Everyone is familiar with the ads that these days populate nine out of ten pages on the Internet, popping up and jiggling or blinking, sometimes expanding to overlay the entire page and drive you mad. Last week I came upon a book advertised in one of these pop-ups and while most times I want to scream, in this case something made me click on the ad. It turned out to be the most satisfying page link of the month, introducing me to a book by Swedish writer Fredrik Backman titled A Man Called Ove. Backman is a blogger and journalist who published this first book in 2012. An English translation followed in 2013 and the cover of the book now boasts translations into twenty-five languages. A stage version of the book opened in January 2015 in Stockholm and a film was released in December of the same year. Backman has published two additional novels since A Man Called Ove.
The main character of A Man Called Ove is a 59 year-old extra salty curmudgeon, a crusty Jack Nicholson type of cantankerous and antisocial old bulldog with little patience for the ways of others, especially his neighbors. And then one day a boisterous new family moves in next door, an Iranian woman named Parvaneh with her Swedish husband and two girls. It is a hard road at first but the feisty and undeterred Parvaneh eventually succeeds in making Ove a friend and with her “interference” in his life opens him up to expose a heart we never suspected.
Ove (o-veh) is a man who views life in a black or white, right or wrong framework. He has unwavering principles, strict routines, and a hair trigger when it comes to other people. He dislikes most of the people in his neighborhood and is often ‘the neighbor from hell.’ He is annoyed by computers, iPads and cell phones and disparages anyone who can’t repair his own car or broken radiator. But there’s always a backstory and behind the crabby exterior is a very human story of fortitude, loneliness and loss. One day Parvaneh and her family move in next door—and accidentally crumple Ove’s mailbox with their trailer. This provides the doorway into a comic and touching story of unexpected friendship, one that shakes a cranky old man and the neighborhood residents right down to the roots.
Ove’s wife Sonia was the person who brought color to his world but Sonia died four years ago and all that color has drained away. She was the love of his life and her absence, along with his forced retirement has Ove making plans to join Sonia by way of a noose. The only problem is every time he’s on the verge of making it happen someone knocks on the door. Backman has created a marvelous cast of diverse characters to surround Ove, and while none of them is invited they one by one weave themselves into his life. The book is easy to read, filled with colorful characters and funny from start to finish. What surprises most is that under the rough exterior, Ove has unexpected understanding and acceptance of those with marginal or alternate lifestyles. We see this part of his character in his treatment of the heavyweight Jimmy, bad boy Adrian and gay Mirsad.
If you’re looking to be charmed, A Man Called Ove is the perfect book, and one that offers a thoughtful reflection of love and loss and the profound impact one life can have on others. The bonus is that it comes with a big dose of laughter.