Swedish sensation Fredrik Backman has been providing the world with hearty laughs and tender smiles through his runaway international success in A Man Called Ove. It’s a favorite among book clubs and perfect for beach reads. And it helped get me out of a reading slump. Washington Square Press | May, 2015 | Paperback | 337 pp
Ove is a grumpy old man who just wants to die in peace. His wife and the love of his life had recently passed away and he lost his job. Feeling no reason to stick around, he readies himself for suicide. He’s careful, methodical, adheres to a strict schedule, and is a rule follower. And when he’s ready to enact his final plans, his new neighbors throw a wrench in his plans by continuously upsetting his peace.
His new neighbors, a pregnant Iranian immigrant, her Swedish husband, and two children, roll their eyes at Ove’s grumpiness. They violate the neighborhood association’s rules (rules which Ove monitors like a hawk), continuously ask him for help when help is the least likely thing Ove wants to provide, disrupt his peace, and make general conversation in neighborly fashion. More strangely, their children have latched on to Ove, seeing him in a grandfatherly light.
Each time Ove tries to off himself, it seems that Parvaneh is there to stop him. She drives him crazy but at the same time, she gets him to care about his neighbors – even care about a mangy old cat who’s been hanging around his cottage.
Through flashbacks we learn about Ove’s childhood, how his moral code developed, his loving relationship with his wife, and a tragic accident that pushed Ove into isolation. We also learn about his obsession with Saab, his long-standing feud with a neighbor, and his disdain for bureaucrats. When the bureaucratic “white shirts” come for his neighbor, the one he has quarreled with for a quarter of a century, Ove uses his newly revived neighborhood connections to right some wrongs and save his old friend.
Ove’s love for his wife provided a rare glimpse into Ove’s compassion. It was a side of him that no one else saw. The two seemed to be polar opposites, but they paired well.
“He was a man of black and white.
And she was color. All the color he had.”
A Man Called Ove is just as hilarious as it is emotionally moving. It sweeps the reader away in a tidal wave of varying emotion, all with a smile. I recommend this one to everyone I know, especially the grumpy old people in my life.