Book Reviews, Books, Pop Culture

Why reading ‘A Man Called Ove’ can change how you see the people you don’t like

This book shatters the idea that you can understand a person from outward appearances.

Fredrik Backman’s debut novel A Man Called Ove (2012) was my first pick from The Tempest Reading Challenge 2019, and it was definitely a good book to start off with.

This book, written in Swedish, was selected for the category of ‘a book that was originally in another language’. In a Goodreads interview Backman says he doesn’t like to interfere with too much with his translator’s work . I have to say I felt that the book wasn’t lost in translation. I came out of this experience a very happy customer.

This book is about Ove, who is the classic definition of a grumpy old man. Ove is a total stickler for rules and guidelines and believes everyone else should strictly adhere to them too. Which is why he believes he’s surrounded by idiots. For all appearances, Ove is the neighborhood curmudgeon who will go out of his way to set others straight. However, as the story unfolds, readers discover there is much more to him than meets the eye.

This book shatters the idea that you can understand a person from outward appearances. As difficult a character as Ove tried to be, I would be very surprised if readers didn’t fall in love with him by the time the story ends.

This book had the ability to make me laugh and, within the same chapter, make me sad. I sympathized with Ove, (and not just because I already feel like an old man at the age of 28).

A Man Called Ove has some hilarious scenarios, brought about by how the sometimes interfering and eagerly friendly neighbors contrasted with Ove’s strict demeanor and his unwillingness to socialize. Ove’s lonely lifestyle starts to crumble with the introduction of his new neighbors, a happy outgoing family that refuses to be put off by his attitude and despite his best efforts, wants to bond with him.

The story also deals with its fair share of sadness. It deals with loss, illness, unfairness, and loneliness. And in the midst of it all, a man who has lost the will to keep living and wants to end his life. I am not the kind of person who cries when reading, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t get overwhelmed with feelings at certain points in the book.

One of the beautiful facets to the writing was how Backman made a character that wasn’t there, Ove’s deceased wife Sonja, be a constant in the story. From the way Ove could imagine what she would say about a situation, to his conversations with her whenever he went to her grave, to the way her presence was still felt around the house. It was a great example of how to keep a character in the story without them actually being in the story.

Read this book if:

You want to read something that isn’t heavy but still holds depth. If you want to or would like to see people from a new perspective. Especially those individuals that people have a tendency to dislike by prejudice. Read this book if you feel like there’s still hope for everyone to learn to love again.

What this book would taste like:

Digestive biscuits. The original ones. Turns out to be a lot sweeter than you expect.

Notable quotes:

  1. “And then they both stand there, a fifty-nine-year-old and the teenager, a few yards apart, kicking at the snow. As if they were kicking a memory back and forth, a memory of a woman who insisted on seeing more potential in certain men than they saw in themselves.” (page 227)
  2. “One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead.” (page 325)
  3. “People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.” (page. 45)
  4. “Ove had never been asked how he lived before he met her. But if anyone had asked him, he would have answered that he didn’t.” (page 131)
  5. “We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and we stand there holding on to words like “if”.” (page 282)

Bonus points for:

  1. The beautifully written chapter that outlines how the cars two men choose to buy symbolize the stages of their life and the breaking apart of their friendship.
  2. The writer’s colorful ways of describing  Ove looking at things and people:
  • Ove gives the box a skeptical glance, as if it’s a highly dubious sort of box, a box that rides a scooter and wears tracksuit pants and just called Ove “my friend” before offering to sell him a watch.
  • Ove looks at the book more or less as if it just sent him a chain letter insisting that the book was really a Nigerian prince who had a “very lucrative investment opportunity” for Ove and now only needed Ove’s account number “to sort something out.”
  • Ove looks at him a little as if Mirsad had stopped him in a pedestrian arcade, dressed up as a pirate, and asked him to guess under which of the three teacups he’s hidden a silver coin.

I don’t often finish a book and say I have no complaints. But in this case, I really don’t. This book was also adapted into a movie in 2015, and while I’m afraid of ruining the perfect experience of the read, I love these characters enough to definitely give it that a shot.

My rating:  4 out of 5 stars.

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