The summer of 1932 has just begun when twenty-four year-old Karin falls hopelessly in love with a young writer named Olof. But there is one problem: Karin is married to Sven, a blustering high-profile author with a cruel streak. Will she be able to leave her husband and start a new life with her newfound love?
Eighty-six years and two generations later, Alex Schulman, author and father of three, wonders why he carries such a deep rage inside of him; a rage that puts fear in the eyes of his children and creates a gulf between himself and his wife. During a session with his therapist, Alex realizes his anger can be traced back to a single person: his grandfather Sven. Terrified of becoming like his grandfather, and with the hope of ending the lineage of rage that appears like a family curse, Alex goes looking for answers. In doing so, he uncovers the story of two star-crossed lovers and the history they made.
1932. Karin is growing increasingly estranged from her husband Sven Stolpe, who is an elevated writer and a prominent cultural figure with respect and influence. Sven is deeply religious and when he learns that Karin aborted another man’s child, conceived prior to their meeting, he grows livid. What is this moral failure? Soon Sven can no longer control the resentment he feels toward Karin and she finds herself forced to live with a violent tyrant whom she grows to fear. When she meets the young and exuberant Olof, Karin loses herself in a dream of what mutual love and respect could hold – little knowing that her life is on the line.
In his search in the present, Alex learns about the passionate affair his grandmother Karin had with Olof Lagercrantz – who would later become one of the most famous writers of his generation. Their secret love story takes Alex back to a pivotal moment in his childhood: in the winter of 1988, during an innocent game at his grandparents’ house, he uncovered a pile of letters that sent shockwaves through the household. Did the love between Karin and Olof not end in 1932 as Sven had long believed? And what really happened in the horrible car accident that nearly cost Karin and Sven their lives?
Throbbing with raw emotion, Burn All My Letters is a novel about what could have been – but also about life as it came to pass. Through three separate timelines woven together with singular sophistication, Alex Schulman traces a rage inherited through generations while exposing the violent potential of male power. By uncovering a secret affair, Schulman discovers the reason behind a public feud spanning decades between two literary greats, while also laying bare the fundamental power – and limitation – of love.
Impossible to put down and vividly engaging at every unexpected turn, this is at once a gripping love story and an intricate literary thriller. Unanimously lauded and selling an astounding 100 000 copies in a matter of months, Burn All My Letters stands out as one of the foremost break-out novels in recent years.
“This is an incredible story. The passion! The elusiveness! These young, endearing, intelligent lovers… and then the tyrant Stolpe, who acts like a prison guard between them! A mediocre writer would have trusted that the story itself would be enough, no matter how you put it in writing. But not Schulman. He writes with clarity, transparency, and purpose in the best of ways, and with a great sensitivity for building a story with small means. […] A pleasure to read.”
Dagens Nyheter (SE)
“A feverish hunt for the truth about Sven and, above all, about his grandmother Karin Stolpe that soon turns into one of the most beautiful and painful love stories that I have read in a long time. […] It is beautiful, it is sad, but above all it feels incredibly true. Grandmother Karin can stand straight and proud in her heaven.”
Sveriges Radio Kulturnytt (SE)
“Endlessly thrilling. […] This is a story about fierce passion, great love, and a fury that is both long-lived and dark. […] Schulman sets the scene, and with stylistically delicately means he constructs a compelling story. […] Burn All My Letters rings true, the kind of truth that transcends the blurry borderland between memoir and fiction. […] [Schulman] writes as if his life depended on it – every time.”
“Schulman alternates between grand, tragic romance and his own hunt for truth in the archives – he is fortunate to be part of a family whose notes, journals, and works have been preserved for posterity. In between, we follow his childhood self visiting grandma and grandpa in 1988, and these are the best parts of the book, stylistically. The atmosphere – quickly shifting between warm, hot, cold, thrilling, and threatening, yet from the point of view of a teenager somehow familiar and comfortable – is extremely skillfully captured. […] I hope that he continues to write with the same heart and sincerity.”
“[Alex Schulman] proves himself to be a far better writer than his grandfather in his endeavour for insight, about himself as well as others. His story about how the passionate love between Karin and Olof came to an end but – as letters and other sources prove – never faded, is gripping and powerful.
Borås Tidning (SE)
“At the core of the novel is the ‘sexual attack’ on Sven Stolpe, as he himself described it, in the summer of 1932. In the hands of Schulman, this so-called attack becomes a sad and beautiful love story.”
“I eagerly follow Schulman’s winding road backwards through time. His style is distinct and he elegantly builds his narrative in three timelines. He is at his very best when he is writing about that which is self-experienced, in the chapters set in 1988. Burn All My Letters is an extremely enjoyable read, gripping, and thrilling in its own, subdued way.”
Uppsala Nya Tidning (SE)
“A captivating read.”
“An incredibly fine novel.”
SVT Babel (SE)
“Out of all of Alex Schulman’s strong books, Burn All My Letters is the strongest one. What a love story! What a love tragedy! What a life drama! […] Burn All My Letters is a book of many genres, and it’s quite simply genious. It might seem worrysome to let the chapters vary between fiction, verbatim quotes from letters and diary entries, Alex Schulman’s own memories from the summers spent with his grandparents, and detailed insights into his own reflections and analysis, but it’s not. On the contrary. It increases the suspense and strenghtens the empathy enourmously […] Burn All My Letters is a phenomenally good book about a cursed family secret and the devastating poision that has trickled down through many generations.”
Jyllands-Posten, 6/6 stars (DK)
“Alex Schulman – famous media personality, journalist, podcaster, and author – has with his three autofictional novels [Forget Me, Burn All My Letters and The Survivors] knocked me off my feet. Rarely have I read something in this genre that has caught my attention and interest so intensely. […] The Survivors is the most recent of these three books, but it was the first one to reach a Danish audience. The books are not intended as a trilogy, but they work perfectly well as a whole. In fact, it is even a small gift to us [Danish readers] that we get Burn All My Letters as the culmination instead of the beginning. Like a spotlight that sheds light on the past and explains the present, this book is simply genius. […] Burn All My Letters is a complete novel (that will premiere as a feature film in September starring Bill Skarsgård as Sven, Asta Kamma August as Karin, and Gustav Lindh as Olof). As a dual portrait of the two fighting men it is culturally and historically interesting in itself. As a marriage story it is sad. And as Alex Schulman’s dissection of his family’s wrongdoings, it is an actual reconciliation: both his own rage and his mother’s alcoholism stem from Sven Stolpe. As you can tell, Alex Schulman’s books are part of the great Nordic tradition of autofiction. Here, the relationship between author and reader is founded in a combination of trust and doubt, and I’m not able to say in what capacity the authentic gives way for pure fiction, if it ever does so. Of course, there’s always staging and (re)construction. His literary method is by no means groundbreaking, but it is superbly executed. Memories, therapy, research, archival finds, documentarism, fictionalization – together they make up a remarkably successful auto-confrontation. […] In Forget Me, Alex Schulman began to dig in his family’s deception for the first time. In Burn All My Letters he continues to uncover taboos and traumas. And in The Survivors everything culminates with a dark and magnificent depth when three adult sons converge at the family’s desolate cottage to spread their mother’s ashes. […] The three books are at once independent and inherently connected – complete like the people they portray. Through his study of the destructive powers of rage, Alex Schulman has uncovered how an identity emerges by detaching itself from psychological bonds. It is both painful, liberating, and literarily excellent.”
“Schulman has previously written about his relationship to his alcoholic mother in the critically acclaimed autobiographical book Forget Me, and Burn All My Letters stands out with the same pure, unsentimental tone, and a subdued suspense that ought to make this book the (unhappy) love story of the year. […] Bittersweet and captivating about a woman who yields to the whims of her husband and lives a life of shame and shamed love.”
“Schulman’s language is confident and sparse, and he is extremely good at telling a story. […] What’s most important is that Schulman succeeds in constructing an interesting portrayal of a love affair in the upper layers of the Swedish cultural elite, where physical violence is ever present. The characters are complex and even the thoroughly evil Sven Stople, who has his own childhood traumas, is peculiarly enchanting, while the story of grandma Karin Stolpe could carry the novel all in its own right. […] A painfully stunning tale about a love that never really lasted yet never really died.”
Dagbladet Information (DK)
“With great linguistic passion and tenderness, Schulman uncovers a fateful summer romance with the gentle brushstrokes of an archaeologist. The reader is left with grief and a little heartache about having to leave ‘the land that never was’.”
POV International (DK)