for political debate in her native Sweden.
The book is set in the Gothenburg suburbs in the 1980s, and we follow the rebellious Miira from her pre-adolescence to her becoming a young woman. Hetekivi Olsson's expressive and intense style depicts Sweden after the Welfare State. The portrayal of Miira has been described as ‘one of the strongest in recent fiction’.
Eija Hetekivi Olsson was born in 1973 and grew up in a Swedish suburb. She is a upper secondary school teacher of history and social science. Ingenbarnsland was published in January 2012 and has been widely reviewed and discussed in the Swedish press. One reviewer said: ‘A pulsating rage – that is the force behind the novel Ingenbarnsland and it drives the story on at a hell of a pace. It drags and tears at female protagonist Miira’s young body.
What Hetekivi Olsson contributes to the existing literature about the Swedish housing programme of the 60s and 70s (known as Miljonprogrammet) is a version of the language that is her very own, along with an intense energy and dislocated world view that this language so loyal to the protagonist creates. Here Miira’s rage is such a wonderfully hopeful force, fighting its way through a tangle of groping older men, mocking teachers and a dreary vulnerability that would contrive to stop her sticking her nose outside the concrete ghetto and amazing the world.’
The book has received outstanding reviews in both left and right wing press. For more about Ingenbarnsland see: http://www.norstedtsagency.se/books/Published/2012/Vinter/hetekivi-olsson_eija-ingenbarnsland-inbunden/
In this new article Eija Hetekivi Olsson turns her attention to the epidemic of school shootings and arsons.
By Eija Hetekivi Olsson
I'm running through the woods. My steps follow the beat of Iron Maiden's Run to the hills and I look at the guy who's running in my direction. He looks at my breasts, smiles, and expects me to move out of his way. I flex my muscles. We collide. He flaps his arms, looking confused.
‘Oops’, I say, smile back and keep running. I go to mum's place, knock on the door and enter the small two- room flat. Mum greets me with a long tirade of impetuous sentences and crushes an earwig against the wallpaper with her thumb. A gooey stain remains. ‘Hum’, I interrupt. ‘Uh, hum’, she finishes and wipes herself on her shirt. She's been sweeping the stairwells, I can see it on her shirt, it's cleaner sweaty.
I borrow mum's laptop – my old one which I used for writing essays when running away from here – and sit on the balcony. It reeks of cigarette butts from the beer-can next to me. Mum starts again. Hyperbabbles in the kitchen. The kids in the backyard are bellowing, calling each other ‘man’ and ‘fucking whore’. I count them. Six. One with no shoes, three with torn jeans, two with lighters. Now they run towards the school, barefoot lagging behind.
A neighbour digs through a litterbin. I drum on the rail with my big toe. The paint comes off in flakes, falls down. The sun burns between the concrete walls and the balcony is turned into a suburban sauna. I have been assigned to write about a light topic, for example hairy men. My shirt, which has dried, gets sweaty again. Writer sweaty. Topics that spin around my head: In this suburb, more than half of the families with children are in poverty. The rich families which own and control the resources that would be enough for everybody, are so few that there's room for them all in the sandpit. If they pack together.
Mind-talking to anybody: If you want to read about hairy men, the right foot of some football star, crown princess Victoria's upper class dress, the King's fuck-affairs, Hollywood wives or any other bullshit and are capable of doing so without being filled with anguish for helping to dull the intellect of yourself and others – read a tabloid paper! Rather not. I'm reminded of the film Idiocracy. Hear myself laughing and my jaw is seized with cramp. Mum catches it too, laughs jerkily. We laugh by turns.
Editorial rhymes with tutorial, dictatorial, conspiratorial and extraterritorial, I think and wonder if I'm about to flip out. If I let go, I'll flip out and if I follow the rules of writing, I'll suffocate.
Opposite thinking. Of school shootings. I log on to Facebook and post a new status: Wondering what you think causes school massacres? So thinker-heated I get palpitations. Cyber surfing and skimming through information.
I exemplify the question in a post: 2002, ex-pupil killed 13 pupils and two teachers at a school in Germany. 2007, pupil killed 6 pupils, the headmaster and the nurse, then himself, at a school in Finland. 2008 in Finland again, ex-pupil shot 9 pupils and a teacher. The same year a student killed 32 people, students and teachers at a university in Virginia, USA. 2009, pupil shot 3 teachers and 9 pupils to death in Germany. Another student shot 13 students in Azerbaijan. 2010 and 2011, several school shootings in United States (every year), similar shootings also in Canada, Europe, South America, Asia and Australia. 2012 in France and Italy too. Over the past thirty years there have been more than one hundred school massacres around the world. Threats of school shootings have been made in Sweden and the UK, as well as threats of attacks and arson, e.g. in Norfolk. AND in Sweden more than one school is set on fire EVERY DAY. In England 800 (!) schools were set on fire last year! In one year! It cost taxpayers 61,893,325 pounds according to the Arson Prevention Bureau. So. What are the reasons for all these school shootings and burnings? Tell me.
I get three long replies from a relative. He writes in Finnish. I continue writing in Swedish: If I understand you correctly, you mean that violence and massacres in reality and in fiction on one hand run the risk of coalescing, on the other supply children and pupils with acceptable tools with which they act and react to different kinds of injustice? Tools which come in handy when everything else wavers and we adults (society) fail? The relative replies: Yeah. He's angry with the politicians in Finland for dwelling on the subject of common responsibility after the school shootings instead of changing the conditions. And angry about the lack of public debate about the circumstances.
My Swedish-Finnish Facebook friend says: The Finns have won the Olympics in mathematics several times, but the pupils are, to say the least, displeased with school. Boring shit, they think. Competition and cramming, you know. One of my colleagues joins the discussion: It's easy to turn people into time bombs. With a certain number of violations, there is only one thing we can be sure of. One day they will detonate.
My thoughts drift away: Violations called ‘cozy Friday’ by TV channels, and which we parents watch. Aren't we then, indirectly, guilty of school massacres? Another colleague says: Obviously. Authoritarian school systems breed school loathing. With such a cause, the measure is redistribution of power, direct democracy, I think and I can understand why school loathing occurs and why so many school massacres have been aimed at teachers and school leaders. Most of them mean well, but know too little and do it all wrong. But that's only a group perspective. Schools are administered by governments and drained by reforms. I think about mental and material inequality, about the distribution of power and resources.
Fifty responses to the question on Facebook. Shit! Some write about society as a whole and about the consequences of class society, such as violence, others about schools as symbols and about segregation, frustration, and alienation. Someone writes Gender and wants to know: Why do only boys commit school massacres? It's overwhelming, this devotion. When the topic is AFFECTING. I read reports from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. After the shootings in Finland, BRÅi was commissioned to make a survey of serious acts of violence in Swedish schools. According to the report, bullying and abusive treatment, lack of knowledge among teachers and LACK OF RESOURCES are among the underlying causes of the violence.
I also read a report from BRISii, 2010, which lets me know that victims of school violence are not taken seriously, but are instead doubted and given the blame by school personnel.
I come across a computer game designed for children. The game is about shooting as many characters as possible at a school. Blood squirts. I sneer at the narrow-minded writer who blames school massacres on the theory of evolution. Analyze more articles. The dominant perspective is that of the individual. Placing the individual in a social setting or seeing structures is not part of the prevalent ideology. But even those who talk about causes from a structure perspective take an individual or group perspective when presenting measures. Adults who try to change the conditions and the environmental factors by disciplining and diagnosing, moving and medicating children.
Now I'm flipping out. Bollocks! Since when is it officially okay to label a pupil who in one way or another objects to the system, school, or the little Popes of school, with ADHD, a life-long neuropsychiatric dysfunction? And since WHEN THE HELL can we cure oppression and poverty by giving anti-depressants and amphetamines to our children? ADHD up your ass! And don't you blame it all on the individual families in a true conservative spirit. Families, like individuals, are not isolated, independent units.
The sweat is dripping. I'm slipping around over the keyboard. On Facebook the number of responses is now sixty. My old teacher from the university has sent me messages. He wonders if I want to meet at a hotel. WTF, your mum can meet at a hotel, I think and look up. I see the guy from the woods. He stops and says: “I'll run again tomorrow, same time”, before dashing away. He wants to be tackled again. The heat has set the tree tops on fire. They're smoking. No, the school is. I hear the sirens and close the laptop. Mum comes out with iced water. I take deep draughts and pour the rest over myself. ‘Have you written about a light topic now?’, mum asks. ‘Over my dead body’, I reply and release a tirade of impetuous sentences as long as the one mum greeted me with before. ‘Hum’, she interrupts. ‘Uh, hum’, I finish.
(Translated from Swedish by Anna Fock.)
In the parks, halls and public spaces around Kings Cross
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