Appreciating the Kindness of Strangers in A Man Called Ove

“We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if'”

A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman

Sometimes, it can be difficult to prioritize reading, especially when life gets busy. In a world filled with so many distractions and easy forms of entertainment at our fingertips, I’ve learned it is sometimes best to put down the challenging classic in favor of a feel-good, contemporary novel. I recently experienced a reading rut and found my saving grace in A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. The novel follows the title character who is described as an old grump. Ove is retired and lives alone. He staunchly follows rules and frequently picks fights with those he believes are trying to rip him off. The arrival of a young family in his neighborhood initially frustrates him. All he wants is to be left in peace, but they constantly show up at the most inconvenient times asking for his help.

Though the novel isn’t jam-packed with action and drama, there is a lot of love. I appreciated that this story shows that love takes many forms. In the flashback chapters, we get to see a young Ove meet and fall in love with his wife, Sonja. These scenes are so sweet. I love that he is a really tough, hardened character to the rest of the world, but he is very sweet and docile around his wife. As he gets older, he closes himself off from love. By interspersing stories of Ove’s youth throughout the story you can really understand how life’s many tribulations hardened Ove, making him skeptical of a stranger’s kindness. Ove spent so much of his life keeping people at a distance, but his bothersome, new neighbors accept Ove for who he is. They reminded me of the importance of life’s many little disruptions.

Backman addresses the sobering reality for many senior citizens who feel like life has no purpose anymore. Ove embodies the plight of so many elderly people today. He experiences shame for being too old to work, depression, isolation, and loss. Within him, Ove has a great sense of justice and order, and a huge capacity for love which he tries to stifle in order to protect himself. He is a character that the reader may be surprised to root for. His growth shows that there is strength in being vulnerable with those you trust.

A Man Called Ove is a reminder that everyone has a chance at redemption no matter how late in life, and the grumpiest people often have the softest hearts. It is a simple book with a simple plot. I don’t say that as a criticism but as a compliment. I enjoyed Backman’s writing style, and the plot was easy to follow, making it a perfect read for my morning commute. The supporting characters, particularly Sonja and Parvaneh, added some much-needed vibrancy and levity to the story. Ove’s character development showed the power of genuine human connection. You will like this book if you enjoy the writing styles of authors such as David Levithan, Gail Honeyman, and John Green. I would recommend this book to anyone that could use a reminder that reading is supposed to make you feel good. That being said, if you are looking for the next great classic novel this book is absolutely not it! Still, it can be enjoyed for what it is. Reading A Man Called Ove was much like sipping a warm cup of tea; It is perhaps a little bitter on the first sip, but it mostly just makes you feel warm and cozy inside.

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