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Swedish states of mind

They will drown in the tears of their mothers
Forfatter: Johannes Anyuru
Forlag: Norsteds
Johannes Anyuru's virtuoso novel asks deeply uncomfortable questions about the effects of counter-terrorism.


In Norway, we have this year received a much-publicized novel by Demian Vitanza, based on the author's encounters with an imprisoned man who has been a foreign warrior in Syria. The receipt of the book indicates that the very documentary of the novel is perceived as essential, in line with a clear trend: novels based on true stories, increasingly tend to displace novels with poetry. In the face of the reality literature, there is something liberating in that Swedish-Ugandan Johannes Anyuru believes in the fictional nature of the novel genre – on creative fabrication and juxtaposition of different perspectives.

Psychological terror. And yet, much of his new novel is turning They will drown in the tears of their mothers is about an I-narrator who apparently resembles the book's author, and who seeks out a young girl who has been involved in a terrorist campaign against a bookstore in Gothenburg. Now she is admitted to a forensic psychiatric clinic, diagnosed with an unspecified form of schizophrenia. They will drown also includes a number of texts she should have written, addressed to the male I person. Here Anyuru tries to express a schizophrenic human imagination. These parts of the novel are complex, difficult to interpret, and just like that they must be intended.

Recognizable. The girl had two men as co-conspirators in the terrorist campaign against the bookstore. The goal was a cartoonist who had satirized Islam. We recognize the cases underlying this: the Mohammed caricatures printed in the Jutland Post in 2005, by Kurt Westergaard, among others, and Lars Vilks' Muhammed caricature printed in the Swedish local newspaper Nerikes Allehanda in 2007. In an interview with Today's News explains Anyuru, himself a Muslim, that he had written parts of the novel before the assaults against Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 and against the Krudttønnen cultural center in Copenhagen in February of that year.

Either way, the victims of the action play a minor role in Anyuru's novel. The attention is on the terrorists. The three swear loyalty to IS, raising the IS flag in front of the young girl's mobile, with which she livestreams the terrorist campaign. But along the way, as described in the first pages of the book, the girl suddenly begins to doubt what she is doing. What's going on with her? And what happened?

Back to the Future. These questions are the book's recurring theme. The answers are unraveled as if it were a crime novel, well marked with linguistic peculiarities and a narrative complexity that is very rarely found in crime fiction. The terrorist girl is originally from Belgium and her name is Annika Isagel, but she herself denies that this is the case. Her family can tell that she converted to Islam at the age of 14 in order to be with her then Moroccan boyfriend. At one point, she is said to have been apprehended by the Belgian security service and secretly taken to al-Mima prison in Jordan. When her mother and brother come to visit her at the Swedish clinic, she does not recognize them. She remembers something else. She believes her mother has been killed by Swedes. She also claims that she actually comes from the future, and then with a very special role when it comes to prevent the terrorist attack she participated in.

Does our society treat the mental illnesses of individuals that were the symptoms of a conflict between civilizations?

But the girl's story is even more mysterious than that. How is it that she has learned Swedish? No one has a good answer to the question. The parts of the book that are supposed to be written by the girl do not necessarily make the reader so much wiser. Only when the male narrator gets on the trail of the activity in the al-Mima prison, the connections begin to become clearer – unpleasant connections.

Sweden upside down. They will drown in the tears of their mothers is impressive novel art with great stylistic variety. The story is captivating. At the same time, the work gives an eerie impression. The performances of the schizophrenic girl in particular are disturbing. The only reasonable interpretation is that she has confused thoughts due to her mental illness. At the same time, her delusions give the author the opportunity to show us a possible Future Sweden – a reversal of the country we know, which at the same time is a warning. In this edition of our neighboring country that the young girl thinks she has experienced, for example, the Gothenburg suburb called "Kaningården" has become an internment camp, where ordinary Muslims are placed.

It is somewhat liberating that the author believes in the fiction of the novel genre – in creative fabrication and juxtaposition of different perspectives.

Convincing. As always in the literature, it is the insane that makes us ask sensible questions. Does it really work that way in real life? In all the confusion she expresses – isn't the confused girl a little too articulate? The girl's self-presentation is difficult to get wise to, which of course is also the point. All in all, I am convinced. And precisely in the total mental confusion with regard to time, place and belonging, a literary space is opened up where really significant questions are asked, not least about the means that Western societies use in the fight against Salafist terrorism.

Could it be that the means to fight terrorism are in fact laying the groundwork for mental illness and delusions in suspected individuals? And not least: Could it be that our society treats the diseases of individuals that were the symptoms of a conflict between civilizations? Anyuru's novel makes us ask these questions, and shows how acute they are. That is no small achievement.

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