By all accounts, Patrick Kingsley is an impressive man. At the mere age of 23 he became one of the youngest journalists at The Guardian and he continues to write features and report from Egypt on the political climate. You can easily attribute that same sense of accomplishment to his first book How to be Danish: From Lego to Lund. A Short Introduction to the State of Denmark.
Interviewing over seventy individuals, from historians, actors and chefs to designers and politicians, Kingsley paints a broad brushstroke over this small archipelagic nation, incorporating a wide range of opinions on what it is to be Danish. Episodically focusing on areas such as education, design, immigration and the welfare state, Kingsley concisely rounds up issues and interests, ushc as revealing Søren Malling’s (Sarah Lund’s chain smoking partner in The Killing) café habits to be less celebrity, more business promotion, seeing as he owns the place.
Of course, whilst his research is perhaps pre-requisite for any journalist, his insights have been made after only a month in Denmark. He is good. The only thing that could top off his résumé of amiability is nailing the language; having endured an intensive Danish language course for the same duration as Kingsley spent researching, I can safely say that would be a feat greater than writing any book thrice over.
However there are downsides to such a brief window of research time. For a book cover that boasts a Viking, there is a distinct lack of anything Norse related. Venturing towards the ‘mysterious heart’ of Denmark, the lack of history and literature to understand this foreign body is rather surprising. Instead, Kingsley replaces it with topics that dominate our present obsessions: television, knitwear and Michelin starred restaurants all serve to satisfy an in-vogue veneer. This, and the amount of odd, slightly embarrassing typing errors suggest it speeds a little too fast to the shelves.
In spite of this, if you can bear the brunt of formulaic writing where ‘connecting the dots’ can at times blur into amalgamation of facts, you get to witness Kingsley touch upon political issues with brilliant deft. Although it may not stretch as far back as one would like, he does cover the defining epoch of the Napoleonic wars that acted as a catalyst for Danish identity. Although this monotonous sentiment once formed the rigid backbone of a nation who lost the majority of its land, military and money in one fell swoop, Kingsley argues that such a linear mode of nationality can no longer function in a dynamic and varied society. It’s also refreshing to see these political dilemmas acutely placed as context to xenophobia (instead of brashly backhanding the Danes as racists).
By his own admittance, his book is just another ‘drop in the deluge’ of material on all things Danish, especially within the press. What makes it stand out though are the moments of clarity and criticism amidst the fashionable hype, avoiding subjugation from television ratings and affirming Denmark to be a country of interest in and of itself alone.
How to be Danish is available now from Short Books.
words: Ben Meagher