Monday, July 25, 2016

A Man Called Ove

As Shrek once wisely said (yes, I’m quoting a fictional green ogre), “ogres are like onions” in that they have layers. The main protagonist in A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman might not be green, smelly or live in a swamp, but he’s every bit the bad-tempered ogre at the book’s onset until the author slowly peels back the layers and reveals the incredible beating heart and inner beauty of this grumpy, complex, yet lovable hero.

From the publisher: “Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time? Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.”

A Man Called Ove was a charming, poignant, and moving tale that will definitely go on my list of favorite reads for the year. This feel-good story was the first novel from Swedish author Fredrik Backman, which along with his two newer books, has been translated into English for our reading pleasure; and what a pleasure it was. Long story short, this is a story of love in which the reader slowly learns of the past joys, heartaches and losses that shaped Ove’s life. It’s said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and Ove’s beauty, though at first hidden like the sun behind clouds, becomes blindingly apparent as no beauty shines brighter than that of a good heart.

As I’ve fessed up in the past, I’m a sucker for a good love story, and this one was a doozy. The author did such an amazing job in conveying the depth of Ove’s love for his wife Sonja, and in so doing equally conveyed the extent of Ove’s sense of loss. Ove and Sonja, two new names to add to the list of epic literary love stories, sharing the kind of love that forever separates your life into before and after he/she came into it. (“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.”). Alternating between past and present, the wonder of the tale is that love in all its power and beauty is found not only in Ove’s past, but also his present, and serves to save him yet again.

A Man Called Ove is a truly wonderful book that speaks to the healing power of love and friendship. A memorable story and character that will make you laugh, and harkening back to my onion analogy, make you shed more than a few tears.