A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch (Translator): A Fantastic, Moving, Fun Tale of a Grieving Widower

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove

by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch (Translator)


Hardcover, 337 pg.
Atria Books, 2014
Read: April 2 – 3, 2019

[His wife] often said that “all roads lead to something you were always predestined to do.” And for her, perhaps, it was something.

But for Ove it was someone.

I’ve been fully intending to read all of Fredrik Backman’s books after I read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (3 years ago), but there were a couple of things holding me back. 1. I loved My Grandmother so much that I didn’t want something to eclipse it; 2. I didn’t want to be so disappointed in one of his other books that it tainted my memory of My Grandmother. I finally told myself to get over it and just read him — what did I really have to lose?

That was obviously the right call — this was just fantastic.

If at this point, you haven’t heard of this book and decided if you’re going to read it or not, I’m not likely to persuade you. It’s sold about as many books as a person not named James Patterson, J. K. Rowling or Steven King should be able to expect. There’s been a movie made of it in Sweden and Tom Hanks is working on a version, too. This book is practically a phenomenon, and in the years since it’s publication, the author, Fredrik Backman has practically become an industry. So, if you haven’t read it by this point, there’s probably a reason, I’m not going to convince you otherwise. Nor do I think I can contribute much to the discussion about the book beyond what’s already been said. But I’m still driven to talk about it a bit.

Ove is a recent widower who has decided that it’s time to join his wife, and attempts to kill himself by various means in order to do that. But like an aged (and more dedicated) Lane Meyer, he can’t complete the deed. Something always interrupts him — generally, it’s the fools and incompetents that are his neighbors needing his help. Somehow these people have reached adulthood without learning how to back up a vehicle towing a trailer. bleeding a radiator or any number of things. So he stops what he was doing, helps his whatever neighbor needs it (complaining about it and insulting them all the time) and tries again the next day.

Ove’s struggles with the neighbors and his botched attempts to end his life are interspersed with his life story — his troubled childhood, career, early years of his marriage and the tragic end of it. The writing here is incredibly effective — and Backman doesn’t even try to hide his emotional manipulation — he essentially calls his shots sometimes — and it works. He plays whatever tune he wants and the reader dances to it. Try to get through the paragraph where Ove thinks about missing holding his wife’s hand unmoved, I dare you. I was teary at least once before the midpoint of the work — and about a half hour after finishing the book, I had to go back and re-read the last few pages with dry eyes so I could be certain I read what I thought I read.

Ove in his cantankerousness, his particular and peculiar way of approaching life — and in his grief — is a fantastic character. But I think that his neighbor, a Muslim immigrant mother of three, who deices that her angry old neighbor needs a friend (whether he wants one or not) and then becomes that friend (which he definitely doesn’t want) is an even better character. Parvaneh is smart, kind, fun and loving — and as stubborn as Ove. Next to his wife, she’s the best thing to happen to him. There are plenty of other great characters (the overweight computer tech who lives on the other side of Ove is a fine example).

I laughed, I cried, it moved me, Bob.

One of the easiest 5-Stars I’ve ever given. If you keep putting off reading this — knock it off, read the book.

—–

5 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge

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My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's SorryMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch
Hardcover, 370 pg.
Atria Books , 2015
Read: November 20 – 24, 2015

If you don’t like people, they can’t hurt you. Almost-8-year-olds who are often described as “different” learn that very quickly.

That lesson was impressed upon Elsa pretty hard, which has left her with a very small group of people that she likes (but, like most 7 year-olds, she really wants to like people) — although in many, there’s only one person in that circle for Elsa — her grandmother. Elsa’s grandmother was her best friend, her superhero, the most devoted adult in her life.

Elsa doesn’t do that well in school — doesn’t get along with teachers or classmates — but thanks to Wikipedia, knows all sorts of things in very random areas. She’s utterly convinced of the importance of the Harry Potter series and other “quality literature,” like Spider-Man comics.

She used to write letters to Santa every Christmas, not just wish lists but whole letters. They weren’t very much about Christmas, mainly about politics. Because Elsa mostly felt that Santa wasn’t involving himself enough in social questions, and believed he needed to be informed about that, in the midst of the floods of greedy letters that she knew he must be receiving from all the other children every year. Someone had to take a bit of responsibility.

Following her Granny’s death, Elsa is given a series of letters to deliver to various people that her Granny has helped in the past, but who’ve had problems with her since. This eventually involves adventures (things both 7 year-olds and adults would consider adventures) and a lot of personal growth. As she delivers them, Elsa learns a lot about who Granny was before Elsa came along, and finds herself in a much larger world than she’d previously been able of living in.

This is just charmingly written, sweetly told, and it’ll draw you in with the language. Backman and Koch show a delight with language and people that will surely win you over. It’ll make you smile, it’ll make you giggle, it’ll make you melt a little — if your grandmother’s alive, you’ll want to give her a call — if not, you’ll miss her more than usual.

—–

4 Stars

Opening Lines – My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author — but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit?

Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero. That’s just how it is. Anyone who doesn’t agree needs their head examined.

That’s what Elsa’s granny says, at least.

Elsa is seven, going on eight. She knows she isn’t especially good at being seven. She knows she’s different. Her headmaster says she needs to “fall into line” in order to achieve “a better fit with her peers.” Other adults describe her as “very grown-up for her age.” Elsa knows this is just another way of saying “massively annoying for her age,” because they only tend to say this when she corrects them for mispronouncing “déjà vu” or not being able to tell the difference between “me” and “I” at the end of a sentence. Smart-asses usually can’t, hence the “grown-up for her age” comment, generally said with a strained smile at her parents. As if she has a mental impairment, as if Elsa has shown them up by not being totally thick just because she’s seven. And that’s why she doesn’t have any friends except Granny. Because all the other seven-year-olds in her school are as idiotic as seven-year-olds tend to be, but Elsa is different.

She shouldn’t take any notice of what those muppets think, says Granny. Because all the best people are different–look at superheroes. After all, if superpowers were normal, everyone would have them.

from My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

It was really hard to stop where I did, I wanted to use the first three pages, but am pretty sure that it’d get me in copyright trouble.