”When we were Samis”/”När vi var samer”

June 7th, 2022 by Helena Rydén
Book cover Mats Jonsson

”When we were Samis”/”När vi var samer” by Mats Jonsson

For the lucky ones who can read Swedish there is a book I would warmly recommend to read! This is Mats Jonsson’s book, ”När vi var samer”, published in 2021. It tells the story that we are longing to find out more about, the story of the Samis. Unravelling his own family story and looking into his Sami roots, Mats Jonsson, dives into Sami history and of course most certainly thus Swedish history since the 1600s. The book is not a traditional book. It is written in a cartoon form and in black and white. To be honest, that non-conventional way of writing was peculiar to me and the first pages were difficult to follow and digest. But after page 40 (this is also when the real story starts), everything changes, you are taken away by the narrative, and I (personally) got used to the ”cartoon-like” way of writing.

Providing a review for this book is not a simple endeavour. History is narrated together with family history (a part of the book that I was not always able to follow). And from the discussions on the history of the ”coffee tree” (the tree where the predecessors of the author used to hang their coffee pot), to the terrible story of “Stor-Stina” the author keeps the reader’s interest. ”Stor-Stina”, Kristina Katarina Larsdotter (1819–1837), who was shown as a freak, never stopped growing, died young and whose skeleton was then displayed at Karolinska Institutet’s museum, directed by the notorious Anders Retzius – the father of craniology, who developed theories about short- and long-bald people – by extension the basis for theories about cultural stages, in short racism.

”When we were Sami”, provides an illustrative description of the struggle between Sami history and identity and the Swedish colonial empire. Although it includes sad elements, it is not a sad book. The quest for the author’s identity, history, becomes a quest for Swedish history, the real, the whole history, including the dark sides of Sami exclusion and cultural extinction.

Mats Jonsson’s storytelling technique is also so liberating, the alternation between reportage and fiction manages to communicate a difficult subject in an entertaining and easy way.

 

Frantzeska Papadopoulou

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