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Anxious People order (Swedish) pizza capricciosa

Hello? You're just going to give up now, after all this? Can't we at least order pizza? In hostage films the police always provide pizza! Free of charge!

– Fredrik Backman, Anxious People, chapter 41

If I had to, I'd describe this book as a funny but profound hostage drama...sort of. But I wouldn't call it a mystery or thriller or whodunnit, at least as we know those genres. It's really a story about people. It has so many twists that I was left alternately reeling and delighted, and often both. 

I really enjoyed Backman's narrative style and Scandinavian (from my limited experience) sense of humour, with short, crisp chapters and a conversational tone for the most part, but with enough lines that took my breath away. For instance:

The bridge is covered with ice, sparkling beneath the last few valiant stars as dawn heaves its way over the horizon. The town is breathing deeply around it, still asleep, swaddled in eiderdowns and dreams and tiny feet belonging to hearts our own can't beat without.

Anxious People is set in an unnamed Swedish town, around an incident that takes place a day before New Year's Eve. Interwoven with these dramatic events, witness statements and colourful yet ordinary characters – in the way that all people are colourful and ordinary – are explorations of the quintessential experience of "adulting", the human condition, and mental health. But none of it gets too heavy; Backman has a knack for injecting light and lightheartedness into difficult situations. I laughed a lot, and I also cried, but in a good way. In a way that's well-rounded.

Pizza is pretty much the only food mentioned in this book (unless you count some limes), about halfway through, and then repeatedly. Like everything else in this story, even the appearance of pizza is anything but ordinary. Writing about the scenes where it is being discussed and ordered will probably ruin the surprises somewhat, so I'll just say that it brings the characters together, in a way, as food does, forcing people to share a space and an action so basic we often overlook its social significance. We also learn just a little bit more about each person: who takes charge, who is indecisive, who likes what kind of pizza, and who doesn't.

I want a Hawaiian without pineapple and without ham, but with banana and peanuts instead, and tell them not to cook it for too long!


A kebab pizza with garlic sauce! Extra sauce. And extra kebab. Preferably a bit charred.


Estelle folder her hands over her stomach and added: "I've got nothing against pizza. Do you think they'd send some salad, too?"

If you're wondering about the odd requests above, that's pizza in Sweden for you. I didn't know this until I started researching, but apparently Swedes adapted the Italian staple to add all kinds of odd toppings and combinations, including bananas, raisins, kebab (not so odd, actually), French fries and meatballs. They also serve a side called a "pizza salad", similar to coleslaw but often with red peppers.

Incidentally, pizza is also something I'd hoped to make  well, the dough, anyway; we do make pizza fairly often, but the one time we tried making the dough from scratch, it was quite awful. So my November reading and my ambitions aligned quite nicely.

Roger took this under consideration for a while. Then he said: "I'll put down a capricciosa for you, everyone likes capricciosa. Next! What sort would you like?


Estelle looked worried about having to decide so quickly, so she exclaimed: "I'll have the same as Zara." Roger peered at her, then wrote 'capricciosa' on his pad.

This particular type of pizza is mentioned a few times as a humour device, when Roger assigns it to the undecided. "Capricciosa" in Italian means capricious, and was named thus in the 1930s because it was typically made from any leftovers placed at random. Now, however, the toppings are quite specific in Italy: mozzarella, ham (prosciutto cotto), mushrooms, artichokes and black olives, though different regions might modify these to add their own twist. In Sweden, however, the last two are usually skipped and it's simply a ham-cheese-mushroom pizza, with a crust that leans toward the Neapolitan style, but is thicker.

I made a variation of the Swedish version, switching the ham for smoked chicken slices (ham in India isn't a great idea) and more of a pan crust than Neapolitan. Happily yeast is no longer the enemy since the cheese buns from a few months ago, and I'm pleased to report that the crust was thick yet soft and fluffy. Practice really does make almost perfect. Nothing capricious about that.