We can hold up many mirrors which can give us glimpses of who we are and our time. Journalists are good at it, researchers, too, in the social sciences, contemporary history, anthropology, philosophy, literature, cultural studies, and more. Painters, pop artists, cricket players, and filmmakers take our pulse and report back to us. Sometime, they set the trend that we follow. Fashion designers certainly do that, and we quickly pick up what ‘in’ and what is ‘out’, especially if we are young.

It is important to be part of the time we live in. We don’t need to be in the eye of the storm, we can also be on the outskirts, maybe a bit behind, or a bit ahead of what is acceptable and going. We all have the opportunity to influence and be part of the sub-culture we drift into or choose to belong to, if the surroundings allow us to choose that is. Besides, most of us are part of the mainstream culture where we live, but we may also borrow bits and pieces from several subgroups, especially from those who are considered more modern than the rest of us. Immigrants live in several cultures at the same time, in uncertain and often confusing situations, with demands from relatives to keep alive own culture, religion and language, and at the same time, they have a demand from the new land to adopt mainstream ways and values there.

For all of us, it can be useful to hold up a mirror, many mirrors, and see some pictures about who we are, and evaluate if this is what we want to be and believe is right. We also want to see how others are, if their mirror pictures are shared with others, not just in way of little twits and photo up-dates on Facebook, but in more elaborate descriptions and analyses.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to ‘attend’ the Gothenburg Book Fair, Sweden’s largest annual literature festival. I say ‘attend’ in quotation marks, because I sat behind my laptop in Islamabad for over ten hours over three days, watching quick fifteen-minute interviews and talks by Swedish writers, and some foreigners too, moderated by the impressive staff of ‘Dagens Nyheter’, one of Sweden’s largest liberal newspapers. It was indeed a treat for a BA degree holder from Gothenburg 40 years ago, and I felt I got a take on what it is that goes on in Sweden now, what people think about, worry about, love and like, dislike, and more. That is exactly what I take away from Pakistan’s impressive literature festivals, too, which take place in the major cities in spring every year.

Why is it important for us in Pakistan to learn about stories from Sweden? It is important simply because Sweden is an important country in the world, as Pakistan is, too, as every country and sub-group is.

Since it began in 2013, I have had the opportunity to attend countless events at the Islamabad Literature Festival, organized by Oxford University Press, and a week or two I received a reminder about the next festival, that one to be in Karachi in February 2018. Different organizers at home and abroad, including in Gothenburg, do it their way, but the common threads are certainly there.

In Gothenburg, I listened to a Swedish woman of Iranian background, Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde, reflecting on issues concerning her childhood and family in ‘Hon är inte jag’ (‘She is Not Me’). The outer circumstances differ, but not the deeper thoughts and longings. Jason Diakite, too, an immigrant musician, circus artist and now also a writer, describes similar issues in his book, ‘En droppe midnatt’ (A Drop of Midnight’) about his families’ four-generation history. Through that, he gets an insight into who he is as a member of the wider small world, intertwined with big events in our time. He is impressed by his ancestors, but realizes, too, that past is not present.

Another Swedish writer, Anita Goldman, writes mainly about women in Jerusalem. She says the city doesn’t belong to anyone group but to all; people live side by side, indeed together, with their differences. Many think they are insurmountable, others hardly notice them, at least not consciously. Everyone belongs to a group, a sect, a family, in the city’s mosaic, where no one is really assimilated. Goldman says that what is marginal becomes central in the ‘eternal city’. Elsewhere, too, maybe many neighbourhoods and lives are like that. One fine day, we may discover that we don’t need to like what our neighbours like as long as they are good for them. We may realize that our neighbours’ goodness and wisdom are at least as good as our own.

In her latest book, after a long pause since her first bestseller, ‘God of Small Things’, which came in 1997, Arundhati Roy presented her second fiction book in Gothenburg, ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ about outsiders who can teach the mainstream pillars of society a few things about how to live. Anjum, the main character in her book, is a unique woman, who also happens to be a transgender person. The writer says that she didn’t write the ‘sociology of transgender’, but she simply about a woman who is better than most of us.

During the days of the literature festival in Gothenburg, a large group of Nordic new-Nazis demonstrated on the streets. Axelsson suggested it was people like herself, elderly women that might have a chance to help the young men with oversize muscles and disregard for the weak and different, back on right track. “We need to tell them that immigrants or other outsiders all have right to live happily”, she said in one of the TV interviews.

The several novels about outsiders and the weak were important reminders to the audience at this year’s Gothenburg Book Fair that we must not only focus on trying to be successful in the competitive world around us. We must also study the others sides of the world created by the parents of the young and successful, who paradoxically were born and bred by the ‘1968-generation’.

The influx of a high number of immigrants to Sweden over the recent decades may indeed be more positive than negative. Now writers have started holding up mirrors showing us that. One writer, Göran Greider, has written about Swedish gardening, noting that 90 percent of all that grows in Sweden is actually imported, and most of the people’s genes, too, have come from somewhere else. In other words nine-tenth of what is Swedish is actually foreign!

The real problem in Sweden and the world is not immigrants and refugees overflowing ‘our lands’, said several speakers at the literature festival; it is the growing differences between people, indeed in economic sense. How can we justify that morally? How can we say this land, this garden and this yield belong only to me? We cannot, of course.

Thanks to the Gothenurg Book Fair 2017 – and all other book fairs, including those in Pakistan every year – for letting me and others think about so many issues. Thanks for holding up mirrors so I can see a bit more of myself and my time, yes, fragments that can be made into a whole.