‘Welcome to America’ by Linda Boström Knausgård – Unspeakable Family Life


‘Welcome to America’ by Linda Boström Knausgård (2016) – 124 pages              Translated from the Swedish by Martin Aitkin

In ‘Welcome to America’, eleven year-old narrator Ellen has stopped talking. Her father has recently died, and Ellen is living with her stage actress mother and Ellen’s older brother.

Ellen believes she killed her father because she wished him dead, and then he died. Her father had severe mental problems, and he was a danger to people around him, especially his wife, so he was locked up in an institution.

The ambulance that pulled up slowly outside, and me trying not to draw his attention to it, so he wouldn’t run away. I’d dreamt about them coming to get him. Men in white coats who took him away and locked him up for good.”

Now the father has died, and daughter Ellen lives in nearly unrelieved misery and has stopped talking.

The backstory is that the father was relatively stable up in northern rural Sweden. Then he married his wife who soon became an acclaimed stage actress and in order to advance her career the family had to move to the city. The father couldn’t stand complicated city life and went bonkers, and died in the asylum.

A broken man. Mom had chewed him up and spit him out. She’d lived their life as if it were the most natural thing in the world, only then to shut him out.”

This entire novel is overwrought, and the young girl Ellen is a case study in severe depression. It has the cold sad disquiet of one of Ingmar Bergman’s darker movies, but even Bergman would have put in a few lighter scenes for contrast. ‘Welcome to America’ would have been more convincing if there had been a couple of happy moments for variation from all of the despair.

I also don’t like the proposition that the mother’s stage success and vivacity naturally led to the father’s craziness, but that is probably just the kid’s projection anyway.

The novel is written in short staccato sentences and in many cases mere short phrases. Despite the short sentences, I wasn’t entirely convinced this was a young girl speaking. It is difficult for me to believe that an eleven year old girl could be this clinically depressed. In any case I’m not sure the story should have been told entirely from a depressive’s point of view, even if she is only eleven.

Also the title is misleading, because ‘Welcome to America’ has absolutely nothing to do with the story, except that Ellen is in a play at school about the Statue of Liberty. This play is barely mentioned.


Grade:   C+



9 responses to this post.

  1. Thank you – I shall avoid like the plague!! ;D

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Thanks for your honest review. I will pass this one up. Thanks again Tony.

    Liked by 1 person


  3. Is this a wife’s rejoinder to the Knausgaard behemoth?

    Liked by 1 person


  4. I wondered if there was a connection with KO; can’t say I feel strongly drawn to this helping of depression. Not that there’s no place for it in literature – but this doesn’t sound well done.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Tredynas Days,
      There is a difference between sadness and clinical depression, and I thought ‘Welcome to America’ came more down on the side of clinical depression.



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