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Popular Music [Hardcover]

Mikael Niemi
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 July 2003

‘A wonderfully warm tale of weddings, funerals, marathon sauna contests – and the incomparable thrill of your first kiss, from “the Nick Hornby of the Arctic”.’ Marina Warner, Sunday Times

Its the 1960s, and pop records are gradually finding their way into the eager hands of teenagers in the far north of Sweden. Young Matti dreams of being a rock star – but in the tiny ice-bound village of Pajala, a boy should really spend his time cultivating more manly pursuits, such as hunting elk, drinking moonshine and fighting on dancefloors…

‘Popular Music’ is one of the freshest, funniest debuts of recent years, and winner of the August prize, Sweden’s equivalent of the Man Booker. So wrap up warm and join Matti and the unforgettable community of Pajala in a wonderful tale of weddings, funerals and marathon sauna contests, the incomparable thrill of your first kiss – and of finally hearing the Beatles.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo (7 July 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007145500
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007145508
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 12.4 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,105,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


From the British reviews:

‘First, let me confess that I was asked to leave the British Library reading room for chuckling – not once, but repeatedly – over this book…Mikael Niemi combines the knowing warmth and vernacular style of, say, Nick Hornby or Roddy Doyle with a bittersweet poetry. Each chapter is a small parable, simple but oceans deep, so that frequently you find you are laughing while having tears in your eyes.’ Glyn Brown, The Times

‘An extraordinary novel: hilarious, ribald, obscene…All the ingredients are there for a tender and bittersweet coming-of-age story: Roddy Doyle meets “Fever Pitch”. But then Mikael Niemi smashes into the memories he has assembled with his pulverising imagination…I’ve never read anything like it.'’ Nicci Gerrard, Observer

‘The intriguing yet charming characters do more than keep you engaged…”Popular Music” paints a clearer picture of a teenage boy obsessed by rock music than any number of list-riddled, thirtysomething London lad-lit books could ever hope to.’ Time Out

‘Hilariously tracks Matti’s rise from the illicit and shocking pleasure of listening to a Beatles single to miming in the garage with a hardboard cut-out guitar…There are nuances to these rites of passage that recall Nick Hornby's “High Fidelity”…the astonishing success of “Popular Music” in Sweden confirms that this sardonic tale of terrible guitar-playing can strike a fresh, jaunty, even heartfelt, chord.’ Independent

About the Author

Mikael Niemi was born in 1959 and grew up in the town of Pajala in the northern part of Sweden, the town which provides the setting for ‘Popular Music’. He is an established Swedish children’s author, playwright and poet.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new world 11 Oct 2004
I recently went on a trip to Finland, so when I saw this book I had to have it. It is beautifully constructed, a series of incidents in the lives of Matt and his friends; their rock band modelled on the newly discovered Beatles, Matt's first job and its disastrous end and Matt's hilarious journey into puberty. Niemi has an understated sense of humour that brings the bickering and backstabbing, but ultimately united, icy village of Finnish childhood to life. It reads like a poem, with some truly awe-inspiring descriptions of places and people, but especially the gorgeous scenery.
Stuck back in England, missing Finland and all my new friends there, this is a wonderfull link back to them all. Terve!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Episodic Swedish Coming-of-Age Story 16 Jan 2005
If you're looking for a funny and tender coming-of-age story set above the Arctic Circle, this is the book for you! It's set in Pajala, a small town in the remote Tornedalen region of Sweden, far north and near the Finnish border. The semi-autobiographical story is told through a series of twenty self-contained short stories that take Matti roughly from age 5-15 or so from the mid-'60s to mid-'70s. One is immediately given a taste of the book's style in the prologue, in which the adult Matti manages to freeze his tongue to a metal plaque atop a Nepalese mountain. He only manages to free himself (and live) by using his urine to break the bond, which then launches him into the story of his youth. The broad outlines of his experiences are similar to those of any other boy growing up in a remote place forty years ago. Life was boring and filled with hard work, some things were manly (hunting, work, fighting, hockey, eating, drinking, machines), and everything else is "women's work." If you're not good at manly things, well... at a minimum you won't fit in very well.
Of course, Matti is a little outside the mainstream, but manages to make his way with best friend Niila by his side. Where the book shines is in the the specifics of his childhood, in which wacky antics shine with humor and pathos, and magic realism rears its head every now and then.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book I Remember 25 Jan 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
I am not Swedish but I read this book while living in Sweden. I think I read it in 2006 so it was a while ago now and the story is not so fresh in my mind, but it's a book I remember. I loved this book, Matti is such a likeable character and the situations he gets into really made me laugh and cry but mostly I felt really good.

Things that really stick out in my memory are, the story about the rats, which I thought was really funny. Also the Sauna experience where he is the last man standing. The book was bought for me by a Swedish friend and came highly recommended, I read it while living in Sweden and actually on a trip to Kiruna in the North of Sweden so I could really relate to a lot of the story. Also I am a music fan and i enjoy coming of age stories. So if you, like me, enjoy these things this is a book is for you.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warm, witty and funny 27 Jun 2005
I have just finished reading this book in my mother tongue, Finnish, and I just had to place an order for an English copy for my English partner as well! I loved the heart-warming, wonderfully 'spiced-up' stories from Matti's childhood in the small town of Pajala in Northern Sweden, near the Finnish border. The author paints a very realistic picture of the every day life in the slowly - but surely - improving economic climate after years of difficulties following WWII, describing how new ideas and influences are starting to make their way even to Pajala. The older generation is of course not always very understanding when it comes to new phenomena such as rock music, and they endeavour to make sure that old traditions, such as drinking and fist fights at weddings, are not forgotten either!
You will learn a lot about Scandinavian and Finnish mentality and culture by reading this book. For example, as strange it may sound to foreigners, sauna endurance competitions do take place even today, especially when you have a large group of drunken Finnish men under the same roof!
In conclusion, this is a great book - funny, heart-warming and well written. Thoroughly recommended.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We were crying on the floor with laughter... 4 Aug 2003
When this first came out in Sweden, we seriously wondered what could be so funny about growing up in the north of our country. We soon found out... this book is recommended for reading out loud to your friends, alone where nobody else can hear you, or somewhere else where it is not necessary to be quiet. Niemi has written an absolute classic of a piece, taking geekiness to a whole new level... Everyone I know loved it and read it far too quick. We are now reading the English edition, whilst desperately waiting for Niemi to come out with another book.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A strange other world 23 Jan 2011
A sweet book, with dark undertones. An interesting insight into an isolated community which seemed more than 50 years removed from the present day.

Written in the first person it gave the raw, uncensored perspective of a growing boy, reporting the world as he'd seen it, even if he hadn't understood what he was seeing at the time. My turns funny, poignant and down right sad. A closed community, the pressure cooker, yet clear boundaries and affections that guaranteed. Being of its time, the women were a little too passive and put upon, the men a little to earthy and unthinking, for my taste.

Overall, an interesting read. Easy to read a chapter a night of what was essentially a memoir cast as short stories, with connecting characters. I liked it, but this is only a 3* review because it has a flatness to the writing, perhaps the translation, perhaps the episodic nature of the short story structure. In truth, I wanted more, an arc, a connecting story, which is the strong positive message I'd like to pass on. Good, in a way, to be wanting more.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars It's ok...
I was really looking forward to reading this - I thought I would love it. Books like `Nave Super' and `All my friends are superheroes' link to it on this site and most reviews are... Read more
Published on 20 July 2010 by Cult Fiction
4.0 out of 5 stars Beatles in the Arctic
This book is set in an isolated setting in the North of Sweden where the local people actually speak a form of Finnish. Read more
Published on 11 July 2010 by D. J. Chandler
5.0 out of 5 stars So unusual but so good!
This is a really different book, and it made me want to get further and further through it just so I could see what sort of wierdness would come up next. Read more
Published on 26 Aug 2009 by A. Johnston
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant
Thi was a hilarious , touching and brilliantly written (and translated) book . will stay in my mind for a long time ...
Published on 15 May 2009 by D. Brodala
3.0 out of 5 stars Popular music with an irregular beat
An episodic account of a boy's coming of age in northern Sweden, Niemi's novel brings to life a lifestyle and part of the world hard to access in English translation. Read more
Published on 30 April 2008 by Sofia
5.0 out of 5 stars oh my gawd!
I am 15 from Glasgow and I read this book when I was about 11. It immediately became my favourite book EVER. Read more
Published on 7 Jan 2007 by Ms. G. Roberts
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read!
This really is a great novel and I’m glad I acted on a hunch from a very brief newspaper review to buy and read it. Read more
Published on 23 Jan 2006 by Andrew Cornish
4.0 out of 5 stars Northern Light....
Nicely described and very evocative description of growing up on the Swedish/Finnish border. Lots of humour and very light (both style and size), ideal travelling companion. Read more
Published on 18 Nov 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars heart warming
Basically the story of a kid growing up in the Swedish hinterlands near the Finnish border. Nothing much really happens but you get a real feel for the nordic peoples and the... Read more
Published on 14 Oct 2004
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