Peter Fröberg Idling

Peter Fröberg Idling (b. 1972) debuted in 2006 with Pol Pot’s Smile. Since then, he has appeared in several anthologies, and has written two novels.

He is a literary critic for Expressen, and was the editor of the Atlas Literary Supplement 2008 and culture editor at Tidningen Vi from 2008 to 2009 and from 2010 to 2011. He is currently the literary editor at said magazine.

Peter Fröberg Idling has received the following acknowledgements:

Song for an Approaching Storm: International Dublin Literary Award (Long list) 2016
The August Prize for fiction (Shortlisted) 2012
Recipient of the Johan Hansson Award (Natur & Kultur) 2012
The Kapuscinski Prize (Shortlisted) Poland, 2011
The Jan Michalski Prize for Literature (Shortlisted) Switzerland, 2011
Dagens Nyheter’s Culture Prize (Shortlisted) 2007

Photo: Cata Portin




Julia & Paul

It is early summer in Sweden and the anniversary of the 1917 Seskarö revolt is approaching. At night, helicopter search lights sweep the streets, and Julia is alone with her two children. Her husband Paul is out at sea on a mission with an obscure goal.

One day, she hears that a new family has moved into number 49. She runs into the woman in the family, Kara Torelius, whose husband is also at sea. This summer, with the creeping sense that things are not normal, that the raids have become more frequent, one needs someone to talk to. Kara befriends not only with Julia, but everyone she meets, and she brings her new acquaintances to a discussion group at the library. Julia does not anticipate the danger.

With Julia & Paul, Peter Fröberg Idling has written a refined alternative history about a Sweden that chose a different path after the hunger riots that once erupted in one town after another. An impending political upheaval in a society on edge, where neighbors spy on each other and apartments are abandoned without warning.

Peter Fröberg Idling

Original title:
Julia & Paul. En försommarberättelse

October 2017

General Fiction

Original publisher:
Natur & Kultur

Reading material:
Swedish manuscript

272 pp.


“Peter Fröberg Idling has a delightful ability to depict the human weakness that makes the feelings say something else than the intellect. Julia & Paul is a truly beautiful and profound novel, even though it describes such frightening prospects.”



"Julia & Paul" is a treacherously indolent and slow novel, just like a warm early summer’s afternoon. It's beautiful, it's nasty, and above all it's important. Read it."

Svenska Dagbladet


"Peter Fröberg Idling writes with a razor-sharp exactness about the challenges and difficulties of the couple relationship. In particular, the author shows that he knows the mechanisms of the totalitarian state in the smallest detail and how it affects people's everyday lives and their way of looking at the world [...] 'Julia & Paul 'is an exquisite craftsmanship that lingers.”

SR, Swedish Radio


“An empathetical society depiction filtered through the psyche of two random citizens: a tragedy divided in two. As an urban naturalist, Fröberg Idling is brilliant. He constantly finds new ways to describe the flora and fauna of the suburbs, the tree shadows, the sky and the squint sunlight. A word to take with you: 'chestnut melancholy'.”



"Peter Fröberg Idling portrays the dictatorship as everyday with icy precision."


“Against a foundation of ideology, Fröberg Idling paints a picture of human harmony, of love and trust, beauty and fragility. Julia & Paul is an exquisite, low-key and linguistically rich novel that grows for each page, and continues to grow well after it's over.”



“It is so beautiful. /…/ A page-turner thriller about loneliness and longing. So you should read it.”

SVT, Swedish Television


"Julia & Paul, like Fröberg Idling's two previous novels, is written in an energetic, vital and very compelling language. He is an extremely skilled and already experienced author. Driven. Reflective. Often astute in the individual details he uses to portray his characters. The psychological portraits are convincing. /.../ Peter Fröberg Idling is undoubtedly one of his generation's most interesting, important and promising authors. "

Nerikes Allehanda


Julia & Paul is a beautiful, exciting and incredibly confident novel. Fröberg Idling's timeless prose is both picturesque and precise. In addition, he masters the difficult art of creating three-dimensional characters, who not only act but are allowed to think, reflect on their situation.”



Song for an Approaching Storm


It is 1955, and the summer is drawing to a close. Cambodia’s capital is bristling with excitement and worry; its people are about to witness the first free parliamentary elections since the country won its independence from the French colonial power. In the midst of the hectic election campaign, we meet Sar, a man in his early thirties who years later will become known to the world as Pol Pot.

Sar is caught up in a dangerous game of double dealing; while acting as private secretary for the leader of the opposition party, he is secretly working for an armed Communist revolution. Having recently returned from studies in Paris, Sar is still engaged to Somaly, a young woman of royal family who has also recently won a beauty competition and been voted Miss Cambodge. Their relationship is not entirely defined, but Sar is intent on marrying her. His modest background means that his chances of succeeding are conditioned upon the opposition winning the election, so that he can land a high position in the country’s new government. But his main political opponent, Sam Sary, a man with a raging ambition and appetite for power, has also noticed the beautiful Somaly, and the two have been seen together.

During a couple of weeks, the drama of this love triangle unfolds and reaches its climax against a backdrop of political intrigue and increasing political repression. As we move around with Sar, Sary and Somaly through warm summer nights, stuffy class rooms, political campaigning in the countryside, and champagne soaked receptions orchestrated by prince Sihanouk, a vivid picture of a different, long lost Cambodia also emerges: an Asian Paris of the 50’s, all silk dresses and sun-drenched afternoons.

The desires of the three main characters—for power, influence, and sex—seem petty enough. They are young, selfish, and hungry for a certain kind of life. They live their lives like most people do, without thinking about the consequences. Yet their actions mean that Cambodia ultimately chooses the path that twenty years later will have led to the Killing Fields and the death of almost two million people.

Peter Fröberg Idling

Original title:
Sång till den storm som ska komma

August 2012

General Fiction

Original publisher:
Natur & Kultur

Reading material:
Full Swedish and English manuscript

358 pp.


The Netherlands/Nieuw Amsterdam
Sweden/Natur & Kultur
UK/Pushkin Press


“Idling has climbed inside the mind of a tyrant, and it makes the blood run cold; this is also a wonderfully evocative picture of a chaotic country about to explode into war, where ‘torrential rain makes the street look as if the surface is coming to the boil’. Brilliant.” 



“A beautifully evocative and compulsive book in which the lyricism of the title reflects the prose of the narrative.” 



“I wonder if I’ve ever read a debut novel as good as Song for an Approaching Storm […] Strong words, but what to do when your limbs are trembling with the touch of poetry […] What makes this such a masterpiece is that it yet again shows fiction’s capacity as a source of knowledge […] It’s hot, sticky as in the fiction of Marguerite Duras and Graham Greene, two odd voices that echo faintly here […] The tension between power and Eros is hard as steel in Fröberg Idling’s brilliant novel.” 



“This is an impressive work of fiction, not just about a horrendous time but also about man’s ability to be both victim and executioner in one lifetime. He writes so damn well, Peter Fröberg Idling. I’m deeply moved and impressed.”


“Fröberg’s great achievement lies in bringing to life a historical moment that teemed with great visions for the future. He succeeds in promoting politics and ideology to the true elements of tension in his novel. The atmosphere he creates is mysterious and frightening; his prose is poetic and compact. Fröberg has joined the best tradition of (neo-)colonial novels, with Marguerite Duras and Graham Greene as his predecessors.”



“Fröberg impresses with his analysis and atmosphere, fostering empathy, understanding and memory.” 



“A hundred pages into the novel I think: but this is in the James Ellroy and Mario Vargas Llosa department! Peter Fröberg Idling’s political thriller Song for an Approaching Storm is the same kind of feverish, sweat-stained fiction/nonfiction […] This is a fully developed piece and cannot be but one of the finest literary debuts in a few decades, at least. Big words, I know, but I stand by them.” 



“A truly sensational book.”



Pol Pot’s Smile

Combining non-fiction and fiction in a startling way, Peter Fröberg Idling takes his readers on a frightening and fascinating journey into the heart of the Democratic Kampuchea of the Khmer Rouge, and into the mind of one of history’s most feared mass murderers, Pol Pot.

While working in Cambodia, the author comes across a book written by four Swedish leftist intellectuals. It is a travel journal from the late ’70s, detailing their journey amidst the genocide conducted in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, in which some 2 million people perished. They return home from their trip full of praise for the success and justness of the Khmer revolution, and the happiness of the country’s inhabitants. How, Peter asks, was it possible for them to see and yet not see what was going on? This question drives the narrative, as the author follows in the footsteps of these public intellectuals, tracing their journey through the country. Essentially, the book probes into questions of ideological deception and a society’s blind spots, but is also a fascinating, intimate portrait of life under the Khmer Rouge.

Pol Pot’s Smile has been called “groundbreaking journalism”. Certainly, its fearless way of exploring open-ended questions offers an intriguing approach to the challenge of making history come alive on the page. Fröberg Idling’s prose is dynamic: at times suggestive and lyrical, at times documentary, at times mocking of the choppy style of the Khmer’s “new language”.

Pol Pot’s Smile is an innovative work of nonfiction that was showered in praise for its literary qualities, as well as its subtle discussion of morally and politically complex issues, particularly that of self deception. As a ‘documentary thriller’, it tells the story of how four radicals, members of the European intellectual elite, could travel through Cambodia as the country was living through an unprecedented genocide, and report back on the successes of the Communist takeover in the name of ideology.

The book sold around 30,000 copies in Sweden. It was shortlisted for Dagens Nyheter’s Culture Prize and, in Poland, The Kapuscinski Prize and, in Switzerland, The Jan Michalski Prize for Literature.

Peter Fröberg Idling

Original title:
Pol Pots leende

March 2006

Narrative non-fiction

Original publisher:

Reading material:
Full Swedish and German manuscript

392 pp.


The Netherlands/Nieuw Amsterdam


“Pol Pot’s Smile is a pleasure to read.”



“This is a literary masterpiece that freezes the blood in your veins.” 



“It’s been a long time since I read a book which clarified so many complex issues and which made more complex so many seemingly obvious matters. An exceptionally strong piece.”



“One of the best debuts I have ever read.” 



“This is a first class documentary novel, crafted with literary devices. The result is a combination of new insights and a breath-taking reading experience.”



“Beautiful and lyrical […] Enchanting”



“By means of his unconventional and intriguing approach to history, Peter Fröberg Idling reveals the dynamics of political self-deception.”



“A truly sensational book.”



“Out of a mountain of evidence, pictures and newspapers, Peter Fröberg Idling gives voice to the survivors of the Cambodian genocide. […] Pol Pot’s Smile is an historical document of great political importance.”



“Groundbreaking journalism. […] A documentary thriller in 259 fragmented scenes.” 



“Almost reads like a thriller […] Courageous and enriching.”