In US debut, Swedish novelist delivers heartbreak and joy

Illustration by Ellery Lloyd

By Alannah Balfour

Tom Malmquist’s first novel, “In Every Moment We Are Still Alive,” left me speechless. Translated from its original Swedish by Henning Koch, the author’s powerfully captures love and grief in 250 pages of auto-fiction (a semi-fictional autobiography). Malmquist tosses the reader into the center of the most pivotal moment of his life as his partner Karin dies during childbirth due to undiagnosed leukemia. As Malmquist navigates single fatherhood and the death of his love, his father passes away after 10-year battle with cancer. The novel plays with its timeline, jumping between years from paragraph to paragraph. It is a raw narrative, with no quotation marks demarcating dialogue from thought.

Malmquist deftly maneuvers depression, anger, joy and unwavering love. He captures chaos, exposing the reader to his stream-of-consciousness prose. He alternates between chronicling his reality, his past and a re-imagining of his future. However, the writing does not dwell in sadness or get overpowered by negativity.

“You know I love her with the weight of us,” Malmquist writes about his daughter near the novel’s conclusion. This book is an extended love-letter to his late wife, Karin, and their child, Liva, and you can feel it with every page.  

As with any auto-fiction novel, one may be left wondering which scenes are heightened to fit into the story’s structure. Ultimately, the novel’s impact is not dependent upon its accuracy. Most personal narratives are their own type of fiction, biased from the author’s perspective. “In Every Moment We Are Still Alive,” the author’s ability to encapsulate sorrow is remarkable. Those who have experienced loss will find a companion in Malmquist, regardless of how sensationalized the minutiae may be.

“Every time I try to understand it, attach words to it, define it, control it, I start crying so violently that I am afraid of waking (Livia) even if I am in a different room, and I put my hand over my eyes and I hear myself saying: It’s only make-believe. I ask you not to call it sad, either,” Malmquist writes of his grief. His past experience as a poet magnifies his storytelling, and it is brimming with poignant scenes and emotive descriptions that will linger in your thoughts for days.

Melville House Publishing released “In Every Moment We Are Still Alive” in the United States on Jan. 30. I encourage you to pick up a copy and dive headfirst into this honest depiction of mourning that will have your heart full of empathy and, somehow, hope.

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