The White City
Karin knew what she was getting herself into when she fell for John, the high-flying gangster and love of her life. But she never imagined things would turn out like this. John is gone and the coke-filled parties, seemingly endless flow of money, and high social status she previously enjoyed have been replaced by cut telephone lines, cut heat, and cut cash. All that is left of Karin’s former life is the big house John bought for her. Well, one more thing remains: John’s daughter, the child Karin once swore she would never bring into their dangerous world.
Now Karin sits alone with baby Dream in her drafty fortress as the days go by. She has drifted apart from the other mobster girlfriends with whom she used to be close and the old promise of the group being a family has proved alarmingly empty. With the authorities zeroing in on organized crime, John’s shady legacy is catching up with her, and the house is about to be seized. She used to be driven by desire, but now her life is reduced to filling the most basic of needs – and the money is running out. Over the course of a few, nerve-wracking days, Karin is forced to take measures on her own in order to claim what she sees as rightfully hers.
The White City (Den vita staden) is both one woman’s battle to pull herself up from the paralyzing depth of despair and an arresting study of what it means to lose control – over your body, your life, and your fate. Loyalties shift in the blink of an eye and people are easily discarded in this taut and elegantly realized novel from one of Sweden’s most prominent writers. Karolina Ramqvist unites slow-burning psychological suspense with a sophisticated and dreamlike literary style to create a novel that, at a mere 176 pages, is packed like a punch that leaves the reader reeling.
The White City is a stand-alone sequel to The Girlfriend (Flickvännen), Ramqvists award-winning novel from 2009, and is one of the most anticipated Swedish titles of 2015. In September, 2015, Ramqvist was awarded the prestigious P.O. Enquist Literary Prize for The White City. The novel was also shortlisted for Swedish daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet‘s Literary Prize.
“It has been a long time since I read a novel that was as stylistically on point as The White City. […] Karolina Ramqvist handles this small, frozen thriller masterfully in every detail. […] Ramqvist has developed into one of Sweden’s truly interesting young writers. Conscious of what she has and what she does. It feels like she dares to do anything right now, and that she pulls it off.”
Dagens Nyheter (SE)
“Brilliant about the nature of emptiness.”
Upsala Nya Tidning (SE)
“The White City is rich in language and ambience. Moody, mysterious, maternal and magnetic . . . it is a haunting novel of a woman adrift yet firmly attached to romantic memories of her lover and the simple needs of her daughter . . . Like a Madonna of the tundra, Karin is a resilient and irresistible protagonist, and Ramqvist is a serious contender for the Swedish literary limelight.”
SHELF AWARENESS (US)
“The ghostly Scandinavian setting and Karin’s closely narrated sense of impending doom, baby cooing patiently at her hip, make Swedish star Ramqvist’s English-language debut an atmospheric and suspenseful read.”
“Though the plot of Ramqvist’s English debut may make it sound like a crime thriller, the pace is lulling, the writing sensuous and patiently observed. So much of the book, in fact, consists of long scenes of Karin nursing Dream or spending hours watching the infant play that the book feels, more than any thriller, like an allegory of parenting. […] as Karin, quite literally, works to keep Dream alive against a backdrop of violence and deception, readers root for both characters to find their way. Delicate and unsparing.”
“It’s been a long time since I devoured a book so quickly – I simply couldn’t put it down! […] This book is like a magic being which at first seems very small and inconspicuous in your hand, but suddenly unfolds into a flock of white doves, flying in every possible direction. […] Rarely have I ever read such outstanding language. Without superfluous embellishments the author creates a dense atmosphere, capable of absorbing you. With great precision and a clear gaze – almost as if viewed through a microscope or a magnifying glass – Ramqvist dissects social situations.”
Pink Stinks (DE)
“This is a contemporary, atmospheric and gritty book […] Whilst primarily this book is candidly written about isolation, there is a huge amount to consider and examine. It is one of those books worthy of a second read, since you will no doubt draw out more from it.”
Nudge Books (UK)
“An incredible novel that you experience with all your senses. I love how Karolina Ramqvist makes me devour the text with sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, and in a very bodily way feel Karin’s experience. […] In The White City, it becomes apparent that Karolina Ramqvist’s narrative voice is unique in contemporary Swedish literature. Through her language, the story’s focus on the details of the female experience, but also through the themes she chooses to explore. […] I thank her for that, thank her for Karin. I thank Karolina Ramqvist for a heroine that I don’t really like, but whose experiences reverberate through my entire body.”
Borås Tidning (SE)
“With a vulnerability that brings to mind Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Karin walks with Dream in the stroller on the icy streets of a city where she is forced to beg for alms. The one who used to be on the inside, suddenly finds herself out in the cold. […] The White City is a seamless and controlled novel vibrating with subtext that cements Karolina Ramqvist’s position as one of Sweden’s most interesting writers.”
“It’s odd that it should feel so provocative to read about a young woman who’s lost control of her own life. But it really does. Part of the uneasiness is due to how indolently she has let her boyfriend support her. […] Do the explicit female experiences make the book interesting only to the part of the population that shares these experiences? By no means. I think it brings an insight into existential experiences for both sexes, in the same way women through all time have read about and learned from male experiences. […] I believe that these meticulously portrayed physical experiences makes for precious literature.”
“Karolina Ramqvist is extremely precise and totally superb in slowmotion. Does anything at all happen? Not much, but in return what happens does so in detail. There’s for example a passage in The White City, which plot-wise only portrays the main character Karin walking with her baby in a car seat from the parking lot to an apartment. But Ramqvist writes this passage over five pages, and now I feel as though I’m the one walking there in the Stockholm cold in ankle boots with slim heels and shiny soles on the icy footpath carrying a car seat on my arm, ‘even though the baby made it too heavy to carry that way. It would leave a bruise.’ The slow pace is not only a literary device or a certain style, it is also a way of developing a mental state, Karin’s state of emergency or lethargy.”
“The White City is an incredibly skillfully written novel, despite the fact that it feels as though it was jotted down with a nonchalant shrug. It bears witness to a writer who knows her craft, who doesn’t need to complicate things. That is high art.”
“The White City is a tricky little gem of a book, that ought to be read both for its spare and beautiful language as well as for the sense of unease it creates in the reader.”
“Ramqvist has a great talent for creating images and building atmosphere. She immediately establishes the cold and the isolation that characterizes Karin’s existence. The white city outside the walls of the house, beautifully portrayed through winter images that mirror the cold on the inside. […] The White City portrays a hardened Sweden, and a woman’s vulnerability and struggle. The book well-deservedly won the prestigious PO Enquist Prize, and it’s well worth the few intense hours it takes to read it.”
Dagbladet, 5/6 (NO)
“Ramqvist masterfully depicts the conflict between the necessity of action and the draw of passivity’s false security. […] The end serves up a serious twist. But the question is if it really is a turning point, or if it is a matter of an eternal recurrence – everything beginning over and over again, unchanged.”
“Rarely has the late winter appeared so bleak, heavy, and ominous as in The White City, and it’s even more rare that a novel manages to tie me to my armchair from the first to the last page. […] From the very beginning a suspense is established that never yields. […] The White City shows that Karolina Ramqvist is a strong voice in Swedish contemporary literature.”
Vårt land (NO)
“A well-written and saturated story about Karin, who has been abandoned by her lover […] The novel is extremely well told and full of vidid sensory impressions. […] The novel writes itself into the wave of contemporary literature that portrays women who are not perfect in their roles as mothers.”
“The White City is the first novel I have read that follows the adventures of a dyad, a character with two bodies not one, a mother, Karin, and her nursing, still speechless infant, Dream. Ramqvist’s acute rendering of embodied sensual experience combined with her evocation of her double character’s increasingly desperate circumstances create a story of high tension, startling insights, and lasting resonance.”
“Karolina Ramqvist writes with frosty precision the kind of literature that is unforgettable. Her portraits of women hit deep into bone and marrow.”
“A stirring portrait of human melancholy that fills a Swedish winter with fear, grace, and urgency.”