The Lamentations of an Old Man
Our lives are abound with curmudgeon individuals who we cross paths with on a daily basis. Their sourpuss faces leave an impression on us – the down curving smile, the strong features of the face, and the glare. But beyond their seemingly intimidating veneer are deep stories, stories that are, unbeknownst to most, are chiseled on their bodies, and foremost, on their faces. The strong features of their faces scream tales that if only we would care to understand, would change our prejudices towards them.
Our prejudices towards our fellows were flawlessly captured by Swedish writer, Fredrik Backman, in his debut novel, A Man Called Ove. The titular Ove started lives a seemingly hermetical existence after the passing of his wife Sonja. He lives in a community that is teeming with life but yet, he remains an enigma to most of his neighbors. He is nearly 60-years of age, his strong facial features don’t attract the warmest of reception.
These impressionable facial features, however, belie a personal story. Behind his reclusive attitude is a story of heartbreaks, struggles, trials and tribulations. His stable and reclusive existence is going to be unsettled by the raucous entry of a new set of neighbors – IT Consultant Patrick, his pregnant wife, Parvaneh and their two daughters. His impenetrable core started to soften as Ove’s life is slowly being sewn together with his new neighbors.
“People in the real world always say, when something terrible happens, that the sadness and loss and aching pain of the heart will “lessen as time passes,” but it isn’t true. Sorrow and loss are constant, but if we all had to go through our whole lives carrying them the whole time, we wouldn’t be able to stand it. The sadness would paralyze us. So in the end we just pack it into bags and find somewhere to leave it.” ~ Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove
A Man Called Ove is an interesting read which features a deep and fascinating character in the person of Ove. A character-driven story, this narrative is about prejudices towards other people. Let’s admit it, it is human nature to develop unfavorable views on people with dour faces, people with strong and intimidating features. Because of this, we go all out to avoid crossing paths with them. Prejudices are, inevitably, part of social interaction and development. It is these prejudices that rivets the reader into the whirlpool of Ove’s story.
Ove’s story is more than just a whirlpool that sucks the reader in. Touted by his neighbors and social workers as “the bitter neighbor from hell”, Ove is driven by his staunch and strict principles. He is outspoken and he is quick to point a finger to people he dislikes as if they were robbers who were caught red-handed. People who violate simple rules makes his blood curdle. Yes, Ove is the quintessence of a cranky old man we all wouldn’t to encounter in our daily lives.
To give a deeper insight into Ove’s story, the plot moves back and forth between the past and the present. Behind the veneer bereft of smile and joy is a sad story of a man. At a young age, he was orphaned and had to learn how to survive all by himself. His life turned around when he met Sonja, the first character who would rouse his interest and alter the complexion of his life. Ove’s backstory gave the story an interesting texture that helps understand why Ove acts the way he does.
As one turns the pages, Ove started making sense. From an unlikable curmudgeon of a figure, he slowly started turning into a relatable man, the victim of prejudice. But Ove was never bothered by these prejudices because he lived and keeps on living an honest life. He lives his life the best way he know how. To any honest person, that is enough. Ove is the representation of a ubiquitous mantra – no matter what I do, people will talk so I will live my life the way I want it to as long as I am not hurting others or breaking any law.
“And time is a curious thing. Most of us only live for the time that lies right ahead of us. A few days, weeks, years. 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. And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for. Memories, perhaps.” ~ Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove
Beyond the facade of an angry old man next door, A Man Called Ove is a meaningful and thoughtful exploration of the impact one person creates on the lives of others. Underneath the veneer, Ove possesses a heart of gold that is always willing to help others without asking anything in return. Through his debut work, Backman is coaxing everyone to take a hard look at the way they see the person next to them; each one has a story to tell.
There was an undertone of an old adage murmuring underneath the surface – that it takes a village to raise a child. Ove and Sonja’s love story was a luminous part of the story. A Man Called Ove is a generally light read but it also has heavier and darker undertones subtly hidden underneath its heartwarming tale. Backman ingeniously incorporated the context of depression and suicide into his prose. It wasn’t overwhelming but it was depicted enough not to escape one’s attention.
What made the story work is Backman’s straightforward storytelling. He didn’t make the story wander by taking a dive into the fanciful. He employed the basic Swedish humor and wit to make Ove’s story come alive. Backman was cognizant that a good story need not be complicated, doing more than just enough to capture the reader’s attention with a profound story that can make you laugh hard, while the same time pluck the proverbial strings of your heart.
In A Man Called Ove, Backman also showcased his uncanny ability of depicting daily activities. Most of the scenes in the prose captured ordinary scenes in our lives which we normally ignore. However, the story was hardly boring nor was it overwhelming. To compliment the story, he drew an interesting mix of characters. Through them, Ove further developed into a better character, and through Ove, they also became better members of the community. Ove’s crazy antics and outlandish conversations also enriched the tapestry of the story.
“All people at root are time optimists. We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.” ~ Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove
Everything was well done – the story and the writing were simple but with the perfect mix of comical and serious textures. Ove’s story paints a wide smile on anyone’s face. But as heartwarming as it is, it is also heartbreaking. A Man Called Ove is, undoubtedly, a memorable and remarkable read. Backman’s wrote a wonderful and heartwarming story that coaxes us to cherish everything in our lives, even the smallest things in life. It also reminds us that our small acts of kindness never goes unpaid.
Characters (30%) – 27%
Plot (30%) – 30%
Writing (25%) – 23%
Overall Impact (15%) – 14%
Back when Swedish writer Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove was making the literary rounds, I was one of those who were ambivalent, averse from what it has in store. Even though I kept encountering the book in the local bookstore, I wasn’t too keen on picking it up. Everything changed after seeing a member of a popular KPop group bring out a copy of the book from his backpack. This was followed by several positive feedback from fellow book bloggers which also helped change my opinion of the book. I am thankful to them because all my prejudices towards the book were unfounded.
Backman gifted the world with a witty and humorous yet insightful read and I can’t wait to explore more of his works.
Author: Fredrik Backman
Translator: Henning Koch
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publishing Date: 2014
Number of Pages: 337
Genre: Domestic Fiction
All you need is Ove.
At first sight, Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet, a curmudgeon with staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People think him bitter, and he thinks himself surrounded by idiots.
Ove’s well-ordered, solitary world gets a shake-up one November morning with the appearance of new neighbors – a chatty young couple and their two boisterous daughters – who announce their arrival by accidentally flattening Ove’s mailbox with their U-Haul. What follows is a heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unlikely friendships, and a community’s unexpected reassessment of the one person they thought they had all figured out.
About the Author
(Photo from Goodreads) Fredrick Backman was born on June 2, 1981 Brännkyrka in Söderort, Sweden. He grew up in Helsingborg where he wrote for Helsingborgs Dagblad and Moore Magazine. He debuted as a novelist in 2012 with the publication of En man som heter Ove (English translation, A Man Called Ove, 2013). Its success inspired a movie adaptation in Backman’s native Sweden. It is also adapted for American movie production.
His other works include Min mormor hälsar och säger förlåt (2013; English translation My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, 2015), Britt-Marie var här (2014; English translation Britt-Marie Was Here, 2016), Beartown (2017), and Us Against You (2018). He has also published two novellas and two nonfiction books. Folk med ångest his latest work, was published in 2019; its English translation, Anxious People, is for release later this year.
He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children.
Like you, I was slow to read this book, but after reading positive reviews from people I usually align with in my reading opinions, I decided to read it. It’s such an interesting, moving book. I loved reading your thoughts on it!
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Aw. Thank you for your kind words. It was a fine surprise. I’m glad you liked the book and this review 🙂
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