Riveting Riffs Logo One Lene Fogelberg - Beautiful Affliction
Lene Fogelberg Photo One A

It almost does not seem appropriate to refer to Lene Fogelberg as an author, because that moniker almost sounds too distant, too formal, for the young Swedish woman, for really she is a storyteller and that has a much warmer feel to it, as does her book, Beautiful Affliction A Memoir. Not many people write their Memoir when they are still thirty-something, but Lene Fogelberg has already lived a lifetime and more. Her story begins as a young child in Sweden when the doctors determined that there was absolutely nothing wrong with her health and how throughout her life when it became apparent that something was going on inside of her and that she could not do even the simplest of activities without tiring quickly, that indeed something was wrong. This is also a love story, about the love of Lene and her husband Anders who met when Lene was twelve years old and he was fourteen. It is the love of a family, their two young daughters and Lene and Anders’ parents. It is about how Anders’ job transfer to America for the briefest period of time, slightly more than a year, became the catalyst in enabling doctors to discover that if Lene did not have open heart surgery quickly that she would die. 

Like no other book that we have ever read before Beautiful Affliction A Memoir will have you crying, will have you believing once again that miracles really do happen and will have you grow in admiration of Lene Fogelberg and be moved by her husband’s devotion to her. The book also ends on a bit of a funny note, but we will leave that for the readers to discover for themselves.

Fogelberg uses an interesting style of writing, as the chapters alternate between different times in her life. One chapter will begin with her life in Sweden as a child and through to adulthood, while the next chapter will begin with their belongings arriving in America from Sweden and progressing through her brief stay in America. This book reads like a suspense filled novel and you sometimes have to remind yourself that this is a real story.

Lene Fogelberg talks about her writing style, “I spent a lot of time thinking about the structure of my story, realizing it could easily be weighed down with many flashbacks if I started the story where I wanted to start it; with the move to Philadelphia. But in my case the backstory is as important as the main story, to fully understand what is going on. And then I realized I could use this tension between past and present, alternating chapters, to gradually let the reader in, until the climax of the story. After that the flashback chapter ends. I was inspired by authors such as Jodi Picoult, Muriel Barbery and Tatiana de Rosnay, who have used this technique of alternating chapters, even though they used it in different ways than me, alternating between different characters, whereas I use it to go back and forth in time.”

Although she was in a race against time and time almost ran out for her, good fortune smiled upon her, just in the nick of time and she explains, “My life took an interesting turn when, after years of searching for answers of what was wrong with me, my congenital heart disease was discovered on a routine physical in the U.S. After that, things happened quickly and led to my life narrowly being saved under dramatic circumstances. What hit me the most was that all the years of pain and despair turned out to be part of the miracle that saved my life. I just wanted to share (with others) that no matter how dark everything might seem, it might be part of a beautiful pattern taking shape in your life.”

What a contrast that was to her life in Sweden, where she says, “I was desperately lonely and heartbroken. Anders tried to help me as much as he could, but of course he had to work and support our family, and his job required a lot of travelling, so I was often alone. It is hard work taking care of toddlers even for a healthy person, and in my case my heart disease was so advanced that I was like a ninety-year-old lady. I knew I wouldn’t be able to live for much longer and that knowledge broke my heart. I would look at my beautiful girls and just cry, so afraid to leave them behind.” Lene Fogelberg Photo Two

Fogelberg talks about why it was important for her to write this story about her life, “I wrote it for my younger self, to comfort that scared and desperately unhappy girl and tell her that everything would work out in the end. My story is really a story about a miracle, a love story, and a story about never giving up. I felt that maybe there were people out there as unhappy as I had been, and I wanted to be a friend to them. I am also on a mission to raise awareness of heart disease, which is the number one killer, but still isn’t much talked about, compared to other afflictions. I also want to ease the stigma of depression, which is a common companion of heart disease, or often manifested on its own, and it is a terrible thing to go through; it affects every part of your life and changes you. I want readers who have been through something similar, to find an honest voice that resonates with them. (For those) readers who have not experienced heart disease or depression I want to instill (in them) empathy and compassion, since I believe we all have people in our life affected by one or the other, and well, we all go through difficult stuff in our lives, so my story is for every reader actually. I think my experiences can be translated to all kinds of challenges. My goodness, now it sounds like my book is all about pain and suffering, but there’s also some fun and good laughs in there, so it’s not all affliction.”

Although, there have been some changes made in the delivery of healthcare services in Sweden and Lene Fogelberg notes those at the end of her book, we think that North American readers will be somewhat surprised to learn some of the challenges that Fogelberg faced with receiving appropriate care in her homeland.

She says, “Primary care was almost impossible to gain access to, in my experience, back then in my hometown in Sweden and to see any kind of a specialist took a year of waiting in line. We were often left with the only option to go to the emergency room, where we had to wait for hours only to see a doctor that would indicate to me that my matter ‘wasn't urgent’.”

Throughout those years in addition to the physical toll that her heart problems took on her body, Lene Fogelberg also paid a heavy price emotionally.

She explains, “I was desperately lonely and heartbroken. Anders (her husband) tried to help me as much as he could, but of course he had to work and support our family, and his job required a lot of travelling, so I was often alone. It is hard work taking care of toddlers even for a healthy person, and in my case my heart disease was so advanced I was like a ninety-year-old lady. I knew I wouldn’t be able to live for much longer and that knowledge broke my heart. I would look at my beautiful girls and just cry, so afraid to leave them behind.”

For some couples enduring so many years of challenges may have spelled the end of their marriage, but Anders and Lene hung in there.

“Like all couples we have our ups and downs, which are inevitable I think. But I was very lucky to meet the love of my life early on. I was just twelve years old and he was fourteen when we met at a scout camp. We married young, at twenty and twenty-two, and that has helped us to navigate through some of the pitfalls. We learned a lot from each other, how to express our feelings, and how to be supportive of each other, and generous. We have never had the mindset of "meeting halfway,” but instead we both give 100 percent and that way we’re sure to meet up somewhere. Sometimes he has to give 100 percent and sometimes I do. The years when I was sick in my undiscovered heart disease, my husband was amazing and he still is. He would come home from work trips and immediately he would start doing laundry, dishes and cook dinner. However, when he was away I did all of the housekeeping and I took care of the kids, even though I was so tired that I could barely walk. We both hung in there, because we knew the other one did all they could,” she says.

Eventually, the time came for the Fogelbergs to leave their American home in Philadelphia and return to Sweden, but they did so with mixed emotions.

“We had a hard time leaving Philadelphia, and we managed to stay for some extra months, all in all for a year and one-half. We still talk a lot about our time in the U.S. and a part of us will always feel like it is home to us. We do feel like it was meant to be, because there were so many unique circumstances that led us to the very heart surgeon who saved me. I am humbled and grateful whenever I think about it, and it has made me feel compelled to share my story in hope of raising awareness of heart disease, especially heart disease that is difficult to discover and easily missed by the medical community. These cases are tragedies, and I wish nobody had to suddenly die of heart disease, especially treatable heart disease,” she says.

Over time, Lene Fogelberg’s body healed and we cannot say that she regained her health, because she actually experienced being completely healthy for the first time. Just like in any situation in life that involves trauma, it often takes a lot longer for the emotional scars to heal.

She says, “Emotional scars can take a long time to heal. I am still healing and still struggling at times. For several years after my open heart surgeries I would have trouble falling asleep at night, because at the moment of falling asleep I would wake up in panic, feeling like I was falling into a dark abyss. It slowly got better, but now I am struggling with the prospect of more surgeries down the lane, which I’d rather not think about, but it’s hard not to. Thankfully my heart is still doing well, so future surgeries are barely on the horizon, but it’s a fact of my life that I have to deal with, emotionally.”

Fogleberg says that since their time in America, “We went back to Sweden, but actually it was difficult to settle in, like nothing had happened. We had been through such life-altering experiences that going back to the life we lived before seemed out of reach in many ways. I don’t know how to describe it better than we felt restless, and when my husband got a job offer to go to Indonesia we gladly accepted. We felt we needed an adventure, and that’s what we got! We immersed ourselves in the Southeast Asian culture and we learned so much. We stayed in Jakarta for four years, and then we moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where we have been living for a year and one-half now. We love it here, but a piece of my heart will always be American, metaphorically and literally.”

Lene Fogelberg just finished writing her next book, which is a fiction novel that is set in Jakarta.

She describes the novel as, “a hilarious and heartbreaking family drama where I mix east with west, and urban life with ancient myths of Java. It has a very unusual main character, but I think that readers of Beautiful Affliction will recognize my literary world.”

To learn more about Lene Fogelberg please visit her website. Her book Beautiful Affliction A Memoir is available through Amazon.         Return to Our Front Page

This interview by Joe Montague  published May 9, 2017 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos are the the property of  Lene Fogelberg and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved