Benjamin sees the shape of his two brothers trying to kill each other. It’s no worthy finale, but perhaps it’s also no surprise. How else had they expected this to end? What did they think would happen when they returned at last to the place they had spent their lives trying to flee?
Three brothers return to the cottage by the lake where, over two decades before, a catastrophe changed the course of their lives. They have come to spread their mother’s ashes. That her final wish was to rest alone by the lake and not beside their late father was revealed only the night before her planned funeral.
Benjamin drives the car down the old gravel road, his brothers beside him. His journey is through a familiar landscape, but also through time: here they are as boys, sun-tanned legs and hungry eyes, children left to fend for themselves in a family where the adults have checked out; there they are as young men, estranged but bound to one another by the history that defines them. The brothers are at once one body and fiercely separate, their youth spent competing for their father’s favor and their mother’s elusive love in a home that was riddled like a mine field.
Always the observer, Benjamin stands between his brothers as the family’s command center, on the watch for arguments looming on the edges. But as the years unfold, Benjamin grows increasingly untethered from reality, frozen in place while life carries on around him. And between the brothers a dangerous current now vibrates. What really happened that summer day when everything was blown to pieces?
The Survivors is a devastating story of a family falling apart and a stunning chronicle of a mind unravelling in the wake of a tragedy. Told in dual narratives, with one timeline tracing backward from the story’s dramatic finale and the other moving forward toward the inevitable moment of impact, this cyclical novel explores the relationship between siblings and the way in which the intimate bond of brotherhood opens up for the greatest betrayal of all.
Sweden’s literary luminary Alex Schulman weaves his tale with singular elegance and the drive of a suspense novel, finally lowering the curtain with a shattering twist.
“…Twists the hearts until is breaks at the edges.”
Borås Tidning (SE)
Sveriges Radio, Kulturnytt P4 (SE)
“Schulman has his pain and knows how to use it, and does so in a perfect pitch.”
Helsingborgs Dagblad (SE)
“This is a novel that is highly readible – the author makes me remember my own childhood: the emotion and experience of it. I can literally feel the scent of the mother’s pasties slowly defrosting in the car. […] The language is beautiful and the story is dark, while also deeply heartfelt. Let’s hope there will be many novels to come.”
“This is a story with brilliantly depicted scenes. We are fully present – at the house by the lake, on the paths through the forest, among the birds and the insects, in the play of the light. There is an almost antiquated rhythm to the nature destructions, which brings to mind the writing of Pär Lagerkvist or Harry Martinson. And then there is the low-intensive, psychological drama that is constantly alive between these five damaged souls. At its worst, the brothers band together, but just as often they are played against one another. Schulman allows his scenes to take time, interjects new details slowly. Above all, he has an ear for dialog. I often find it surprising how many novelists let their characters sound the same; in Schulman’s book on the other hand, the lines always reflect the speaker. He creates a truly dark image of a family. Yes, the violence and the humiliation are arresting, but just as harrowing is how the parents appear steeped in total indifference. The children seem to see themselves only as a burden. They have developed different strategies to survive that realization. […] This may be the beginning of an important authorship.”
Dagens Nyheter (SE)
“Schulman’s literary prowess is indisputable. […] The children’s abandonment is depicted with linguistic sensitivity – but without concealing the brutality. […] Death is constantly present. It prowls in the shadows, extends its hand, retracts it. In this movement a vibrating and terrifying suspense arises, which finally explodes and hurls the brothers into a life defined by alienation and trauma.”
“In several books, Alex Schulman has skillfully depicted an auto-ficitonal tale of a dysfunctional family rife with addiction, violence and love. The Survivors uses similar material, but now in pure fiction, without auto-pilot. The story gains from it, the reader is invited into the narrative in an entirely new way; the novel skillfully draws on the reader’s own childhood, their own terror, in order to compel the story forward.”
Sveriges Radio, Kulturnytt P1 (SE)
“Schulman has his painful pressure points and knows exactly how to use them. […] He is tremendously good at telling a story that grabs hold.”
“Damn elegant. The story is saturated with drama, but Schulman works just as much with small details, everyday occurrences that appear inconsequential for an outsider but which become lasting, razor sharp memories for a child. […] However rooted in his own biography he may be, Alex Schulman is clearly sliding into a more free fictional prose. Between the lines we glimpse an author with his gaze set on the horizon, ready for the next step. I am curious where that will take him.”
Svenska Dagbladet (SE)
“Schulman uses sound, light, and the boys’ memories of an early summer in order to depict the terror that breaks out between the brothers when they splash in the water and the shore seems to disappear. In this moment, Schulman has an exact pitch in every sentence. I experience their strokes in the water heavy as death and the angst the brothers feel is also mine. […] The chapters about the boys’ childhood are the book’s strength, its nerve. In those scenes, Schulman wants much and throws everything down. His soul? That is how it feels at times, and it is worthy of great admiration. […]. What surprises me most is Schulman’s ability to make the world appear a little bit bigger. He moves borders, travels through time.”
“Schulman is a master at depicting mood and emotional pitch. His vulnerability strikes like a dagger to the heart. […] The story’s dramatic crescendo, the explanation for a life of self-loathing and bottomless angst for our protagonist Benjamin, leaves me as a reader in a state of acute shock. But maybe that is what good literature should achieve.”
Alingsås Tidning (SE)
“Schulman is quite simply a master of portraying emotions and at making the immediacy of the text run through your body like an electrical shock.”
Tidningen Vi (SE)
“Alex Schulman skillfully navigates through a vulnerable adolescence. His writing is emotionally arresting, it’s impossible to resist.”
INGALILL MOSANDER, AFTONBLADET (SE)
“The Survivors is a book about longing and uncertain love, about adult betrayal, about brothers who take on a parent’s responsibility in protecting and caring for each other […] It is also a book that balances on the razor thin edge of melodrama, without tipping over.”
“Empathic and searing about the trauma caused by self-absorbed parents. … [The Survivors] is sensuous and intense, written in the third person singular and with a point of view that lies close to Benjamin, packed with captivating scenes and a composition that executes the cinematic oscillation between the past and present well. […] A vulnerable family tragedy about parents who betray, and children who get life-threatening mental wounds, yet survive.”
STAVANGER AFTENBLAD, 5/6 STARS (NO)
“A clever family drama with vitality and nerve. […] As a reader, I experience this book as highly visual: the portrayal lends much from the language of cinema. The unfolding of the events that shaped the characters are intriguingly laid out, as in a clever thriller but without the expectancy of sudden death and murder à la Nordic noir. The focus of the narrative is kept very narrow. We never learn what becomes of the brothers, what jobs they take, or what the parents do for a living. The entire propulsion of the story remains within the scope of the family’s inner workings, something that remarkably causes the pages to turn themselves.”
ADRESSEAVISEN, 5/6 STARS (NO)
“The Survivors is a very surprising novel. […] Throughout The Survivors Schulman showcases his delicate ability as an observer and his strength as a writer. His method is to draw up scenes and then dissect them afterwards. […] The level of truth is established in a way that beautifully fits into the contemporary way of molding literature after real life. What’s so remarkable about this novel is how childhood trauma hits you even harder in the novel form than when you hear Schulman himself talk about it. With The Survivors, Schulman proves how literary tales exceed the ‘strong’ stories of real life.”
“Alex Schulman has chosen to tell a heartfelt and dark family drama in The Survivors – a novel that earns its title. To be clear: At his best, we see in Alex Schulman the contours of one of the best Nordic writers of today. The story about the family – the three brothers, the increasingly alcoholic mother, the father who comes and goes – becomes a sort of chamber play at the cottage, gradually alternating to life in the city apartment. It hurts and is pressingly dense, with the constant threat that something will come crashing down. Or rather someone: the mother or the father, the ones who are supposed to protect you in this life. […] Schulman also elegantly shows how there are different stories, truths, and realities within the three brothers as the story progresses – and regresses. […] This is one hell of a wonderful novel. […] The images that Schulman paints are exceptionally beautiful. […] Schulman can deliver these linguistic images without ever making them seem too much or pretentious, never affected or constructed.”
BOK 365 (NO)
“Oh, how it hurts! The poor children! And the poor parents! The Survivors is a brilliant psychological drama about bottomless grief that spreads like a poison until all love has been obliterated and only violent and unbearable loneliness remains.”
JYLLANDSPOSTEN, 5/6 STARS (DK)
“Best book of the year? Swedish writer Alex Schulman’s novel The Survivors may be the book that has given me the most profound reading experience this year. In a very long time, actually. Honestly, I sobbed my way through the novel’s last pages. […] The Survivors is a fantastic book.”
FEMINA, 6/6 STARS (DK)
“Alex Schulman is brilliant and impresses with one of this year’s biggest reading experiences, and I dare say that even though it’s just the beginning of the year. […] This is a gut-punch of a novel about innocence, loneliness, repression, and fragile family dynamics. The pieces fall into place late in the novel – in a single sentence. Perhaps it must be read a few times before it sinks in. My reaction was literally to throw the book in the air! It actually felt like when you get burned and react instinctively! […] The Survivors is reminiscent of Norwegian writer Carl Frode Tiller’s eminent novel Beginnings, which was nominated for the Nordic Council Prize in Literature in 2016. This novel is made of the same calibre and is also a worthy candidate for the prize.”
“Swedish journalist and author Alex Schulman directs the drama The Survivors with an impressive sense for suspense and shifts in scenes. The story of three men who were once children in the same dysfunctional family keeps its secrets so close that reading it evolves into an intense close scrutiny. […] But it is not the narrative technique that ends in an ambush of blinking blue lights that is what’s most remarkable about Schulman’s novel – the veiled tragedy becomes almost too surprising. Instead, it is his fine ear for dissonance, for distant death. […] The novel rises to a breathtaking story of one family’s disintegrating microbiology, while nature’s own microbiology decays in turn. […] Ominous, grandiose – beautiful.”
Politiken, 5/6 stars (DK)
“It has been long since I was this hooked by a novel. Here are four reasons why The Survivors ought to be the holiday read of 2021. The first reason is the most difficult to reveal without giving away the genius plot. […] The second reason is the craftsmanship. The narrative shifts smoothly between present and past. […] An then the third reason: Schulman can write. […] Beautiful scenes that are authentic and spot on can be found on every page. […] Finally, reason four: the interplay of genres. What starts out as a seemingly relaxing holiday read quickly evolves into a bildungsroman that focuses on the universal function and (more than you would like) dysfunction of a family. […] The end result is a chilling cocktail of loneliness, solipsism, and yet also of diffusive empathy.”
De Standaard (NL)
“The Survivors is not just another coming of age drama about a family plagued by alcohol abuse and aggression. It is more subtle: each son deals in his own way with what must be a very confusing upbringing and when they are adults their paths cross or run parallel, but in the smallest actions there are traces of the past and of an unspoken tragedy. With an effortlessness that is enviable, this 45-years-old Swede proves that you don’t need a kilogram of paper to write an in-depth family chronicle. […] More than one scene from The Survivors will stay with the reader forever. Never again will you look at a fish in a frying pan in the same way, or a transformer cabinet, or a cooling swim in a lake. The not-a-word-too-much-or-too-little style reminiscent of Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending, the nostalgia of Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. With The Survivors Schulman proves in his own way that not only can literature satisfy escapist hunger, but also bring it ruthlessly close to reality.”
“You will definitely be hooked by this tragic and sophisticated novel by Alex Schulman, about the loss of a family.”