I am Zlatan. You are Zlatan. Aren’t we all a little Zlatan? Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s autobiography has been short-listed for a Swedish literary award. No, not an award for most interactive iPad app. A literary award. L-I-T-E-R-A-R-Y. You remain skeptical. What exactly rose to critical acclaim, you ask? The colorful cleats picture? The tattoo explanations? The problem is simple: you are looking in the wrong place. The merit lies elsewhere.
Zlatan’s autobiography has two versions: the glossy and commercially viable iPhone app, but also a poignant, emotional, and expressive series of vignettes very similar to Sandra Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street.” Like Cisneros, Zlatan’s tale reveals the troubled and painful longings of an immigrants’ child. The short but poignant vignettes offer a glimpse into the depths of a delicate soul. He grew up in the Rosengard neighborhood of Malmo, Sweden, but his tale touches on universal themes of acceptance, rejection, adolescence, and adulthood.
We are honored to have gotten our hands on a version of the literary manuscript with the working title, “The House on Amiralsgatan Street.” We present 12 vignettes from that text for your reading pleasure.
Home is Where the Hard-earned Cash Is
We didn’t always live on Amiralsgatan street. Before, we lived in an apartment near RoCent shopping mall. Before that, we lived on Hards street. Before that, it was Listergatan street. And before that, I don’t remember. But what I remember most is moving a lot. Each time, it seemed there’d be one more of us. By the time we got to Amiralsgatan street, we were seven.
The house on Amiralsgatan street is ours, and we won’t have to pay rent, share the yard, or be careful not to make too much noise. I can kick a ball inside in the morning, in the afternoon, and even at night if my parents aren’t home. Even so, it’s not the house we thought we’d get.
We had to leave the apartment near RoCent shopping mall real quick. During the winter, the pipes broke and the heat stopped working. The landlord wouldn’t fix anything. I told my dad – we should move to a mansion or something with a jacuzzi. My dad laughed and I got angry. I asked him why not. He got serious and yelled that he’d never have that much money.
Dad and mom promised we’d move to a house that would be ours and we wouldn’t have to move anymore. They said the house would be two stories tall, have real stairs, and have a big, green yard. The house on Amiralsgatan street is not like they told it. It’s one story tall with a dusty old attic. You use a latter to get up there. The yard is mud in the winter, and barren brown ground in the summer. All five of us kids have to share a bedroom. I hated it. I saw on cable TV all these people driving fast cars and living in mansions, and here I was, sharing a bed with my brothers.
I knew then that I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point to. Three stories tall. One I could feel warm in. Large jacuzzi. One I could smile in. Billiards room. But this isn’t it. The house on Amiralsgatan street isn’t it. For the time being, Mama says. For the time being, Papa says. But I know how those things go.
I made a friend today who lives nearby on Amiralsgatan street. His name is Henrik and he has lived around here all his life. He has blue eyes and straight blonde hair. In fact, the rest of his family has blonde hair. He says it’s because in Sweden the sun shines so much half the year.
I’ve lived in Sweden all my life, but my hair isn’t blonde. My hair isn’t straight. My hair is black. My hair is wiry and tangled. I hate my hair. When dad doesn’t get picked up to go lay tile or cement for a long time, I have to cut my own hair. I want to shave it all off sometimes. My sisters laugh and say I should let it grow long. Like that will ever happen.
I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic. My new friend, Henrik Ericksson, asked me my name and then laughed when he heard it. He asked me who made up my name. I didn’t know. I asked my parents, and they said they chose the first name, but the last name was from my grandpa. I asked them why my grandpa chose such a long last name, and they didn’t have an answer. Henrik said that his last name came from a famous viking. He said all Erickssons come from vikings. Henrick said that he didn’t know about the Ibrahimovics, but that we weren’t vikings, we weren’t from Sweden. We were from Yugoslobbernia or somewhere. I was confused. I was born in Sweden and have lived here all my life.
Those Who Don’t
Henrik and his family are moving. Henrik’s dad told him that too many of his friends had moved out, and that some of the new people are up to no good. I laughed when Henrik told me. Henrik himself sneaks out of his home after curfew and throws eggs at cars, signs, and houses. Does Mr. Ericksson know who’s up to no good? Still, I tell kids at school where I live, and some get hushed. They say once there were riots and stores got set on fire and people got shot and the police and firemen had to come. I never saw a fire or even know what a riot is, but I don’t get scared when I walk around Amiralsgatan street. I don’t like it, but I don’t fear it.
The Family of Not Small Feet
Their arms were big, and their heads were big, and their height was tall, and their feet not small. When my dad gets work pouring cement, he comes home at midnight. I stay up to let him in, and help him take off his big, black boots. He sits down on his chair, watches television, smokes some cigarettes, and I wash and scrub and polish his boots, one at a time.
When I was littler, I looked at my own feet and thought he was lying to me that I’d have big feet like him someday. Now, though, I need bigger shoes every couple months it seems. My mom complains that she just got me shoes, but my dad laughs. When he’s working pouring cement, he’ll pull out a thick roll of cash, peel off some bills, pass them to my mom, and tell her to get me some real shoes, some big boots. When he’s not working pouring cement, he tells me he knows it hurts, but to deal with it a bit longer and he’ll soon get me new shoes.
On the days when there’s no school and no snow on the ground, me and some neighborhood kids play soccer barefoot in my backyard. Henrik left, but I made friends with Ante, Josip, and Matej. Josip and Matej are brothers. I score lots of goals. In fact, soon I’m going to be playing with a real team with real jerseys. My dad promised.
A Nice Blood Sausage
Today we drove and drove and drove. All so I could play my game with my real team. We drove by places I’d never seen before. I saw the Stortorget. I saw the Lilla torg. I saw a tall, thin, spiraling building that touched the clouds! We finally arrived at Malmo University, and my dad surprised me with a pair of shin guards and fluorescent green cleats! How did he know? I met my teammates. Most them look like Henrik, my old neighbor. A few were nice and spoke to me, but the rest kinda kept to themselves.
Once the game started, though, everybody could see what I could do. I scored goals. Then I scored more goals. Then I scored some more goals. And, of course the coach asked me to come back, and even to come to practice in a few days. Some of the players asked me if I wanted to go to Mello Yello with them for a bite to eat, but my dad said no. I told my dad that I really wanted to go, but my dad stared at me and I knew we weren’t going to go to Mello Yello to eat fiskbullar. Instead, we were going home to slurp Mom’s manestra soup again. We didn’t have chicken for Ajngemahtec. When I get big, I’m going to make lots of money and eat at Mello Yello everyday and never ever have manestra soup.
Four Thick Trees
What I hate the most about Sweden are the pine trees. They are everywhere. Pine trees are ugly. They don’t have real leaves. Instead, they have these little blades of grass that prick you if you touch them. They don’t bear fruit. They don’ grow tall. They have skinny trunks. Birds don’t even make their nest in them. They are ugly and useless.
On Amiralsgatan street, at least we have four oak trees. Nobody knows who planted them or when, but they are ginormous. Their trunks are thick. In the fall, their wide leaves turn a brilliant red. Birds and squirrels both live in their big branches. The big oaks stand out among the stupid, small, wimpy pine trees. The big oak’s leaves don’t prick you if you touch them. They are beautiful.
I love the oaks, but they don’t belong on Amiralsgatan street. Neither do I.
No Speak Swedish
My aunt has moved into the house, so now all the brothers and sisters have to share a room. I don’t get it. It’s not fair. We’ve lived here a long time, and she just moved in. She should sleep on the couch or with my parents. I hate sharing a room with my sisters. They like to put pink posters on the wall and stuff. Plus, my aunt doesn’t even speak Swedish. I hear her speak with my mom and dad, but I don’t know what they’re saying. My mom says they speak Chakavian, but I don’t know what Chakavian means.
My dad says that my aunt fought with my uncle, and that she will be staying with us for a time. I asked him how long. A day? A week? A month? He just started at me, and I knew to shut up. I don’t get why my aunt doesn’t speak Swedish, but my cousins do. The other day, they came to visit her and we all spoke Swedish and they even spoke Swedish to her. However, she just nods and always speaks words that don’t make any sense to me.
The First Job
My dad says I’m sixteen, so it’s time to work. However, I don’t have to work with him pouring concrete. Instead, I get to keep playing soccer with some of my friends, but also older kids and even some men. I am now a player for Malmo Fotbollforening. I get paid, I get to play everyday, and we have games on weekends. I also got a nice blue and white jersey that sayson the front.
I am number nine, and we play games on weekends. Even though I am young, I get to play in the Allvenskan games sometimes as a substitute. Only men usually play in the Allvenskan. Some of the guys were really mean to me, and in the first practice they shot passes really hard at me. However, I scored two goals in the first practice game, and now nobody shoots passes hard at me. I also body-checked a central defender and gave him a clavical contusion. I don’t know what that is, but it looks like it hurt. I said I was sorry. He said he forgave me.
A Smart Cookie
I know I complain when my mom cooks manestra, but that’s because she an do so many things. She can cook ajngemahtec, sataras, zganci, and the most sumptuous brudet you can imagine. She sews my jerseys when they get torn. One time, the bottom of my cleat started to fall off. She was able to put glue on it, repair it, and the bottom has stayed on since. I love my mom and she is super-talented.
Still, my mom complains about her skills. She says she is not talented. She will come to my games in cars sometimes, but she is unable to ride the subway or the city buses. She doesn’t like to go out without my dad, not even to the grocery store. However, she knows it’s not good. She knows she should be able to. She tells me so.
I love my mom, but I am and must be independent. I cannot depend on others. I am making my own money now, and help out around the house. It makes me happy to see my brothers and sisters wear new shoes. It makes me happy for my dad to be able to not pour concrete during the winter. Still, I am afraid. I am terrified. I am paid because I score goals. But sometimes I don’t get passes.
I will never depend on a pass or a teammate to make my goal. I will be stronger. I will be faster. I will beat the first defender. I will beat two defenders. I will push them. I will elbow them. I will stamp them. I will not be stopped. I will not depend on anyone, not even my own teammates.
Boy with the Dragon Tattoo
Today I turned 18 and I could finally get a tattoo. I chose a red dragon because dragons are awesome and spit fire through their nose. During games, when my teammates suck, I like to shout at them and pretend I am spitting fire at them and melting them so that they won’t suck anymore. I get so angry I want to fly and dive and soar and pierce everybody with my talons. I want to spread my wings and cast a shadow on them all. I am the dragon.
I also got tattoos of each family member’s date of birth. I remember when I was little and my brothers would play soccer with me everyday. I remember when they would defend me at school. My sisters used to be mean and put stupid pink posters on our room’s wall, but now that my aunt moved out they are back in their room and took down their posters. We get along better. During games, I look at the tattoos to inspire me. I think – I am so mad at my stupid teammates, but my own brothers sometimes would suck during games in my backyard and I forgave them, so I will try to do the same. Maybe.
Amiralsgatan Say Goodbye Sometimes
I am Zlatan. I am the boy who didn’t want to live on Amiralsgatan street. I am the boy who didn’t want to live in a two story house. I am the boy who hates the pine trees. I always knew that one day I will pack my boots and leave. That day has come. A Dutch soccer team, Ajax, has bought me.
I will miss my family. I will miss my dad. I don’t know what awaits me. I know I will score goals. I know I will get mad at teammates. However, I know that no matter how hard I try, no matter how many years pass, I will never forget Amiralsgatan street. This place has sucked. Seriously.
Still, I know that not everybody can leave this crappy place. I will come back to help those who wouldn’t leave. Or maybe donate a park or something when I’m rich and shit.
IMAGE CREDIT: Julia Blankenship