Voted Best Debut of 2014 by BookBrowse's Members
Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is a miraculous gem with heart and substance and a new favorite that will warrant frequent re-reading. The author is a well-liked Swedish columnist, who introduced the irascible 59 year-old curmudgeon Ove (pronounced ooveh) on his blog. The English language version of the bestseller is adeptly translated by Swedish novelist, screenwriter and editor Henning Koch.
Ove is the cranky neighbor or co-worker most strive to avoid. Bereft of conventional niceties, blunt to the point of being insulting, he habitually bestows disparaging nicknames on people he encounters. Perpetually irritable, swift to take offence and frequently simmering with anger, he has neither family nor friends.
Ove has been ousted from leadership of the Neighborhood Homeowner's Association because of his exasperating inflexibility. He thrives on rigid adherence to rules and established routines. His home is immaculate, as well maintained as his much-loved Saab.
Our hero is honest, forthright, capable, more comfortable with engines than people and desperately lonely. He does not like change. Suddenly in late middle-age, Ove experiences two profoundly unsettling, devastating life changes: the death of his beloved spouse and enforced, unwelcome, early retirement. He loses his center and his reason for living. The cumulative effect of these events has kicked the stuffing out of him. Whatever vestige of optimism existed in him is long gone. Ove's world was clear-cut, black and white. His wife Sonja "was color. All the color he had."
Noise and chaos erupt when new neighbors move in. Parvaneh, a 30 year-old Iranian immigrant, her Swedish husband, Patrick, and their two children, arrive in the nick of time to restore color and purpose to Ove's life.
Each chapter of this finely crafted novel reveals contained memories and significant events that shaped Ove. They unfold to show tragedies and personal sorrows that embittered him and a stoic resiliency and acceptance that enabled him to cope. The personal details of his biography emerge as new characters are introduced and the storyline progresses. A Man Called Ove addresses serious universal themes of loss, loneliness, feelings of worthlessness, aging, ill health and isolation. It is an inspiring affirmation of love for life and acceptance of people for their essence and individual quirks.
A Man Called Ove is a perfect selection for book clubs. It's well written and replete with universal concerns. It lacks violence and profanity, is life-affirming and relationship-driven. The book is bittersweet, tender, often wickedly humorous and almost certain to elicit tears. I contentedly wept my way through a box of tissues when I first read the novel and again when I savored it for a second time. Everyone should be blessed with an Ove in their lives crusty, shy, large-hearted men who grumble yet always support you. My late father fit this profile, as does my sweet husband who peered over his reading glasses to inquire, "Are you all right?" as I read this special book.
This review was originally published in July 2014, and has been updated for the July 2014 edition. Click here to go to this issue.
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