Alexander Mahmoud collects material in a pile
Diary, photo reportage, travelogue, description of growing up: Alexander Mahmoud second book is many different things, but unlike the painful experiences documented, it is liberatingly unassuming in tone. “You don’t want more” is a story of struggle, with the camera as a friend and witness, with the book as a counterweight to memories of racism and bullying – a vindication through work, eternal work.
The Alexander Mahmoud we meet is the hard-working professional, the Dagens Nyheter photographer who views everything through the distancing lens of work. By taking up so much of the work, the camera – or the pen – becomes a way of keeping reality at a safe distance, it becomes possible to take it apart and examine it, even if it also means that the book appears a little anonymous in its constant cross-cutting.
Everything is reproduced via brief, dated notes. A rich photo gallery is interspersed with reports on floods in Europe, the Swedish corona years, meetings with the undocumented, shootings in the big city. Journalistically speaking, it is directly affecting. But from a literary point of view, it’s more recording than shaping, with few attempts to spin on what the camera captures (or doesn’t capture).
When it comes to the socially vulnerable people Mahmoud meets, the attitude is that he can’t do much more for them than be there, an understandable method that, however, rubs off on the report-neutral prose. Indeed, the blocks of short accounts have a pleasant rhythm like when Mahmoud after taking pictures Stefan Löfven in a hammock writes in the diary entry afterwards: “I lie in the hammock and work.”
The problem lies in that the literary ambitions are almost subordinate to the documentation, which is probably not solely on the author’s shoulders because here both the proofreader and the editor have slept on the job. Above all, the repetition of words and phrases creates that you are lifted out of the text. “Going to photograph Erik Adelsohn again”, it can be written. Next date: “The dentist again, it hurts again.” Even if it is a book about the necessary monotony of work, the reading experience itself tends to become monotonous, as when the word “job” is mentioned dozens of times on a page and the only respite provided among the monotony is dry puns.
“You don’t want more” offers a snapshot of Sweden in recent years, where everything is valued according to success. One can sense an instinctive resistance to “wanting more”, no matter how much the narrator says he loves work, day in and day out, without time off or privacy. “The more I meet, politicians, people, lonely people, the less lonely I become,” writes Mahmoud about an everyday life that is very much about living through the lives of others.
It is probably a tendency many people recognize. It is as if there is a personal or collective paralysis behind the author’s passive gaze, a feeling reinforced by the fact that Mahmoud remains a correspondent who merely collects material, not knowing what to do with it.