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Tuesday, May 23, 2017


Traveling with a good book is akin to having another companion, and Fredrik Backman’s strong  novel, A Man Called Ove, is just the kind of traveling companion you look for.

While his story makes a wonderful companion, Ove, the 59 year old we meet as he vents at a salesman trying to explain to him what an iPad is, would not be the kind of man you’d normally seek as a travel partner.  He has no faith in technology and no respect for salesmen who try to explain it to him.  He’s a cranky guy, set in his ways, disliked and avoided by most, and thoroughly convinced that his way is the only way.

So what makes Ove interesting?  We all think we know someone quite like him: older, basically intransigent, intolerant of others, longing for the past, etc. etc.  I, of course, do not find a 59 year old to be “old,” but that’s another story.  Ove’s familiarity is part of his appeal because we nod our heads and smirk as the author sardonically portrays him.  He’s humorous because he is essentially humorless.  But the more we get to know Ove, the less we smirk at his bungling attempts, his unfailing but failing resistance to the growing interaction with his very persistent and very pregnant new neighbor, and his reliance on a very real guardian angel whose approval he seeks even as he deeply sighs at what she prompts him to do.  There are a lot of tears, often unexpected, that go along with our smirks at his quirky behavior. 

Why the tears, you may ask.  Behind every person’s current story is a back story.  It is important to know Ove’s, and as a reader, you might begin to hope for a long flight or a rainy day where you stay indoors.  You will want to read about a man called Ove to find out what makes him tick.

Backman’s writing is direct and deceptively simple.  A chapter entitled “A Man Called Ove Backs Up with a Trailer,” for instance, becomes an introduction to a host of characters, each nicknamed by Ove according to physical appearance. He practically becomes unhinged for his neighbor's breaking the (Ove’s) rules, for driving ineptitude, and for what he considers his basic lack of respect.  Of course, it’s also humorous as Ove tries to drive their car with all the modern bells and whistles, reacting peculiarly to backup warning sounds and other new-fangled unnecessaries in modern vehicles.

Backman makes sure that just as the reader begins to feel dead set against Ove, he releases a bit of information, injects some humor, and makes sure we want to see what happens next. He brings our rolling boil back down to a curious simmer.  

As we learn more about Ove, we begin to envision a very different man from the 59 year old we’ve just met.  It reminds us not to judge because we never really know how deep the roots are and where they are gnarled and twisted. 

A Man Called Ove examines some deeper questions as well.  What makes a person heroic?  What are worthwhile values by which one lives life?  What makes one truly happy?  Do we always know our true worth in the world?  Are we ever too old to stop growing?  Is happiness out there if we just look for it and reach out?

In many ways, these questions are answered, and as they are, along with the smiles at the humor, and the interesting encounters and revelations, the reader is moved to tears over and over again.  Those tears are not always from sadness.

It’s a complex book.  It’s an interesting book.  It’s a thoroughly enjoyable book.  Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove is definitely a worthwhile travel companion.

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