Four years ago, I sat in our cottage in the Stockholm archipelago, reflecting on the fact my daughter, Yasmine, would be going away to college in New York. It felt bittersweet, but I was grateful she and I had such a close relationship. I then began thinking about mother-daughter relationships in general. I was very attached to my mother, and we spoke almost daily—even when I moved to Stockholm. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn't all perfect; we had our misunderstandings. Likewise, Yasmine and I often bickered, especially during those fraught teen years. Still, our love and special bond were never in doubt. But what about those complicated—even dysfunctional—mother/daughter relationships?
An idea began to form in my mind about just such a dynamic—a single mother who is late to maturity and her precocious eighteen-year-old daughter. As the characters of Linn and Zoë Holmgren began to take shape, I wanted to infuse some familiar elements. I placed them on a fictional Swedish island similar to mine and added a dose of Norse mythology to thicken the plot. Finally, I turned inward and wrote about something else close to home: an interracial relationship between Swedish Linn and a charismatic Haitian American she meets after a one-night stand at a music festival. A significant part of the narrative would center on the experiences of their bi-racial Swedish/American/Haitian daughter, Zoë.
To write as authentically as possible about Zoë’s perspective, I had lengthy conversations with Yasmine—asking her everything from choosing Zoë’s name to Gen Z slang. I completed a large portion of the first draft during the early months of the pandemic. However, the brutal murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, rattled my already fragile psyche. A long-overdue racial reckoning took root in the United States and spread worldwide. Sweden was not immune. Demonstrations in solidarity with Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement occurred at Sergels Torg, a large public square in central Stockholm. Discussions about racism, discrimination, racial profiling, police brutality, and microaggressions came to the fore.
From my own experience as a Black woman who has lived in both the United States and Sweden, I have faced less blatant prejudice here. Nevertheless, I’ve also brushed aside uncomfortable incidents to keep the peace and preserve my mental health. However, my daughter bravely penned an Instagram post detailing her experiences with racial ignorance and unconscious bias in Sweden. Her account and the amplification of indignities faced by people of color introduced a sense of urgency to something I had been tip-toeing around. Namely, Zoë’s feeling of racial otherness; her search for identity and acceptance. In the wake of an inexplicable tragedy and a world coming apart at the seams, I saw the emotional honesty that had eluded me.
Writing Sommaren på Nornö enabled me to confront issues I had wrestled with for years. Given my personal background, I wanted to feature an underrepresented voice in Swedish fiction and portray that world through her specific lens. I also wanted to explore the universal theme of feeling like an outsider in a society that encourages conformity. The updated English edition, A Norn in Bloom, taught me to be fearless and to focus on what I wanted to convey rather than what was comfortable. Although I created the characters and circumstances, it sometimes felt as though Linn and Zoë were real and driving the action forward. Luckily, I'm not done with them yet. Stay tuned!