Posted in The World Beyond

Nordic Noir – Fiction and Fact

The current egregious state of politics in India, with the Government scoring one own goal after another, makes me seek respite from issues of Indian governance and look instead on those distant lands far, far to the North…

For me, and perhaps most English speaking Indians, the Nordic nations are best discovered through the excellent crime fiction these countries produce. Perhaps, like me, they too discovered Nordic noir  through the famous Millennium Trilogy by Swedish author Stieg Larsson with its unforgettable protagonist Lisbeth Salander – probably the most memorable literary character in a long, long, time…

It was only a short step from there to discovering Jo Nesbo (Norwegian) and Arnaldur Indridason (Icelandic), Håkan Nesser, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Camilla Läckberg, Henning Mankell, and many, many more I am still uncovering…

And of course, as already noted by millions across the world, all these books (essentially of the ‘police procedural’ genre) have several common threads running through them: like a sense of brooding melancholy, the local landscape as a potent character in itself, dysfunctional families, the ever-present shadow of Nazism past and present, xenophobia, child abuse, and moral ambiguity…

It is not unknown for serial killers to get away, or for emotions like loyalty, love and hate to get in the way of law enforcement. Life is not clearly cut-and-dried in black and white…

In fact, Nordic noir  runs the gamut from grey to grey…

The protagonist in most cases is a police officer with heaps of personal problems but absolutely honest when it comes to his work, and never afraid to speak the truth. He (or she) may not be a believer in rules and regulations but is guided by his own moral compass, aligned to the great universal truths of all humanity – which supersede man-made laws of evidence and proof.

Perhaps it is this trait, this alignment to a universal truth, which sends a young Danish nurse to the slums of Calcutta, or a Swedish activist to fight modern day slavery, or a Norwegian Doctor to scream in anguish from the blood-slicked corridors of the Al Shifa Hospital, which shook a whole continent from its stupor and awakened them to the horrors of Israel’s onslaught on Gaza in 2014.

So despite the unhappiness of individuals portrayed in their crime fiction, I think the Nordic countries have really got something right…

It is no wonder then, that they score high on the Human Development Index, have the least social disparity, and are now also in the top ten of the World Happiness Index: (yes, there is such a thing, believe me!) According to the World Happiness Index Report 2013, the top ten countries were: World Happiness Index top10 Happiness footer The report also charts the difference in perceived happiness across the world between the period 2005-07 and 2010-12, and I have picked a few representative countries to get a better understanding of the trend. DIFFERENCE IN HAPPINESS CHART The Nordic nations are, as expected ‘happier’ than ever before, along with Chile, Brazil, Russia, China and Germany; but the UK, France, Pakistan and USA show marked decreases in perceived happiness…

You know what they say about violence: the more violence you put out into the universe in the form of war, drone attacks, regime change, and torture camps; the more likely are you to have violence on your own doorstep in terms of drug wars, inner city crime, drive-by shootings, race riots, campus shoot-outs and so on…

The same is true of unhappiness too, I suppose…

I received this comment from J E Jakobsen on ICH, but am re-posting it here:

Hey Nasrin,

Being a Nordic person, I read your article “Fiction and Fact” with great interest.

In the context of this ICH article you highlight some positive traits of Nordic societies. I have lived outside the Nordic region for 17 years now and have grown accustomed to the Asian way of life: entrepreneurial and buzzing, yes indeed, but recklessly selfish and no safety nets whatsoever for the have-nots.

Whenever I go back to Norway I’m awe-struck by how comfortable lives people are leading; plenty of free time, high personal incomes and free healthcare. I think an important factor of the Nordic mindset is we are NOT brought up to believe we are anyone special, but to seek the simple and not necessarily the most luxurious pleasures in life. It may sound harsh, but it’s probably led to Nordic people feeling very comfortable about being equals. With support structures in place you actually don’t NEED to be the richest and most successful kid on the block. Remember also that Nordics are few in numbers and live with vast space. No stress on resources and fighting over them, probably also contributes to their “happiness”.

Putting this into perspective: the American Dream teaches people to pursue their own dreams and make them come through, but really, how many percent of 300 million people can realistically achieve those dreams? Americans often see Nordic socialism as a form of communism (i.e. an evil) but this couldn’t be further from the truth. On the contrary a healthy balance between state and private ownership is desired. Recently a petition by the people of Norway actually halted the government from selling the airport-link between Oslo and its airport off to Chinese investors. State involvement was actually preferred, because people use those services frequently and felt better served by the state than a private party. Yes, this was probably also a case of xenophobia, but experience has shown that the people of Norway, at least, has been better served by keeping an eye on their politicians and controlling their own interests.

In the end, what is most striking about happiness itself and as a concept, is that it comes not from enriching yourself to the max, but through unselfishness and sharing. In Norway this is done through high taxes by a state intermediary! But the blows suffered by high taxation are often softened by the rewards you reap by giving to others, and ultimately also receiving when needed. Unfortunately selfishness is on the rise and the common belief is that fending for yourself is the only way. Sadly many people don’t have the choice and must continue to do so. But in more modern and developed societies, this belief system tears away traditional support structures and also enables the widening of income gaps – all around. Communism, no thanks. Capitalism, no thanks. But something in between does exist, and it seems to work better than the other two…



I have worked for over 26 years as a trainer of Government Officials and Elected Representatives, specializing in the urban and municipal sector. I have also written extensively on Urban Governance, Poverty, Development, Social Accountability and Municipal Management in the Indian context, and wish to share these writings with you through this blog.

4 thoughts on “Nordic Noir – Fiction and Fact

    1. Thanks a ton for another interesting weblog. Where else can I get that type of information written such the best way? I’ve a work that I’m just now working on, and I have been on the look out for this kind of inofnmatior.


  1. I got to your excellent blog following up on the World Development Report 2014, Risk and Opportunity – Managing risk for development. It is an excellent articulation of the importance of risk management in meeting development goals. As a corollary to the development theme of this report, we should expect to find developed countries to have the highest level of preparedness for dealing with almost any kind of risk. The report calculates a Risk Preparation Index (RPI) based on a number of hazard and risk parameters and provides a score between 0 to 100 for all the countries. It is not surprising to find that the Nordic countries have the highest scores (in the mid-nineties), and in contrast the score for India is 31. It is easy to establish a correlation between RPI and Happiness Index, the preparedness to deal with any kind of risk should result in a reduced allocation of resources (physical, financial and emotional) towards coping with uncertainty, leaving individuals with lot more time to pursue other interests that contribute to happiness.


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