Reviewed by Kristy Dolson
Hurray for the holidays. It is a time for peace, love, and joy to all. Unless you’re a holiday-hating curmudgeon. But who among us doesn’t love the literary Christmas curmudgeon? From Scrooge to the Grinch, many classic Christmas stories have delighted us with the saintly transformations of these miserly, miserable individuals into caring souls and community leaders. Allow me to introduce you to a new one: Ove.
Ove Lindahl is the main protagonist of Fredrik Backman’s debut novel A Man Called Ove. Although it is not a Christmas story, it is definitely a transformative one. I started reading this book as one person on Monday, and I finished it as a different person on Tuesday. This is one of those books that will make you reflect deeply on life and stay with you for a very long time.
The novel takes place in modern-day Sweden and follows the daily life of Ove, an old man who never was any good at relating to others. After being forced into retirement, he decides to end his life. However, each of his attempts are thwarted by his overbearing neighbors who begin badgering him back into leadership as they band together to save their community from the interference of outside forces. Just when he thought all the love and purpose had gone out of his life, he finds both in the most unexpected places.
The author, Fredrik Backman, has a way with words and a distinct way of writing that is a rare treat. Sweden is known for its noir fiction, and while this novel has a definite Scandinavian flavor, it is more whimsical, oddball, and humorous. Backman writes the world and supporting characters from Ove’s point of view in third-person limited. It’s a pleasure to see the world through the eyes of this grumpy old man in this funny and gripping page-turner. And Backman effortlessly takes the reader between the past and present, seamlessly revealing Ove’s hidden sorrows as we get to know him.
I must point out that this book was translated into English from the original Swedish. The translation lovingly preserves Backman’s magical style, but there are some terms or expressions that could leave a non-Swedish reader confused, and sometimes the dialogue can seem a bit clunky. However, these occasional bumps do not take away from the novel’s overall charm.
This is the universal story of a man rediscovering his place in an ever-changing world. Just as Scrooge and the Grinch do in their respective stories, Ove comes to appreciate the needs of others and to share in their joys. And that is something we should all remember to do, both during the holidays and all year long. I highly recommend this book and predict that it will enjoy the status of “a classic.” Perfect for book clubs.
Happy holidays and happy reading!
Kristy Dolson lived in South Korea for five years before taking a year off to travel, read, and spend time with her family in Canada and Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Education and has just returned to Gwangju where she splits her time between teaching Korean teachers at JETI and reading as much as she can. (Photo by Lisa Crone)