A timely and provocative debut novel that Rivka Galchen calls “wisely comic and tremendously moving,” about a creative writing teacher whose efforts to stay sober land him in Malmö, Sweden, where drugs are scarce but the refugee crisis forces a very different kind of reckoning.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT TO DO GOOD
Jonas Anderson wants a fresh start.
He’s made plenty of bad decisions in his life, and at age twenty-eight he’s been fired from yet another teaching position after assigning homework like, Visit a stranger’s funeral and write about it. But, he’s sure a move to Sweden, the country of his mother’s birth, will be just the thing to kick-start a new and improved—and newly sober—Jonas.
When he arrives in Malmo in 2015, the city is struggling with the influx of tens of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees. Driven by an existential need to “do good,” Jonas begins volunteering with an organization that teaches Swedish to young migrants. The connections he makes there, and one student in particular, might send him down the right path toward fulfillment—if he could just get out of his own way.
Such Good Work is a darkly comic novel, brought to life with funny, wry observations and searing questions about our modern world, told with equal measures of grace and wit.
Johannes Lichtman was born in Stockholm and raised in California. He holds an MFA in fiction from UNC Wilmington and an MA in literature, culture, and media from Lund University. His work has appeared in American Short Fiction, Los Angeles Review of Books, Oxford American, The Sun, Sydsvenskan, and elsewhere. He lives in Portland and Ukraine. Such Good Work is his first novel.
“The international refugee crisis and the struggle to stay sober preoccupy roughly equal portions of this thoughtful first novel, which follows an American graduate student to Sweden in the fraught years 2014-15...[It] casts a sharp eye over the Swedish social and political landscape...Lichtman's low-key treatment of two highly charged subjects is refreshing.”—KIRKUS REVIEWS
“The novel answers its primary question, Is doing good even possible?, with significant emotional honesty, and Lichtman's clear and accessible writing allows readers to explore its complex topics at many levels. Jonas is a bundle of shifting emotions, needs, and coping mechanisms, and rather than doing good, easing the discomfort of being human is at times all he can manage.”—BOOKLIST
“I honestly can't think of a novel I would more want to be reading in the very particular now of our world. Lichtman’s narrator is an everyman (albeit a singular one) who just wants to be good—that slipperiest of ambitions—and yet his efforts pretty much always go wrong. But also they don't. Wisely comic and tremendously moving, Such Good Work thinks in detail about immigration, addiction, privilege, power and loneliness; but it does so by mining the seemingly inconsequential for its true profundity. Lichtman never falls for the siren song of self-seriousness, and that is part of what makes his novel feel so accurate, and so important. In being open to complexity, and sensitive to absurdity, Such Good Work gets at the wholeness and difficulty and beauty of lives both ordinary and extraordinary.”—RIVKA GALCHEN, author of Atmospheric Disturbances
"Johannes Lichtman has given us a powerful, unsparingly honest portrayal of a soul in torment, trying to find his way to a decent life. How to love, how to work--how to live, however modestly, with meaning and purpose inside a self that for too long has used booze and drugs to avoid the hard work of being human. Building a genuine self, that's an inside job, and in Such Good Work Lichtman delivers a deeply affecting novel of one young man's struggle to be whole."—BEN FOUNTAIN, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
“I loved the bleary, almost-but-not-quite hopeless tenderness of Such Good Work. The classroom scenes are marvelous. This book is funny, wise, finely paced, and attentive to its every sound. I can't stop thinking about it.”—SARAH MANGUSO, author of 300 Arguments