A Man Called Ove: A Book I Recommend

by

Swedish author Fredrik Backman has written a wonderful book in A Man Called Ove. I read it as I was preparing to travel to Sweden in June with my wife Bernie. These past two weeks I’ve been reading it again, this time aloud to Bernie, who is learning to deal with macular degeneration and cannot read as easily as she once could. I’m enjoying it the second time around as much as the first, maybe more.

Many readers will be taken with the way Backman develops the character of Ove, using almost no adjectives to describe him. He simply tells little stories about how Ove acts and the things he says. Ove is, simply put, a classic curmudgeon.

The novel unfolds slowly, moving back and forth in time, giving you a glimpse of what he was like at younger ages as well. At every turn the story the author tells is a unique and memorable combination of humor and pathos.

I’m recommending A Man Called Ove here for a different reason, however. In addition to whatever else it does, this book leads the reader to an understanding of grief—particularly a stereotypical masculine style of grieving—that is expertly portrayed. Yet it also lays out, side by side, another style of grieving that is often displayed by the female characters in the book. Fredrick Backman helps us understand the validity of both styles, different as they are.

It would be a shame to give away Ove’s story here, so I won’t. That means that I also cannot give away how he deals with his grief, sometimes without much thought, and sometimes after serious examination.

Experiences of loss visit much of Ove’s life and help make him who he becomes as he ages. And one massive grief later in his life becomes an avenue that leads him—ever so slowly and unexpectedly—toward the possibility of healing.

Read how Ove responds to early losses and you’ll see how patterns develop in his life. Read how he adjusts, or doesn’t adjust, to changing life situations and you may recognize how you and others around you do the same. Read how he attempts to live in a way that honors what he has been taught by his own parents, compared to how he sees his wife live her own life. Read how he daily copes with his massive loss and you’ll see a certain heroism in his ways.

The book has its dark moments—what story about serious loss does not? You may not always like how Ove behaves. Yet I believe you’ll gain an appreciation for this honest, intelligent, validating portrayal of human grief that will in time lift you as well as inform you.

I can’t help but believe that A Man Called Ove will prove in time to be a valuable book for understanding and appreciating the purpose and possibilities of grief, in its many different expressions. Read it and see how your way of grieving is represented by the various characters. Listen to others and see what you can learn from them too.

And then go out and live.

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