In January of 2017, I was strolling down a mountain in Oslo, Norway. Stomping away in a pair of bargain boots and listening to some local folk/rock songs, I was marvelling at the stunning country that I was lucky to find myself in, and generally falling in love with everything including the food, the culture and the people.
Flash forward about 12 months and I find myself back in the Nordics. Not in person, but by jumping into the mind of Anu Partanen. Page after page, Anu tells a tale of her carefree yet supportive upbringing in her home country of Finland. She relays stories of supportive parents who allowed her independence from a young age, of teachers who guided but never lectured, and of work environments that not only allowed but encouraged extended periods of time off for family life.
But then things take a turn for the depressing. After journeying to the United States for love (not the depressing bit…) she describes being overcome with a sense of dread and anxiety that she had not previously known before. A feeling of being entirely on your own with the odds stacked against you no matter how hard you worked at it. Why, after moving to the land of the brave and the home of the free was she feeling neither of those things? And why was her new adoptive home trying so hard to embrace the tips, tricks and tactics that had taken her home country to the top of the charts in everything from finances to education standards and even contentedness?
It all boils down to a simple theory: The Nordic Theory of Everything with its under-riding principle that focuses on four key relationships: between parents and children, men and women, employees and employers, and the government and its citizens. Ultimately the novel debunks the criticism that the Nordics are socialist nanny states and concludes that the Nordic approach allows citizens to enjoy more individual freedom and independence, resulting in happier and more successful adult lives.
You would think that a novel examining the culture of two strikingly different countries, from political, economical and socio-economic perspectives, would be dense and restrictive but, much like the embracing and welcoming region of her birth, Anu makes clear, concise and poignant points in an easily accessible way.
It’s an intriguing and thoroughly enjoyable read that will make you think twice about your own interactions with the key relationships in your life. And in my case, makes me all-the-more keen to jump back on a plane and explore the rest of the stunning Nordics.
Reviewed by Jenna Woods
Rating out of 10: 9
Distributed by: Bloomsbury Australia
Released: February 2018
RRP: $39.99 hardcover