Book Review: A Man Called Ove

Ove visiting Sonja’s grave with pink flowers

Ove is a bitter, grumpy, old Swedish curmudgeon consumed with grief over the passing of his beloved, cherished wife Sonja.  He lived his life in black and white; she was filled with color.  He brought her pink flowers on their first date and every week to her grave.  Sonja’s death from cancer leaves him struggling to survive torrential waves of grief.

A Man Called Ove was Fredrik Backman’s first novel.  It is about overcoming all-consuming grief and being coaxed into joining the living by those who love us and are still here.  I loved it.  I laughed.  I cried.  And, I couldn’t remember who recommended the book to me.

Ironically, I had discovered it while I was processing my own profound grief over the passing of my dear friend Kiwi Mary of World’s Best Book Club fame.  The WBBC had read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.  It was one of our favorite WBBC selections.  The book became a Swedish movie, and Tom Hanks will play the title character in the American version.

Rolf LassgŒrd plays the title character in A Man Called Ove in the Swedish movie version.

It wasn’t as if Ove also died
when Sonja left him.
He just stopped living.
– Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove

When Patrick and his pregnant wife Parvaneh back their U-Haul trailer into Ove’s house, he doesn’t realize the trajectory of his life is about to change.  Parvaneh and their daughters irritate the shit out of Ove.  Yet, their unconditional, enthusiastic love is exactly what he needs.

Ove’s cat

Parvaneh manipulates him into adopting the neighborhood stray cat.  She needles him into getting involved in the adventures of the neighbors.  She bullies him into reading stories to her daughters.  She nags him into teaching her how to drive.  Mostly, she reminds him of his beloved Sonja.  She brings the color back into his black and white world.

Fredrik Backman
Photo credit: New York Times

The tide begins to change after a conversation between Parvaneh and a defeated Ove about a neighbor’s fight with the city council.  Ove bobs to the surface with the will to fight another day and sail on with his life:

[The bureaucrats] always come back.  Just like they did with Sonja.  Like they always do.  With their clauses and documents.  Men in white shirts always win.  And men like Ove always lose people like Sonja.  And nothing can bring her back to him.

In the end, there is nothing left but a long series of weekdays with nothing more meaningful than oiling the kitchen counters.  And Ove can’t cope with it anymore.  He feels it in that moment more clearly than ever.  He can’t fight anymore.  Doesn’t want to fight anymore.  Just wants it to stop. . .

And then Ove starts to cry.

Melinda Gates is correct.  We have to accept our pain.  We don’t have to like it, but we must accept it.  Or, it will do us in.

Kiwi Mary in 2013

The people we have loved and lost want us to celebrate their lives by sharing the love in our hearts with those who are still here.  I will always miss you, Kiwi Mary, and I want to thank you for nudging me toward this book.  You always knew how to pick the best ones, eh?  This one got made into two movies!


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