A compelling mystery, a poignant bildungsroman, and a work of great nostalgia for times just past, COLLECTED WORKS is a novel about love, power and art—and what leads us to make the pivotal decisions that change the course of our lives.
Martin Berg's wife, Cecilia, disappeared years ago. His memories of their carefree college days seem ever out-of-reach, and the intellectual curiosities that once made him the object of her desire have given way to mid-life uncertainty. The methodical and quiet life he’s made for himself and his adult children couldn’t be further from the one he dreamed of in his youth, when the manuscripts lying around his apartment were flush with promise and the ailing publishing house he runs was still new. Perhaps nothing reminds Martin of these failures more than his friend Gustav Becker, a wildly successful painter who’s returned to Gothenburg on the eve of his career-defining retrospective.
Gustav, meanwhile, is hurting too. His obsession with Cecilia’s inexplicable disappearance had made his art hagiographic, fixated on her image. When posters for Gustav’s retrospective plaster Cecilia’s face on major billboards across the city, Martin’s daughter Rakel learns a haunting fact that points toward her mother’s whereabouts. She and her brother chase this clue across time, memory, and Europe, to discover why their beloved mother abandoned her family, with the imagined hope that the question of what makes a person can ever be answered.
COLLECTED WORKS, a major hit in Sweden, sold over 100,000 copies in its first year in print, instantly making Lydia Sandgren a literary sensation. Winner of the 2020 August Prize for Fiction, the novel is set to publish in 17 territories.
Sandgren debuts with a sweeping and complex drama of family, art, and sacrifice. Martin Berg and his two children live in contemporary Gothenburg, Sweden, haunted by the loss of Martin's wife Cecilia, who disappeared after defending her PhD thesis in 1997. In the years since, Martin has worked at a niche publishing house, and his oldest child, Rakel, now 24, has grown up to resemble her mother and likewise to be serious, hyperdisciplined, and drawn to difficult academic work. Before the narrative locks in on the circumstances around Cecilia's disappearance, Sandgren takes a long detour into Martin's middle-class childhood, and how his life was changed after meeting the "fragile" and "unkempt" Gustav Becker. Their high school friendship, described in all its vagaries and nuance over the course of the book, is defined by their shared interest in creating art: Martin wants to write a novel, and Gustav wants to paint. When Martin meets Cecilia, Gustav is included in the relationship rather than left behind, and as Gustav's star rises, his most successful paintings turn out to be portraits of Cecilia. Sandgren keeps up the intrigue as Rakel learns more about Gustav and Cecilia; and she brings a wry sense of humor to her portrayal of Martin, noting about his wistfulness that he'll never be "remarkably young again." Readers will be captivated.