The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven


By Nathaniel Ian Miller

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In this "briskly entertaining" (New York Times Book Review), "transporting and wholly original" (People Magazine) novel, one man banishes himself to a solitary life in the Arctic Circle, and is saved by good friends, a loyal dog, and a surprise visit that changes everything.

In 1916, Sven Ormson leaves a restless life in Stockholm to seek adventure in Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago where darkness reigns four months of the year and he might witness the splendor of the Northern Lights one night and be attacked by a polar bear the next. But his time as a miner ends when an avalanche nearly kills him, leaving him disfigured, and Sven flees even further, to an uninhabited fjord. There, with the company of a loyal dog, he builds a hut and lives alone, testing himself against the elements.

The teachings of a Finnish fur trapper, along with encouraging letters from his family and a Scottish geologist who befriended him in the mining camp, get him through his first winter. Years into his routine isolation, the arrival of an unlikely visitor salves his loneliness, sparking a chain of surprising events that will bring Sven into a family of fellow castoffs and determine the course of the rest of his life.

Written with wry humor and in prose as breathtaking as the stark landscape it evokes, The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven is a testament to the strength of our human bonds, reminding us that even in the most inhospitable conditions on the planet, we are not beyond the reach of love.

#1 Indie Next Pick

Finalist for the Vermont Book Award

Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize


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My name is Sven. To some I am known as Stockholm Sven, and to others, Sven One-Eye or Sven the Seal Fucker. I arrived in Spitsbergen in 1916. I was thirty-two years old and hadn’t amounted to much.

I have some sense of what is said about me, by the few who might say anything at all: that I lived and trapped alone in the great bay and hunting grounds of Raudfjorden, in the farthest North; that I was the pitiable victim of a mining accident; that I had irrepressible eccentricities and abjured society. This is all true, in a way, and yet less than true. And let it be struck from the record that I was a talented and enthusiastic cook, as some have claimed, for that is a flagrant falsehood.

I expended the greater part of my life in Spitsbergen, an island archipelago due north of Norway whose uppermost reaches are but a handful of degrees from the invisible Pole. These days the place is called Svalbard by politicians, generals, and cartographers. Or, by all but the most precious few, it is called nothing. For the age of exploration is long over, and if Spitsbergen still dwells in the popular imagination, it exists only as a faint echo, a half-remembered word.

People might wonder, I suppose—or do I only fancy that they wonder?—how I kept myself busy those many solitary decades. Perhaps they think a life is made up of milestones, great monoliths rising above an endless roving sea that both washes and abrades them. I think that is rubbish. Few memoirs are written and fewer still are read, so in most cases we must rely upon only two or three markers, often dubious, when peering through the grimy glass into someone else’s existence. A life is substantially more curious, and mundane, than the reports would have it. And in truth, though I am known—within the tiny dewdrop circles of the unlikely few who know of me—as a solitary, unmatched Arctic hunter, I am no such thing, and I was seldom alone.

This is my story.

Part One


I was born Sven Ormson, in Stockholm, of course. My father worked in a tannery, a profession for which I held very little respect until I began to toil with skins myself. My mother took care of me and my two sisters. There is nothing remarkable about this time of my life. I could hardly have been the only one who found the city stifling—the stench, the incessant noise, the human interaction. Because my family had little to spare, my sisters and I took on mill jobs as soon as we were able. I was never, shall we say, complacent about any of it. I did not allow that a life of menial drudgery in a filthy stinking shithole was all I should expect. I believe my mother empathized with this, but she never would have said so.

And yet I wasn’t one of those young men who believe they are destined for greatness. At the time I had no interest in destiny. I knew I wasn’t on the earth to please anyone, let alone God. I was just restless. National pride, military service, ribald songs, the sound of grown men laughing, air exchanged between several people in a tight space—they are all among the variety of things I found repellent. I suppose I still do. But they are also cherished staples of Swedish society. In the rather trite throes of alienation and disaffection, I turned instead, as so many youths before me have, to books.

My particular escape was polar exploration, and the myriad ways in which a person could suffer while testing his will against the merciless white death. At the turn of the century, everyone in Sweden was still talking about Fridtjof Nansen and Salomon Andrée: the former with his successful maritime innovations and spectacular survival tale, the latter with his ridiculous notions and whimpering disappearance into the Arctic void. Then Roald Amundsen had his two major triumphs. I was in my twenties at the time and remember my keen interest blossoming into a minor obsession. How I longed to strike out for uncharted territories. I had no wish to “win one for Sweden” or any such nonsense. On the contrary, I felt myself a prisoner, and Sweden my cell.

I read all that I could find on the subject: terminally dull voyage narratives—except for Nansen’s, of course; he could write—and colorful, mostly fictitious histories, like Southey’s Life of Nelson. I had always been an omnivorous reader, disappearing into books for as long as my father would allow, but now I consumed them with a singular, sweaty focus, like an addict reunited with his vice after too long a separation.

On rare days off, I lingered around the Polar Institute. I watched the men coming and going, dapper in their city suits, and tried to visualize them starving in animal skins. Some carried leather satchels, which I imagined were full of arcane charts. Were they explorers? Unlikely. But they were closer to the real thing than I was. They had their hands on a door. Lurking by the front entrance and doing my best to seem disinterested, I tried to catch glimpses of their eyes—wondering if they all contained the same feral agitation that I assumed others found in mine. But I saw nothing of note. Most looked merely impatient or preoccupied. Perhaps that’s how a caged animal appears.

I asked my younger sister about this. Olga and I were close. My older sister, Freyja, was a beast who detested me—still resenting, I guess, my original infringement upon her world. Olga, on the other hand, had always been my confidante. She was shy and a bit fragile, but there existed no barrier between her and the truth. I admired this quality about her. She could not dissemble at any cost. My mother worried that this would stand in the way of marriage prospects.

“Olga,” I said, when I was perhaps nineteen years old and she seventeen. “Look into my eyes.”

“Yes?” she said.

“What do you see?”

She considered the question. “I see nothing.”

“Do you not see the slavering desperation of a trussed creature?”

“No,” she replied.

“Look again. I know there is an unmistakable tempest.”

“Sven, there is not. You are widening your eyes and lifting your brows like a maniac. Please stop.”


After a few more years of numbing work in a series of mills, my animal caginess had, I thought, been squelched for good and all.

Dull, menial tasks have always generated in me an almost somnolent torpor. My eyelids begin to droop, and my body slows down until it is practically inert. My mind wanders in aimless, dreamlike patterns. This does not make for a good millworker. In an industry that prides itself on efficiency and speed, I was often more of a nuisance than a cog. Regularly I was startled back into wakefulness by the line boss standing over my hunched shoulder and shouting into my ear that I was a “miserable slug.” And regularly I was fired. Only because my father was a foreman who had many friends and was well liked did I ever get rehired at different mills. And then the old bastard would lord it over me—yet another magnanimous act, like my very existence, for which I owed him.

I’m quite sure my co-workers, like my father, took for granted that I was slow or queer. Unlike most men of my age and class, I did not spend my free evenings in bars, descending into greasy sub-basements of drunkenness and singing Swedish folk songs. I saved my paychecks and privately gave a small portion of each to my mother. I did not marry or produce children whom I would rarely see. At the end of each day, I went home to my tiny dismal flat and read books about explorers and trappers and Sami reindeer herders. I drank, sometimes immoderately, alone.

When Olga finally married, to a terribly dull but unobjectionable fish merchant—Freyja had been wed at eighteen to a mill foreman nearly as insufferable as herself—I believe my mother finally gave up hope for my brighter future and accepted that I was a benign anomaly: a good boy, but an odd boy.

Of course I had attractions, but they were always far outside of the acceptable parameters for someone of my station: a wealthy barrister’s daughter who never once looked at me; a married baker who made the most delicious rolls and always let her fingers brush mine whenever I reached out to pay; and I might as well confess to the cliché, a prostitute, who gave me a venereal disease. Perhaps it is absurd to say that each one took an equally tremendous toll on my heart, when it was the infection that actually brought me closest to death, but I contend that unrequited, or unrequitable, love is more barbaric and murderous than any Viking axman.

These concerns were pedestrian, however, and I led a pedestrian life. The raw ache to blind myself with white light somewhere in the polar regions had faded, and with it, my sense of hope. I became something of a fatalist, or at least a cynic. I was bitter. At times I could even be cruel.

Olga was twenty-two when she gave birth to her first child, a boy. Sweet Olga. How openly she yearned for my approval; how childishly I mourned our separation and withheld it. Adulthood is not often kind to the closest of friends, or kin. I did not care for her husband, Arvid, who was a boor. Always cheerful when he saw me, always generous with the modest comforts of his kitchen and home, and always rebuffed by my coldness. Often I would use elevated language I’d learned from reading Nansen and other great men, striving only to alienate us further. It gave me no joy, but I did it anyway.

“Sven!” he might say, beaming. “How wonderful it is to see you. I trust things are well, or, shall I say, well enough at the mill. Please, come in, I will make you some tea.”

“Arvid,” I might reply. “Mechanized industry is nothing but a cancer visited upon the modern world. My servitude within the benighted hives of this city is an enduring nightmare from which I am unlikely to wake. Things are not well, and nor are they well enough. Where is my sister?”

This coldness could not help but spread to Olga, implicated by her proximity to Arvid. How was it that I held her to a higher standard? How did I expect so much more from her, when I myself had settled for so little? The memory pains me still.

When she gave birth to Wilmer, she did not simply write, or ask her husband to travel halfway across the city, to tell me the news. No, she packed up her mewling infant in a heavy swaddling cloth, wrapped him in scarves, and traipsed through the dirty corners of Stockholm by foot, so that she might present him to me in person. She had lost a not inconsiderable amount of blood in the birth only four days earlier, and was still weak. I do not know how she made it. It was an audacious act for a woman in her state. If only I’d had the sense to commend her at the time. My brave sister.

I was still on shift when she arrived at my apartment. With the door locked she waited in the hallway, no doubt trying her best to protect my neighbors from the bewildered cries of her child, for three hours. When at last I came home, she stood to greet me. Her face looked tired, unimaginably tired, but there was a light in her eyes I hadn’t seen in several years.

“Dear Sven!” she said. “Look! This is Wilmer. Can you believe he was living in me just a few short days ago? The world is such a very strange place.”

“Is it?” I replied, and opened the door.

Within my dingy cell, whose only view was a slab of bricks under the thin, weak light of an alleyway, we sat at the tiny table. I averted my eyes while she nursed Wilmer. I knew she was waiting for me to bestow some kind of praise or blessing upon her child, upon this staggering achievement, and the knowledge of this only irked me as it grew until it filled the room, and I could not speak. Young men are unparalleled in selfishness. It surrounds them like a mist.

“Sven,” she said at last. “I know your life is somewhat less than you might wish. As is mine, of course. But we are in it together. So, dear brother, will you not look upon this child and tell me he is wonderful?”

I gazed briefly at the wrinkled parasite wriggling in her arms. She was right. She was always right. The child was something extraordinary. He had fought his way forth into the cold and dirt, and that was only the beginning. Every day from this day to the next would be just as difficult. He squinted at me, his eyes big and watery. I felt a grudging admiration for this semi-human thing. He was ugly but intrepid. I should have said so.

“Hmm,” I said. “No doubt he has a bright future sweating and straining in some hellish factory, hemorrhaging his meager wages so that he may survive until his early death.”

“Please, Sven.” She looked at me with pain.

“Please, yourself. If he is unimaginably lucky perhaps he will follow in his father’s footsteps. Then he may look forward to a life spent counting things, and buying things, and selling things, and always thinking about the supply and demand for things, and talking endlessly about the cost of things until he and everyone around him goes completely mad.”

I believe—no, I am certain—that she had tears running down her face when she left.


Four years passed. I became someone whose days did not constitute a life, but rather a death-in-progress. Time was something to endure. Because of my general lack of enthusiasm for work of any kind, I was shunted down to the worst jobs at the mill, and performed them during the worst shifts. There at the bottom I remained, either because of my father or because no one really knows or cares what happens during the night shift, so long as the simple tasks are accomplished adequately.

Freyja had four children whom my mother was always pestering me to see. I could not remember their names from one day to the next. Olga had two more after Wilmer: a daughter, Helga, and a third who died shortly after birth. In the years since Wilmer’s birth, I had allowed, or tacitly encouraged, a caustic void to open between Olga and myself—or so I perceived it—and I did not hear of this loss until a week or so later.

My mother came to see me and though she failed to mention it until we’d been drinking tea for twenty minutes, almost as though it were an afterthought, I believe that in her own old-fashioned way she was pleading for help. “Your sister is not taking the best care of herself,” she said.

It sounded unkind, but of course I spoke my mother’s secret language, as most children do, and understood the real meaning: Olga was distraught. Sometimes it takes an emotional knife wound to roust you from the veil of self-pity. I startled like a drunk who wakes in an unfamiliar place.

When I came to see Olga, Arvid was standing at the door. It was eight in the evening. He looked exhausted, but he greeted me with his usual exasperating politeness and invited me in. It was oddly quiet in the place—Wilmer and Helga must have been in bed. There were plates on the table. Evidently they’d eaten dinner late, or no one had cleaned up. Arvid glanced at the plates, and then looked back at me. “If only we had a maid!” he said with a forced smile. “A man’s work is never done.”

I grunted in response. I was still examining the table. Two small plates with the food all mushed together, some things eaten, others pushed deliberately to one side: Wilmer and Helga. Two large plates: one immaculate, as though licked, and one covered with food. Arvid watched me for a long moment. “I am glad you came, Sven, but as you can see, Olga has already gone to bed. Perhaps you could try again tomorrow? I’m sure she would be delighted to see you.”

I ignored him and stomped up the tiny staircase in my work boots. My sister was lying in her bed. The lamp was still lit and she had a book in her hands but her eyes were closed. As I sat down next to her the mattress creaked and sank.

“Sven,” she said, showing no sign of surprise at my lurking presence in her bedroom. Her face was strangely empty. “I missed you.” And then she began to cry. Great wracking sobs that made no noise, only a kind of croak or wheeze.

I held her in my arms and my shirt was quickly drenched with her tears. “I’m so sorry, Olga. Sorry I have not been here. These many years.”

She did not talk much that evening. She didn’t need to. Her pain was astonishing in its size. It sat upon her and held her immobile. It was a storm cloud that filled the room, the entire house. I did not doubt that her neighbors could feel it several blocks away.

After some time, she glanced at the clock on the mantel. “Your shift, Sven. You must go or you’ll be late. Mother says you’ve lost too many jobs and cannot afford to lose another.”

I grimaced. “Yes. I suppose. But—”

“I will be fine. Only, please come again. Wilmer and Helga would love to see you.” A look of shame darkened her face. She tried to smile. “I haven’t, well, I haven’t been the most attentive mother lately, and Arvid is run ragged trying to pacify them.”

I studied her and sniffed the acrid tang of despair that hung in the room.

“Perhaps I’ll kiss the young ones on my way out. Good night, sister.”

“Good night, Sven. Thank you.”

I snuffed the lamp, left the room and shut the door behind me. Tiptoeing so as to minimize the creak of old floorboards, I made my way to the children’s room and lifted the door-latch ever so slowly. They looked peaceful in sleep, their puffy faces slack and ruddy, hair tousled, arms wide in an exaggerated display of exhaustion, as though every day were a battle and sleep the final triumph. I didn’t dare kiss their foreheads. I knew child-sleep was not a thing to be trifled with. Instead I pulled a scratchy woolen blanket from the shelf and crumpled it on the floor between the two small beds. Then I took off my boots and lay down with my hands clasped under my head. I listened to their breathing. Stuffed noses, tiny snores. The night shift came and went.


So began a relatively happy time in my life. At the age of twenty-eight I left the world of industry and became nanny to my sister’s children. Arvid, bless his dim soul, could not have been more pleased. How easy it would’ve been for him to resent this intrusion into his home, or his wife’s “failure” in her duties, or the additional strain on his financial stability (although this was very little, as I employed my savings to buy groceries and clothing for the children). He must have known his neighbors and friends were muttering about the woman whose brother had to move in because she wasn’t taking care of her children. But he only ever expressed relief. Emotionally limited as he was, he hadn’t known how to handle the situation, and not knowing made him anxious. He knew quite well how to buy and sell fish, and how to be a pleasant husband. But decompensation in the face of unimaginable loss was outside his meager realm of expertise.

My God how those children tried my patience. After the first blush of delight in one another’s strange new company, there passed a month or two in which we knew only enmity. Their training in the arts of obedience and civility had been cursory at best. Arvid was a toothless taskmaster. He could compel Wilmer and Helga into little more than an immovable wall of resistance. Bearing witness to his pathetic attempts to make them eat, for example, was a trial. And my sister—well, it is difficult to say. Perhaps she’d had more capacity for discipline before the death of her unnamed third child. I doubt it, somehow. But losing one certainly caused her to see her two living children as precious beyond reproach.

Oh, they wished to please her, particularly when she drew inward, her eyes far away. And they knew she would never deceive them, which is a concept that children can grasp earlier than we think, even though they do not yet know the boundaries of this world—what is real, and what is not. They simply ran rampant. Arvid was referred to regularly as “Fish Guts” or “Crab Ass.” They loved him but did not respect him.

Naturally I took it upon myself to introduce some discipline. Knowing, as I did, nothing about children or their willfulness, I was in for a surprise. They were shocked at first—wounded, even—by the things I was willing to deprive them of when unheeded (e.g., their lengthy, rigidly dictated nighttime rituals of bath, story, and song). They were awful beasts—truly dreadful. Most children are. But gradually they began to see that I was not all bad—in fact, far more tolerant of behavior and activities that most other adults seemed to find aberrant or unwholesome (e.g., a coarse, freely employed interpretation of the vulgate)—and we developed a respect for each other. They learned how stubborn I could be, and I learned how stubborn they could be. I could not be moved, for example, when it came to sufficient nourishment, or adherence to a bedtime early enough to regenerate humanity in all parties. Their anchors held fast on matters of hygiene, vulgarity, the existence of certain equatorial predators in their closet, etc.

By necessity, the rules of stalemate and cease-fire evolved over time, and I grew to love the horrible little urchins. Their strange, unjaundiced observations often took me aback, and they had a joy in the ridiculous inanities of daily life that rejuvenated me. I think fondly of the occasion when Wilmer, age five, noting an absence of lard in the pantry and wishing to fry some herring—a favorite of Olga’s—attempted to render his sister. We smelled it before the shrieking began. When Helga stumbled from the kitchen, her arm crimson and dotted with angry white blisters, Wilmer followed, explaining blithely, “Mother always says how Helga still has the plump rolls of a baby seal,” at which Helga looked up from her wounds and began to laugh and laugh.

It sounds absurd, I suppose—and certainly trite—to suggest that two such unempathetic tyrants could have given me something to live for, but that is indeed how it seemed. Perhaps I was just too busy to wallow.


When Wilmer went off to school, I stayed and formed a particular bond with Helga. Whereas Wilmer had begun to display some decidedly Arvid-like tendencies, growing weak-willed, even obsequious in certain situations, Helga was a powerful storm that only became stronger with every passing year. She could be alternately jaded and sincere, obtuse and clever, sharp-tongued and forgiving.

I knew I would be adrift when she went to school at last, but failed, characteristically, to devise an alternate plan. I had no intention of returning to factory life in Stockholm or, worse yet, choosing between Arvid’s charity and homelessness.

It was Olga, of course, who found my way out.

“Sven,” she said to me one day as she, Helga and I were eating breakfast together. I could tell from the musical way she said my name that she was not at all certain how she’d be received.

“Yes, sister?”

“Have you considered what you might do after Helga goes off to school?”

“I’m not going to school,” Helga said. “I’m going to cross Antarctica with Uncle Sven.”

“Yes, dear. Now let me speak to your uncle.”

This was greeted with a look of astonishing insolence, which amused me. Otherwise, perhaps, I might have been less inclined to entertain the query.

“Yes, sister. I have considered it. Thought I might try my luck in the cod fisheries. Or buy a tin hat and join the war in France.”

“Be serious, Sven. Do you know what you’ll do?”

“Of course I don’t, Olga. The question is near to me always, and bringing me rather close to despair.”


  • “Briskly entertaining . . . I was reminded more than once of Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News . . . combines a distinctive northerly setting with a cast of likable eccentrics . . . Rather than any creed or belief system, it is Sven’s various friendships, intense but understated, that sustain him and give his life an order and purpose.”—Ian McGuire, New York Times Book Review
  • “Transporting and wholly original . . . this modern-day Call of the Wild is funny, moving, and ceaselessly compelling.”—People (Book of the Week)
  • “Ceaselessly brilliant as an arctic sun, The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven illuminates the very nature of human yearning and perseverance. In attempting to inhabit the uninhabitable, one man shows us that no place is inhospitable to the human heart, and in delivering this searing portrait, Nathaniel Ian Miller ascends to the firmament of today’s most exciting young novelists.”—Adam Johnson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Orphan Master’s Son
  • “An eloquent, finely chiseled novel.”—O, The Oprah Magazine
  • “Surprisingly humorous, this heartwarming story reminds us that love can reach the iciest depths of our hearts, even in the most inhospitable locations.”—Kirby Beaton, Buzzfeed
  • “A book one savors for its prose, its characters, and its insights… The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven explores many varieties of aloneness—and togetherness—with enormous insight, empathy, and humor… [Miller is] a skilled writer.”—Margot Harrison, Seven Days Vermont
  • “A striking first novel by the American writer Nathaniel Ian Miller… an unusual, surprisingly witty tale, with a memorable central character.”—The Times (UK)
  • “Captivating . . . Miller offers a marvelously detailed look at a way of life and a profession practiced in an extreme environment, and though purportedly based on a historical figure, the character’s colorfully rendered experiences are the stuff of powerful dramatic fiction.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • “Readers will love the beauty and depth of his story . . . A Swedish trapper relates his unique life with insights about friendship, hardship, and solitude.”—Kirkus (starred review)
  • “Miller’s prose is lit by sparks of Sven’s somber humor and descriptive elegance . . . Miller's characterization is exceptional and thoroughly engaging, as are the vividly portrayed island denizens . . . Miller has given [Sven] an imagined life told in his own words in this engrossing fictional memoir.”
     —Bethany Latham, Booklist (starred review)
  • “A stellar first novel . . .  So authentic in both detail and narrative voice that it’s easy to forget it’s not an actual memoir . . . A truly walloping tale of solitude and survival told in visceral detail, a combination of Miller’s wild imagination and his beautifully precise prose . . . Sven is an insightful yet comically ironic narrator, and there is often great excitement in his story, including ‘ice bear’ attacks, near starvation, Northern Lights, and the haunting sounds of calving glaciers . . . Miller imbues his novel with an unforgettable narrator who asks essential questions of human connection, a remarkable achievement for a novel ostensibly about solitude . . . Like the Arctic landscape itself, The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven is beautifully stark and unimaginably rich, a book that will long be remembered by its lucky readers.”—Alice Cary, BookPage (starred review)
  • The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven is pure delight. From the first page, I was transported to a world unlike any I’ve experienced or even read about—a bleak and unforgiving landscape where ice bears, subzero temperatures, and Sven’s own worst impulses conspire against him, where loneliness and terror coexist with his growing appreciation for the flinty beauty of life. Only in such a place, I came to understand, could such a solitary man—emotionally stunted, misanthropic, self-pitying, disfigured—discover the bonds of friendship, and find family in a ragtag band of misfits. This novel’s hard-won wisdom, droll humor, and offhanded insights about human nature will pierce you to the core.”—Christina Baker Kline, New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and The Exiles
  • “A kind of Odyssey, complete with dogs worthy of Argos and a few precious human companions, this spare and unusual novel plumbs the dark side of polar narratives. Sven, as mysterious to himself as he is to us, is an unforgettable character.”—Andrea Barrett, National Book Award–winning author of The Voyage of the Narwhal and Ship Fever
  • “The magic of The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven is in its defiance of dark expectations. Sven is a bright but disaffected urban bookworm who moves to one of the most forbidding landscapes on earth, finds dangerous work, suffers a hideous maiming, and hides his appearance by retreating into even greater isolation. And it is here, at the doorway to unmitigated despair, that Nathaniel Ian Miller truly surprises and shines. For all Sven’s damages, his desolation makes each visitor indelible, as into his arctic dystopia traipses a cast of emotionally damaged misfits, estranged family members, military outlaws whose crime is love, an irresistible scrounge of a dog, a gifted trapper of few words and a kind geologist of many, until we are regaled with some of the most convincing portrayals I’ve seen of human beings creating connection and kindnesses despite their brutal circumstances and unhealed wounds.”—David James Duncan, author of the national bestsellers The River Why and The Brothers K
  • “Nathaniel Ian Miller’s vision of the Arctic is one of sharp-toothed beauty and harrowing, clarifying hardship. The men and women who manage to survive the landscape are transformed by the effort, forced to question who they are and who they want to be. Their surprising, rule-breaking lives invite the reader on both a polar adventure and a consideration of what makes our lives worth living.”—Caitlin Horrocks, author of The Vexations
  • “The beauty of the writing in this debut turns this into much more than a story about the Arctic. Sven sees himself as wholly unremarkable, and yet his observant eye and keen sense of humanity make him one of the most relatable characters I’ve encountered . . . A beautiful read.”—Ginny Wehrli-Hemmeter, Anderson’s Bookshop, Naperville, IL
  • “A stunning novel . . . Life is never quite what we think it is going to be, and in the High Arctic there are even more surprises that test every ounce of our soul. I loved this.”—Annie Philbrick, Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT
  • “Deftly spun from the slightest thread of historical fact, The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven delivers more than just a wholly believable fictional world . . . A remarkable book that gives contemporary readers new insight into the nature of love, longing, and humanity.”—Claire Benedict, Bear Pond Books, Montpelier, VT
  • “The stark beauty of the Arctic so beautifully detailed in Nathaniel Ian Miller’s debut is only second to the marvelous cast of characters he brings to life . . . Stockholm Sven discovers that connection and family are possible in even the most daunting of circumstances. Miller’s gorgeous book reminds us that the greatest skill humanity possesses is our capacity to love.”—Luisa Smith, Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA
  • “This is a rich, multifaceted treasure of a novel which I could hand to anyone with complete confidence . . . Miller provides unforgettable characters, a deeply mesmerizing tale, and the most exquisite prose.”—Damita Nocton, Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC
  • “Debut author Nathaniel Ian Miller takes a sad, broken character living in desperate isolation in a barren and beautiful landscape and creates a stunning meditation on friendship, compassion, and familial love. I fell deeply in love with this beautiful, heart-swelling novel.”—Stan Hynds, Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, VT
  • “This book is simply glorious . . . I know that seems odd to say about the brutal life in the Arctic, but Stockholm Sven will seep into your consciousness and make even the most harrowing and abominable seem common in this place he calls home. You will not soon forget these characters and the lengths they go through to survive and thrive."—Julie Slavinsky, Warwick’s, La Jolla, CA
  • “I don’t know that I’ve ever come across a book more satisfying to my inner misanthrope . . . Anyone who constantly longs for quiet, feels prickly in an overcrowded space, loves the idea of unfettered alone time: this book is for you . . . Nathaniel Ian Miller has written a novel that, in showing us extreme isolation, re-minds us how vital our bonds to this world are. I adored it.”—Lindsay Lynch, Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN
  • “A stunningly honest historical novel that depicts the hardships of life in the frigid far north . . . A moving tale written with the kind of tenderness that makes you want to put your arms around the people who make this lovely book a treasure to read.”—Vicki Honeyman, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI
  • “Nathaniel Ian Miller has woven a luminous tale of enduring friendships and companionship, familial love and the incredible beauty of a harsh natural world. This is one of those rare reads where you keep caring about the characters once you’ve closed the book. Deeply satisfying!”—Françoise Brodsky, Shakespeare & Company, New York, NY

On Sale
Oct 4, 2022
Page Count
336 pages
Back Bay Books

Nathaniel Ian Miller

About the Author

Nathaniel Ian Miller, who holds an MFA in Creative Writing and MS in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana, is a former resident in the Arctic Circle Expeditionary Program. He has written for Virginia Quarterly Review, and for newspapers in Wisconsin, New Mexico, Montana, and Colorado, for which he received multiple Associated Press Awards. He lives with his family on a farm in central Vermont.

Learn more about this author