Book Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I’ve had this book on my suggested reading list for a very long time but only finally got around to reading it. Well, listening to most of it, but consuming it nonetheless.

It’s been a long time since I laughed and cried at the same book, much less every few pages by turns. I loved the heartwarming story, the quirky phrasing, and the author’s uncanny ability to make it feel good to be sad.

Ove (Pronounced Oo-va) is an old Swede living in a row house by himself. His wife is gone, his life is gone, and he’d like to die so he can join her in the afterlife. It’s not happening on its own so he decides to take matters into his own hands. Thus follows the story of Ove, constantly thwarted in his suicide attempts, partly by his hilarious, loving, incompetent neighbors, but mostly because people keep doing things wrong and he has to stay long enough to do them right.

The story is told partly in the present and partly as flashbacks, each bit of the past filling in a bit about Ove, why he is who he is, why he does what he does. I know a lot of men and almost all of them have a bit of Ove in them. He cannot fathom why his beautiful, cheerful wife loves him but he accepts her bad taste in men because he adores her and as long as she’s happy… His father taught him to be good, to do good, and he takes it upon himself to enforce good on his tiny community. He hates smug authority figures, cats, people who can’t drive, and all cars not made by SAAB.

The author does an excellent job of showing us Ove’s way of seeing the world in the context of innocently loving friends. It’s what made me laugh so often: the irony of this grumpy, gruff old man’s crankiness, surrounded by good hearted people. That I, the reader, get to see where he’s not exactly wrong, just misunderstanding makes me feel like I’m in on a big, warm, fuzzy joke that ends with love and happiness.

Ove’s predicament made me think of the men in my life. Research supports the idea that women who survive their husbands live longer after his death than men who survive their wives do after hers. Men so often rely on women to provide social support, love, touch, human connection; when that goes it’s simply too easy to lose the desire to live and with that, the vital spark that keeps us fighting. I wonder what I can do to help prepare the men I know for a day when work and wife, those two motivating forces, go away. Hopefully that’s a long way off, but it did make me think.

And of course, I love the two inspiring women who play primary supporting roles, one in the past and one in the present. Sonja, the charming young woman, the teacher, who lets nothing take her joy, who needs Ove as much as he needs her, his wife. There’s something beautiful in sharing joy with people who need order and I identify with her efforts to do that for Ove.. Parvenah, the fierce neighbor woman who relentlessly drags him into the present and gives him something to live for, whether he likes it or not. The woman who knows what she needs, who can give it to her, and gives love and delicious Iranian food in return. The actress they chose to play her in the film has the widest, most beautiful smile I think I’ve ever seen and it’s perfect.

When I listen to a book on audio tape, it’s a different experience. It takes much longer, for one, and I notice details more. This means if I start to not like a book I’m listening to, I end up really, really not liking it. There’s no skipping ahead or speed reading past annoying bits. It also means that when I find a book I like, listening to it makes the experience that much better. I adored A Man Called Ove. It made me laugh and cry, I can’t wait to give it to everyone I know, and I am very glad I listened to it instead of reading it because I loved the story that much more.

As an added bonus: If you’re really not a reader but someone in your life is, get them the book and then watch the movie together! Currently there’s a Swedish version with subtitles but in a few years there will be an English version starring Tom Hanks, apparently, so you’ve got options.

2 Replies to “Book Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman”

    1. I saw it, loved it, and recommended it to all the friends and family who don’t read much. Apparently there will soon be an American version starring Tom Hanks but we shall see how true that proves. Thank you.

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