Peter Fröberg Idling


Original title:

Sång till den storm

som ska komma



August 2012



General Fiction


Original publisher:

Natur & Kultur


Reading material:

Full Swedish and English manuscript


358 pp.


Song for an Approaching Storm


It is 1955, and the summer is drawing to a close. Cambodia’s capital is bristling with excitement and worry; its people are about to witness the first free parliamentary elections since the country won its independence from the French colonial power. In the midst of the hectic election campaign, we meet Sar, a man in his early thirties who years later will become known to the world as Pol Pot.

Sar is caught up in a dangerous game of double dealing; while acting as private secretary for the leader of the opposition party, he is secretly working for an armed Communist revolution. Having recently returned from studies in Paris, Sar is still engaged to Somaly, a young woman of royal family who has also recently

won a beauty competition and been voted Miss Cambodge. Their relationship is not entirely defined, but Sar is intent on marrying her. His modest background means that his chances of succeeding are conditioned upon the opposition winning the election, so that he can land a high position in the country’s new government. But his main political opponent, Sam Sary, a man with a raging ambition and appetite for power, has also noticed the beautiful Somaly, and the two have been seen together.


During a couple of weeks, the drama of this love triangle unfolds and reaches its climax against a backdrop of political intrigue and increasing political repression. As we move around with Sar, Sary and Somaly through warm summer nights, stuffy class rooms, political campaigning in the countryside, and champagne soaked receptions orchestrated by prince Sihanouk, a vivid picture of a different, long lost Cambodia also emerges: an Asian Paris of the 50’s, all silk dresses and sun-drenched afternoons.


The desires of the three main characters—for power, influence, and sex—seem petty enough. They are young, selfish, and hungry for a certain kind of life. They live their lives like most people do, without thinking about the consequences. Yet their actions mean that Cambodia ultimately chooses the path that twenty years later will have led to the Killing Fields and the death of almost two million people.


Peter Fröberg’s tense and vibrating novel lingers around the idea of what role personal disappointment can play in the major course of history. It is divided into three sections, and told in three distinct voices: from the perspective of, in turn, Sar, Sary and Somaly. The narrative is chronological, and spans 30 days, 10 days for each of the three narrators. Though a work of fiction—the author’s fantasy of the intensely personal tragedy that preceded the historical narrative that we know so well—the story of the love triangle is based on real events. Peter came across this story, as it was told to him by survivors of the khmer rouge group, while doing research for his nonfiction book on location in Cambodia. The only one of the novel’s three characters who is still alive, Somaly, today lives in the US.


Denmark: Gyldendal

Finland: Teos

Germany: Suhrkamp

Italy: Iperborea

The Netherlands: Nieuw Amsterdam

Norway: Gyldendal

Sweden: Natur & Kultur

UK: Pushkin Press



"Idling has climbed inside the mind of a tyrant, and it makes the blood run cold; this is also a wonderfully evocative picture of a chaotic country about to explode into war, where ”torrential rain makes the street look as if the surface is coming to the boil”. Brilliant."



"A beautifully evocative and compulsive book in which the lyricism of the title reflects the prose of the narrative."



»I wonder if I’ve ever read a debut novel as good as Song for an Approaching Storm ... Strong words, but what to do when your limbs are trembling with the touch of poetry ... What makes this such a masterpiece is that it yet again shows fiction’s capacity as a source of knowledge ... It’s hot, sticky as in the fiction of Marguerite Duras and Graham Greene, two odd voices that echo faintly here ... The tension between power and Eros is hard as steel in Fröberg Idling’s brilliant novel.«



»This is an impressive work of fiction, not just about a horrendous time but also about man’s ability to be both victim and executioner in one lifetime. He writes so damn well, Peter Fröberg Idling. I’m deeply moved and impressed.«



»A hundred pages into the novel I think: but this is in the James Ellroy and Mario Vargas Llosa department! Peter Fröberg Idling’s political thriller Song for an Approaching Storm is the same kind of feverish, sweat-stained fiction/ nonfiction ... This is a fully developed piece and cannot be but one of the finest literary debuts in a few decades, at least. Big words, I know, but I stand by them.«



“Fröberg’s great achievement lies in bringing to life a historical moment that teemed with great visions for the future. He succeeds in promoting politics and ideology to the true elements of tension in his novel. The atmosphere he creates is mysterious and frightening; his prose is poetic and compact. Fröberg has joined the best tradition of (neo-)colonial novels, with Marguerite Duras and Graham Greene as his predecessors.”



“Fröberg impresses with his analysis and atmosphere, fostering empathy, understanding and memory.”