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Swedish Lessons: A memoir of sects, love & indentured servitude. Sort of.

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In 2005, Natalie Burg was invited to be an au pair for a family in Sweden. She asked no questions; she simply dropped her whole life and went. Who wouldn't want to spend a year of their twenties gallivanting around Europe, having adventures by night and nannying by day? What happened, however, was something significantly different. There was no gallivanting. There weren't In 2005, Natalie Burg was invited to be an au pair for a family in Sweden. She asked no questions; she simply dropped her whole life and went. Who wouldn't want to spend a year of their twenties gallivanting around Europe, having adventures by night and nannying by day? What happened, however, was something significantly different. There was no gallivanting. There weren't even children to nanny. There were teenagers who had no use for a nanny, horses wearing coats, a mother intent on building a new career within a metaphysical, new-agey, pseudo-religious sect, and an insane amount of house cleaning. And all of this happened on a remote farm, miles from the closest city. Oh, and there's some romance (of sorts), backstabbing and several instances of attempted fraud in there too.


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In 2005, Natalie Burg was invited to be an au pair for a family in Sweden. She asked no questions; she simply dropped her whole life and went. Who wouldn't want to spend a year of their twenties gallivanting around Europe, having adventures by night and nannying by day? What happened, however, was something significantly different. There was no gallivanting. There weren't In 2005, Natalie Burg was invited to be an au pair for a family in Sweden. She asked no questions; she simply dropped her whole life and went. Who wouldn't want to spend a year of their twenties gallivanting around Europe, having adventures by night and nannying by day? What happened, however, was something significantly different. There was no gallivanting. There weren't even children to nanny. There were teenagers who had no use for a nanny, horses wearing coats, a mother intent on building a new career within a metaphysical, new-agey, pseudo-religious sect, and an insane amount of house cleaning. And all of this happened on a remote farm, miles from the closest city. Oh, and there's some romance (of sorts), backstabbing and several instances of attempted fraud in there too.

30 review for Swedish Lessons: A memoir of sects, love & indentured servitude. Sort of.

  1. 5 out of 5

    Melki

    Still smarting from a failed relationship and unsure of what to do next, 23-year-old Natalie is offered an almost-too-good-to-be-true job as a au pair to a Swedish family. Some of the perks included with her new position include living expenses paid by the host family, trips to the South of France, and Swedish language lessons in the city. She jumps at the chance to leave her troubles behind in Michigan and boards a plane. Poor Natalie quickly learns that "au pair" for her new employer means "cle Still smarting from a failed relationship and unsure of what to do next, 23-year-old Natalie is offered an almost-too-good-to-be-true job as a au pair to a Swedish family. Some of the perks included with her new position include living expenses paid by the host family, trips to the South of France, and Swedish language lessons in the city. She jumps at the chance to leave her troubles behind in Michigan and boards a plane. Poor Natalie quickly learns that "au pair" for her new employer means "cleaning lady/indentured servant." She dusts, vacuums, washes windows, walks dogs, feeds horses, shovels manure, prepares meals, makes beds, does laundry, and bizarrely enough, is expected to be a platonic companion for her mistress's husband. Ah, yes. We really need to mention Inger, the smiling, iron-fisted matriarch of the Waara clan. She wants Natalie to take over caring for her family so that she can devote more time to the strange cult (aka the "batshit religion") of which she is a leading member . She calls it the "Miraculous Process," one of the tenets of which is that "sex is our failed attempt to join Jesus," which may account for her separate bedroom from her husband...and Natalie's need to make him feel less lonely. The whole family is rather quirky, and therefore, pretty hilarious. And Natalie is trapped with them, as their farm is virtually in the middle of nowhere. With no one to talk to but the Waaras, is it any wonder poor Nat turns to the barely literate mechanic neighbor for comfort? Meanwhile, it's becoming clear that she and Inger have differing opinions as to what constitutes "living expenses," her chore list increases almost daily, the fish she's expected to prepare for lunch are still sporting heads, and those Swedish lessons? Well, they may not be what she had in mind, but she certainly learns a lot. Natalie tells her story in an honest, conversational tone, sprinkled with tons of good humor. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as things go from bad to worse for our heroine. This is a fun look at one young woman's struggle to find some answers (or at least a way to pay for her own shampoo) and one family caught in the act of simply being themselves.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Suzy

    I enjoyed this book immensely. It brought me to fits of uncontrollable laughter, disbelief, and tears. The most amazing part is that it is a true story.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Ross

    I enjoyed reading Natalie Burg's memoir of her time as an au pair in Sweden at the age of twenty-three. It is a fish-out-of-water tale (see the cover!) with a narrator who is able to highlight some of the humorous elements of her time there, including a domineering boss who ministers others in an unusual offshoot of Christianity (the sect); a boyfriend who she ends up quasi-living with (love); and how the expectations put upon her by her employer went far beyond what she expected (indentured ser I enjoyed reading Natalie Burg's memoir of her time as an au pair in Sweden at the age of twenty-three. It is a fish-out-of-water tale (see the cover!) with a narrator who is able to highlight some of the humorous elements of her time there, including a domineering boss who ministers others in an unusual offshoot of Christianity (the sect); a boyfriend who she ends up quasi-living with (love); and how the expectations put upon her by her employer went far beyond what she expected (indentured servitude). A memoir is no different than a novel in that you want not just an experience but a narrative arc for the protagonist. In this case what Burg reveals about her 23-year-old self is someone who is too passive for her own good. She agrees to the job with little thought; never truly protests the inane expectations her employer puts on her; allows herself to fall into a dependent relationship with the much-older boyfriend; and gets suckered by a woman who claims she can help the narrator get published in Sweden's largest newspaper. The narrator is so likeable, it is frustrating to see her keep allowing things to happen to her that clearly will not end well. So it is a relief when, near the end of the book, she starts looking out for herself. There's an odd denouement involving the ex-boyfriend that hints at a return to her passivity, but the last page reflects a young woman determined to follow her own path in life. (Whew!) Burg's writing moves at a nice pace, with a very casual voice, almost like she is telling the story over a latte or a cosmopolitan. It takes awhile to truly get into the story--her arrival in Sweden and the introduction of that dragon-lady boss, Inger. A couple of narrative lines drift away (I assume she never actually took the Swedish lessons she kept waiting for Inger to arrange, for example, but that wasn't clear) but overall the book is polished and professional. I say that because it is self-published, and some may bring a prejudice to the book as a result. I admire the fact that Burg funded her publishing venture through Kickstarter, and that she made use of a writing group to polish and hone it (both of these developments are mentioned in an afterward). I came to read the book as a result of a Goodreads giveaway, and have no regrets. My 3 stars appear low compared to other reviewers, but I would ask that this rating be compared to others I have reviewed; 3 stars is quite good for me, I have given less to highly praised memoirs like Running with Scissors. I hope Burg experiences great success with this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Abigail

    This was the first book I ever won from goodreads, and so when it came in the mail, I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning. And I was NOT disappointed. I don't usually read memoirs, not purposefully so, but just because they just don't hold my attention like a good old story of adventure and life and love does. But this book was different. It was freakin HILARIOUS. SARCASTIC. WITTY. HONEST. I literally had a big smile plastered on my face like an idiot every time I was about to open this b This was the first book I ever won from goodreads, and so when it came in the mail, I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning. And I was NOT disappointed. I don't usually read memoirs, not purposefully so, but just because they just don't hold my attention like a good old story of adventure and life and love does. But this book was different. It was freakin HILARIOUS. SARCASTIC. WITTY. HONEST. I literally had a big smile plastered on my face like an idiot every time I was about to open this book because I could not wait to find out what happened next in this crazy Swedish adventure. I felt like I was about to sit down and hang out with one of my coolest, craziest, funniest friends ever. Besides the general awesomeness of this memoir, it actually proved educational in small ways. OKAY, I'm not THAT surprised that I learned something, because I honestly don't know much about this crazy world (due to reading too much fiction and not bothering to watch the news very often). However, I learned that Sweden has free health care, education (I'm sorely tempted to move there now before I die of college debt), and they are the founders of Ikea (and we have been pronouncing it wrong all along). Anywho...such a great book,and I'm so glad I read it! I also was glad to read in the little bio of the author at the end of the book, that she ended up getting married (not to CRAZY sentimental Greg) but to a solid sounding musician named Mike. And they have a dog, which somehow makes it sound happy-go lucky normal, and induces me to believe they will live happily ever after. Yes. Dogs have that much significance in my relationship predictions.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Carole

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. *I received this book as a Goodreads first reads giveaway. This is definitely one of the funniest memoirs I have ever read. Natalie has a talent for making a rather awful few years of servitude into a hilarious roller coaster ride of a memoir. Just when you think the girl can't handle anymore the universe throws her another curve ball. She proves that she has the patience of a saint. All she went through and put up with as an "au pair" to some messed up kids entirely too old for a nanny, part tim *I received this book as a Goodreads first reads giveaway. This is definitely one of the funniest memoirs I have ever read. Natalie has a talent for making a rather awful few years of servitude into a hilarious roller coaster ride of a memoir. Just when you think the girl can't handle anymore the universe throws her another curve ball. She proves that she has the patience of a saint. All she went through and put up with as an "au pair" to some messed up kids entirely too old for a nanny, part time girlfriend to two less than appealing men, and a companion to a sad lonely farmer, well I wouldn't have made it through sane. Yet Natalie comes out of it laughing and cracking jokes. I enjoyed this book to the fullest and almost felt bad at times for laughing at her misery. I truly am sorry about the laughing I couldn't help it. Most of us make a fool of ourselves in our 20's. What we learn from our mistakes is what really matters and Natalie certainly learned from hers. The one thing I loved the most out of the whole book was the ending. Natalie showed such strength in her convictions and finally said "I'm Done" to all the toxic people in her life. This memoir is definitely worth reading and hey you learn some Svensk along the way.

  6. 5 out of 5

    AJ Salem

    Swedish Lessons is the perfect combination of snarky observations and poignant memories of a young woman looking for excitement on the other side of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, nothing goes as planned and Ms. Burg is sucked into a life of housework with a crazy cultish matriarch as her overseer and that's where things just start getting awkward. Although she glosses over her housework with humor I can't imagine the toll it took on her psyche. She is a brilliant observer of the very un-American Swedish Lessons is the perfect combination of snarky observations and poignant memories of a young woman looking for excitement on the other side of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, nothing goes as planned and Ms. Burg is sucked into a life of housework with a crazy cultish matriarch as her overseer and that's where things just start getting awkward. Although she glosses over her housework with humor I can't imagine the toll it took on her psyche. She is a brilliant observer of the very un-American nuances that carry over from one generation to the next in a typical European family (having been raised in one, though not Svensk, it was not news to me that the linen napkins needed to be used daily and the shoe business was just d'uh! I once got yelled at as a kid for tracking my towel into the living room ruining the oriental rug fringe my grandfather had just finished combing straight). The best part of the read was Ms. Burg's voice and optimism - never letting the downs overshadow the ups - she finds appreciation and beauty in the smallest and most fragile moments. The book had me laughing out loud in an empty room, anxious for her well-being, and waiting for every new vocabulary word. I highly recommend Swedish Lessons.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Devin Ripley

    I took the opportunity to review this book that was provided to me free very seriously. which makes me want to say that Natalie, the main character and narrator, is Seriously funny. This memoir was written so well that I lost my self within the pages almost like I was listening to one of my besties summer vacations being related to me play by play. Her recollection and description of the goings on and comparable differences in Sweden are never phrased in any way other than a typical college educ I took the opportunity to review this book that was provided to me free very seriously. which makes me want to say that Natalie, the main character and narrator, is Seriously funny. This memoir was written so well that I lost my self within the pages almost like I was listening to one of my besties summer vacations being related to me play by play. Her recollection and description of the goings on and comparable differences in Sweden are never phrased in any way other than a typical college educated American would say. The book covers some serious issues and emotions while at the same time never being boring or losing any spunk. I congratulate the author on the presentation of this cultural experience and the writing style which makes Swedish Lessons an effortless read. Be prepared to be completely absorbed, engrossed, and consumed by this hysterically relatable memoir. The quirky language embraced by Burg was refreshing and really just an added bonus to top of something which was already exciting. Thank you Natalie for taking the time to autograph my copy and I look forward to devouring anything else you put to paper. Serious fan....... Avid reader

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jensie

    Natalie has crafted a narrative that will force your to rethink your own early 20s. As you can't help but wonder why she has gotten herself into the situation she's in, you'll remember your own love interests and life decisions. Ah to be young again.... Reading the book is perfectly akin to sitting with Natalie while she tells you the story of her time in Sweden. She's a great storyteller who doesn't shy away from telling *very* awkward details - which just makes the story more realistic and Nat Natalie has crafted a narrative that will force your to rethink your own early 20s. As you can't help but wonder why she has gotten herself into the situation she's in, you'll remember your own love interests and life decisions. Ah to be young again.... Reading the book is perfectly akin to sitting with Natalie while she tells you the story of her time in Sweden. She's a great storyteller who doesn't shy away from telling *very* awkward details - which just makes the story more realistic and Natalie herself a little more endearing.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Alisa

    I loved this book! I laughed, I despaired, and I got to travel to the other side of the world without leaving my bedroom. In her honest (and often delightfully sarcastic) voice, Natalie treats her readers to vip access to her bizarre tale of love, survival, and oh-so-human dysfunction. Vulnerable, smart and wickedly funny, Swedish Lessons has secured it's position at the very top of my recommendations list! I loved this book! I laughed, I despaired, and I got to travel to the other side of the world without leaving my bedroom. In her honest (and often delightfully sarcastic) voice, Natalie treats her readers to vip access to her bizarre tale of love, survival, and oh-so-human dysfunction. Vulnerable, smart and wickedly funny, Swedish Lessons has secured it's position at the very top of my recommendations list!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Loved the author's humor and portrayal of the characters. I had a learning adventure just reading the book...no wonder the actual experience was memoir-worthy. Loved the author's humor and portrayal of the characters. I had a learning adventure just reading the book...no wonder the actual experience was memoir-worthy.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    So, a book about a midwestern gal named Natalie who runs off to Sweden and has a love affair with and older Swedish dude. Um, obviously I had to read (my life circa 1999/2000) this and my awesome sister in law gave me a copy. However, the narrator is SO awful! She is so weak and and meek and lets everyone in the book walk all over her and ultimately leaves Sweden to go back to her emotionally abusive boyfriend in Michigan. I. Can. Not. I suppose I admire her honesty (this is a true story) in adm So, a book about a midwestern gal named Natalie who runs off to Sweden and has a love affair with and older Swedish dude. Um, obviously I had to read (my life circa 1999/2000) this and my awesome sister in law gave me a copy. However, the narrator is SO awful! She is so weak and and meek and lets everyone in the book walk all over her and ultimately leaves Sweden to go back to her emotionally abusive boyfriend in Michigan. I. Can. Not. I suppose I admire her honesty (this is a true story) in admitting how pathetic she was. That DOES take some bravery, but damn. I spent most the book wanting to shake her by the shoulders and tell her to ovary the fuck up. So, that's sort of all I took away from it. There was a lot of making fun of Swedish culture too. Very American. Ugh.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lux Cunningham

    Wry, redemptive, funny as hell. This hilarious tale of youthful adventure covers all the important bases of bookness--transporting, revelatory, sometimes even trashy. Loved it so much!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Debbie White

    I received this as a freebie from Goodreads, and I really enjoyed it! Thank you so much! This really hit home to me as I am Swedish myself and have been to Sweden twice. I can really relate to Natalie Berg when she is in Sweden and trying to fit in with the culture there. It is hard as most Swedes in my opinion are hard to get to know, but once you do, then they are wonderful to you and your best friends. I can sympathize wholeheartedly with Ms. Berg as she stays with people she has never met an I received this as a freebie from Goodreads, and I really enjoyed it! Thank you so much! This really hit home to me as I am Swedish myself and have been to Sweden twice. I can really relate to Natalie Berg when she is in Sweden and trying to fit in with the culture there. It is hard as most Swedes in my opinion are hard to get to know, but once you do, then they are wonderful to you and your best friends. I can sympathize wholeheartedly with Ms. Berg as she stays with people she has never met and tries to befriend them! I have been there! It was fun to read another person's point of view when staying in Sweden. I totally recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a different sort of book to read. Also if they are even remotely Swedish! I also can relate to this book as I lived near Helsingborg, and have been to Elsinore Castle in Helsingor! It was exciting to read about the places that I have actually been to there. Thumbs up for bringing a part of me home to my Swedish roots! Thank you Natalie!!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mike Vial

    Swedish Lessons addresses so many important themes that resonate with a millennial generation, like a companion to Lean In or a more genuine version of Eat, Pray, Love. (I love EPL, but the writer went on a journey to find a story to write; Burg found her story after going on her journey, genuinely looking to escape, not to write about it, but found the story many young women and men discover in themselves: where do we find ourselves when we are healing from heartbreak, let-down, and homesicknes Swedish Lessons addresses so many important themes that resonate with a millennial generation, like a companion to Lean In or a more genuine version of Eat, Pray, Love. (I love EPL, but the writer went on a journey to find a story to write; Burg found her story after going on her journey, genuinely looking to escape, not to write about it, but found the story many young women and men discover in themselves: where do we find ourselves when we are healing from heartbreak, let-down, and homesickness?) Fisk in the Sink is one of my favorite chapters, because it demonstrates how that normal rituals of cooking can symbolize so much more. I first read this chapter after seeing it win a honorable mention in Writer's Digest's 1st annual eBook awards. I also was a backer for her Kickstarter campaign in 2013. SL isn't quite a travel story, not quite a love, but definitely is hilarious!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Natalie opens her heart to a interesting phase in her life. Written with a easy to follow style, you are taken on her journey. The comments about American Life are interesting, many who travel do not realize that not all of the world does it their way. As an example, while I was in Venice (Italy) I overheard a very loud American demand to know where the nearest Bank of America was. Natalie mentioned her country's name confused some people she met in Sweden. Once I met some Americans who said they Natalie opens her heart to a interesting phase in her life. Written with a easy to follow style, you are taken on her journey. The comments about American Life are interesting, many who travel do not realize that not all of the world does it their way. As an example, while I was in Venice (Italy) I overheard a very loud American demand to know where the nearest Bank of America was. Natalie mentioned her country's name confused some people she met in Sweden. Once I met some Americans who said they were from "The United States" the Northern Europeans in the group didn't know where that was, perhaps one of the new ex-Russian countries? After extensive travel in the Baltic I can understand why the cultural shock would be huge, as well as the homesickness, and the lack of pre-trip organizing. This book is good armchair travel, without the bitter cold and weird food.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mike Howell

    I suspect the risk in retelling your story of unusual adventure is that you either over-dramatize the events or paint yourself as a far more noble person than you are. Natalie Burg's writing style manages to steer clear of these traps while remaining extremely engaging and witty. She embraces her own character flaws in the book and weaves them into the recounting of strange events and cultural observation, leaving her a very real person in the reader's mind. I enjoyed Swedish Lessons thoroughly. I suspect the risk in retelling your story of unusual adventure is that you either over-dramatize the events or paint yourself as a far more noble person than you are. Natalie Burg's writing style manages to steer clear of these traps while remaining extremely engaging and witty. She embraces her own character flaws in the book and weaves them into the recounting of strange events and cultural observation, leaving her a very real person in the reader's mind. I enjoyed Swedish Lessons thoroughly.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sandy D.

    Entertaining memoir of a 20-something woman who decides to go to work as an au pair in Sweden for the friend of a friend. She ends up isolated on a farm, cleaning constantly, and living first in the basement and then with a mechanic on a neighboring farm. Her insights into Swedish culture are entertaining, though she didn't get to see much. Swedish food - especially at Christmas (Jul !) - sounds dreadful. Entertaining memoir of a 20-something woman who decides to go to work as an au pair in Sweden for the friend of a friend. She ends up isolated on a farm, cleaning constantly, and living first in the basement and then with a mechanic on a neighboring farm. Her insights into Swedish culture are entertaining, though she didn't get to see much. Swedish food - especially at Christmas (Jul !) - sounds dreadful.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nichole

    I enjoyed reading about Natalie's adventures in Sweden. I believe a young girl could learn a lot from Natalie's story, especially when it comes to men. It was difficult to read how Greg manipulates their relationship. I hope someone is able to read this, relate and be able to remove themselves from the situation. I enjoyed reading about Natalie's adventures in Sweden. I believe a young girl could learn a lot from Natalie's story, especially when it comes to men. It was difficult to read how Greg manipulates their relationship. I hope someone is able to read this, relate and be able to remove themselves from the situation.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    I really loved this book. I won it in a good reads giveaway and I am so happy I did! Natalie is a very talented writer - her observations are honest and astute. She is also hysterical. I laughed out loud a bunch of times and even read passages to my husband. This book was just what I needed. I look forward to more books by Natalie. Great first book!! Thank you

  20. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    I received this book as a freebie from Goodreads First Reads and although it took me a while to really get into the story, once I did I really enjoyed it. She has a candid way of writing and totally feel for her as each new day is a different experience!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sherrie

    Loved it!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    I won this in a Goodreads giveaway - thank you Goodreads! I look forward to reading it!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Love all the characters and confusion. I definitely laughed and cried with this book. Everyone needs to read it!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Erica Brehmer

    Great book. Natalie has a great voice and makes you feel like you're talking with a great friend about a crazy adventure. Can't wait for the next one! Great book. Natalie has a great voice and makes you feel like you're talking with a great friend about a crazy adventure. Can't wait for the next one!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    to find/ watch reviews

  26. 5 out of 5

    Erin Krueger

  27. 5 out of 5

    Donielle

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mary

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

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