BOOKS: A Man Called Ove

 An engaging read. Light, lively, and entertaining. 

Truly, a must read if you smile about life!

by
Fredrik Backman

Perhaps the long wintry nights in Sweden drives writers into their composition caves, their literary lairs, their pen dens. Whatever it is, the long Swedish nights, the cold northern climes polarizing Swedes into their antisocial warrens like Inuit hermits or the recognition that Nordic societies by their very nature condition some of their citizenry into becoming writing recluses, refugees in their own literary isolation. Who knows? But Sweden has an inordinate number of writers who have successfully scaled North America’s bestseller lists.

Prerequisites for a reader of Ove
This book is written for readers of a certain ilk: its readers should eschew science fiction rocketing away into interplanetary galaxies in the far off future; its readers should shun romances overflowing with adorable stories of budding emotion filled relationships; they avoid courtroom dramas and stories with a judicial bent as written by the likes of John Grisham or the medical exposes with their related scientific tours as penned by Robbin Cooke.

The criteria needed to be an Ove reader
One has to have lived a life of many experiences, a full chronology of events as lived by most people labeled as seniors. Only a person who has had a long term relationship or knows of one first hand can appreciate and empathize with the book’s protagonist, Ove. Only a pet lover can relate to the bedraggled cat that adopts Ove in the story.

Ove is a sexagenarian retired from his long time work as a mechanic for a train company like Bombardier here in Canada. He is demoted because of age, because he works too slowly as assessed by company bean counters who evaluate his task completion rate as being too slow. The company’s profit margins must prevail! But he has been a stalwart, a devoted and productive employee for so long, ingratiating himself to so many company executives with personal repair work that they feel indebted to him and cannot eject him into complete and official retirement without feeling like they are wronging him greatly. Thus, he continues working for the company. However, in a lower level job, a train carriage janitor. The stoic carries on without a whimper of complaint.

As a young man, his life’s love crosses his path. They are night and day, polar opposites, in personality, emotions and thinking. Their marriage lasts forty years until a series of incidents ends with his beloved Sonja’s death. Ove’s depression progressively degenerates to the point where he plans suicide, “to join his beloved Sonja in heaven.” His suicide strategies fail, one after the other after the other. For a man who can repair almost any machine, from his beloved Saabs to radiators in neighbours’ homes in his subdivision, to restaurant ceiling fans seemingly so outdated they cannot be repaired. Ove repairs all, the “mechanical Midas of his Sweden.”

Next criteria: a person of empathy
If tear jerker movies cannot squeeze a tear from your eye, if you cannot be edged to your seat by the excitement of a Harry Potter movie or a Raiders of the Lost Ark one, if your heart isn’t emotionally moved by It’s A Wonderful Life or Gone With the Wind, then you shouldn’t read this book. It’s not for you! It won’t turn your crank! It may bore you. It may leave you feeling manipulated and managed.

Next criteria: a person of sensitivity
If you aren’t an emotional person, one who can laugh easily, cry reluctantly, ache when offended, pain when insulted, then this isn’t your kind of book. If you don’t feel for others with your heart, if you don’t feel for their losses or when they have been transgressed, then you shouldn’t read this book.

So, who should read this book
This book is for people who feel life as they live it. For people who look at others with an emotional eye, one with feeling. If you can laugh when you see a child at play, if you can smile when you see an old couple walking hand in hand down a city sidewalk, if you feel warm and wanted when seeing a mother cuddling her infant, then this book is for you.

A person with empathy, sensitivity, and appreciation for life everywhere will enjoy this book tremendously.

Ove, our hero, is in a very sad situation in his life, one which he wants to escape. The widower longs for his wife very badly, and feels his only recourse for possibly seeing her again is by joining her in the hereafter. So he contemplates suicide, repeatedly but each attempt fails to the relief and satisfaction of the reader. The author’s engaging narrative continuously draws the reader into the next chapter without analysis of Ove’s emotional state. You sympathize, you empathize, you never rationalize or justify. You simply are drawn into the story progressively and completely.

The last word
It’s a good book, well written, polished, current with up to date idiomatic colloquialisms that make it even more readable, albeit, expressions apropos to Scandinavians rather than North Americans. The story is an emotionally engaging one evoking the gamut of feelings in a sensitive reader. You feel badly for Ove. You laugh at his encounters. If you’re an old grump yourself, you can relate to how he interacts with people, neighbours, bureaucrats. You cheer his successes with machinery and construction as he helps others. And you admire his integrity and principles by which he stands stalwartly and steadfastly.

In short, this is, as they say, “a good read!”

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