“Lonesome as a Swede? Of the people of the North who enjoy being alone”.

This book by Katarzyna Tubylewicz is a collection of reportages, essays and interviews covering the theme of solitude – a vivid, original and very much topical read. Tubylewicz and her protagonists share with readers what “solitude” means to them, what sets it apart from “loneliness”, what is so frightening about it and what is also so very seductive – why we long to be alone, why we shy away from being alone, how it changes who we are and the challenges it presents us with. The book is filled with subjective voices and perspectives, coming together to form a universal portrait of the essential nature of solitude and its numerous cultural contexts. It is often said that Sweden is a “loners' paradise” – is this truism true? 

Tubylewicz writes about people from all walks of life – those who are single, about Swedish families and a particularly Swedish brand of individualism, as well as a uniquely Scandinavian sort of spirituality which is best enjoyed far from city crowds in wild, natural environments. 

Together with her interviewees, Tubylewicz concludes that introverts find it easier to achieve happiness, wondering what solitude might be for an author striving for subjectivity in a diversely polarised present, and why people with eating disorders cannot stop feeling alone in crowds of enlightened souls who seem to be so supposedly self-aware. Lonesome as a Swede?

 covers the whole spectrum of solitary philosophies and pursuits – all the way from Pippi Långstrump-Longstocking to Tomas Tranströmer, a Nobel Prize winning poet, who suddenly found himself lost for words. 

Tubylewicz interviews the likes of Peter Strang – a Swedish professor of palliative care who researches the subject of existential loneliness in his patients... Vincent Severski – a writer and former secret services officer who knows all about the loneliness felt by professional spies and appreciates how distant Swedes can be towards others... the writer Therese Bohman who talks about loneliness in marriage and that experienced by those who choose to climb the ladders of upwards social mobility... the psychotherapist Ewa Heller Ekblad, who is the granddaughter of legendary Anna Braude Heller, forced to hide in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. Her other interviewees include a teacher of meditation skills, a film director and many other persons who share their profoundly personal insights.   

Tubylewicz writes with fascinating insight about a whole range of attitudes towards loneliness, but also about her own journeys and searches for the landscapes of solitude. Photographs created by her son Daniel Tubylewicz provide the book with a poetic and aesthetically evocative aspect, taken during Daniel and Katarzyna's joint journeys to Fårö, Gotland, Österlen and Bohuslän in Sweden. 

Lonesome as a Swede? is a richly rewarding tale about our ambivalent attitudes towards the most basic of human instincts and desires – that to be perfectly alone from time to time... “I do and I do not want to be alone, therefore am I?” – could this quote define our modern human condition?

READ the excerpt of the “Lonesome as a Swede?” :


SAID AND WRITTEN ABOUT “Lonesome as a Swede?”:

“Tubylewicz and her interviewees discuss the ways in which contemporary society perceives solitude to be a fatalistic sort of pursuit, as if our understanding of it was limited to that suggested by hermit mystics and heartbroken lovers. And yet a different point of view is not just possible, but important to attain. What if we could look at an “independent landscape” which needs nothing, not even our gaze, to exist? What if we could admire the resilience of professional philosophers and wonder whether a rider mounting a horse and riding it through wildernesses is still alone? Tubylewicz invites us to walk along with her and her interviewees all across uniquely Swedish landscapes of loneliness and solitude. This is a very slow, melancholy and aesthetically enchanting sort of journey, aided by the evocative photography the book is decorated with. By reading all about loneliness we end up feeling less alone – one of the many paradoxes this remarkable book presents us with.”

 Wojciech Szot

“The Sweden shown by Tubylewicz and her protagonists comes alive in ways which are colourful and contradictory – the book is a mosaic of paradoxes which the author at times dismisses outright. I was charmed by a protagonist called the Spy – so much so, I wanted to meet this one in real life by the end of the book. In fact, I was desperate to become a spy myself (Spies can call the whole world their home... that would be my dream come true). The Swedish Italian – another oxymoron – protagonist is so vivacious, chatty and real one might say he was literally luscious. Then there is the doctor Peter Strang, the sort of MD all patients can only dream of being treated by. This is followed by musings on loneliness and solitude from the introvert Linus Jonkman, followed by the strangest sort of interview with Tomas Tranströmer – an interview without any words uttered at all... How is this possible? Impossible to imagine, yes, but not impossible to experience and describe – as evidenced by this very book.

 What then do we learn from Katarzyna Tubylewicz's Lonesome as a Swede?

 All About the Joy and Pain of Being All Alone ?

 We learn just about everything, and more, in fact, thanks to the wonderful addition of photographs provided by Daniel Tubylewicz and his camera – images of severe geometries and rural homes decorated using several shades of browns and reds, set against backdrops of sapphire waters, featuring solitary human figures illuminated with the golden glow of sunlight spreading across limitless skies and numerous bridges, roads, lanes, shorelines, fields and meadows. Yes, taken together, these texts and images present us with a richly detailed portrait of a most solitary part of the world. The odd thing is that far from filling us with a sense of dread, we feel drawn to this need to be alone – something we are scared of... aren't we?

When a book such as this opens up before me like Sesame, a treasure trove or chest filled with precious jewels – I do not watch my words or the volume at which I cry out: “Here, come to me, see what I have found!” – in this way, with exaltation and unchecked joy, I wish to bring everyone to a book which, in talking about loneliness, leads us to feel calm, happy, soothed, alive and energised. In this fashion the book written by Katarzyna Tubylewicz on the subject of Sweden and solitude tames, demystifies and silences our fears – this last aspect being the most important, methinks.”

Ewa Woydyłło