Everything I Don’t Remember
Jonas Hassen Khemiri

Atria Books
English translation 2016

Award-winning Swedish author Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s  novel, “Everything I Don’t Remember,” might be re-titled “a book I don’t want to remember.” 

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“One for contemporary thriller lovers everywhere.”

Written in a contemporary style, an unknown writer seeks to unravel events leading up to the death of one “Samuel,” who is killed in a car crash.

The tale, told in fragmented interviews, interspersed with the author’s musings, is like digging through a sackful of snippets the reader must assemble in order to understand the puzzle. Almost right at the end, someone, also unknown, asks the unidentified writer, ”Do you have a plan for how you’re going to make it into a coherent narrative?” It’s a bad idea, the writer admits, to write Samuel into the novel in the first person, but he does it anyway. We then hear Samuels’ voice as he accelerates toward a tree in his grandmother’s Opal. 

Was it an accident or suicide? The author interviews Samuel’s friends and family to solve the mystery. Of the three main characters, none are likable, including Samuel’s roommate, Vandad, a weightlifting freeloader and schemer, Samuel’s girlfriend Laide, a language translator who speaks in Arabic, and his childhood friend, Panther, a self-proclaimed artist with access to drugs. 

Samuel, we learn, is a political science major in a tedious job with the Swedish Migration Board. Tragedy abounds in this fractured novel that bounces back and forth in time. Vandad, the villain in the narrative, is suspected to be the unknown narrator, but then again, the profiles don’t match.

There is no doubt Khemiri is a talented creative writer not afraid to attempt a new style; unfortunately, in this novel the approach is not engaging and instead tedious, like slogging through mud on a rainy day. But to his credit he did win the August Prize, Sweden’s most prestigious literary honor, so his writings must have some merit that others may appreciate.


Reviewer: Kate Padilla