A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

 

A Man Called Ove moved into a new neighborhood with his young wife. A man called Ove, though exceedingly competent in fixing things, engineering, building things, and choosing the perfect cars (Saab), was not socially-adept. A man called Ove was, in fact, a bit of a grump. Fredrik Backman’s charming novel A Man Called Ove invites us into house and car of Ove as he bumps and blusters along after losing his wife, Sonja.

Ove is 59 years old, a new widower and has just become redundant in his job. His one friend is also his primary enemy, chiefly because Ove drives Saabs and his friend, Rune, prefers Volvos. (“that time Rune drove a Volvo, but later he bought a BMW. You just couldn’t reason with a person who behaved like that.”) So Ove decides to make the obvious choice to kill himself. He puts on his best suit, gathers all the necessary papers in an envelope (bank statements, house mortgage, VCR instruction book), and installs a bolt in the ceiling from which to hang himself. All is set, he’s ready to go, until he notices a moving van backing down the pedestrian-only area of his street and crushing his mailbox. In Ove’s black and white world, even a suicide must be halted in order to deal with this high level of malfeasance.

“Ove stares silently at her for a few seconds. Then he turns to her husband, who’s just managed to extract himself from the Japanese car and is approaching them with two hands thrown expressively into the air and an apologetic smile plastered across his face. He’s wearing a knitted cardigan and his posture seems to indicate a very obvious calcium deficiency. He must be close to six and a half feet tall. Ove feels an instinctive skepticism towards all people taller than six feet; the blood can’t quite make it all the way up to the brain.”

A man called Ove has a great many opinions, all of which are perfectly correct and none of which have the slightest chance of being swayed by anyone else’s misguided disagreement. He is certain that his plan to kill himself is the correct action to take, it’s just that he can’t seem to find the right time, what with his mailbox being run over, the neighbor falling off a ladder, the boy needing to fix a bicycle, and the men in the white shirts spreading over the neighborhood like a plague, ignoring the no-driving signs.

Before Ove knows it, he’s teaching driving lessons to an overly-pregnant Iranian woman, has adopted a cat, and has become a safe place for an at-risk teen.  cat

The cat, incidentally, is one of my favorite parts of this completely enjoyable read. The cat’s interpretation of events and self-expression are a hoot and a half.

“Ove stomped forward. The cat stood up. Ove stopped. They stood there measuring up to each other for a few moments, like two potential troublemakers in a small-town bar. Ove considered throwing one of his clogs at it. The cat looked as if it regretted not bringing its own clogs to lob back.”

Simon & Schuster provides a reading group guide that includes questions for your book club. http://books.simonandschuster.com/A-Man-Called-Ove/Fredrik-Backman/9781476738024/reading_group_guide#rgg

A Man Called Ove was written in Swedish and has been translated for the English-language market. There’s also a Swedish film: I’ve found a link to the trailer for the film, which gives you some feel for the character, but no English subtitles. http://www.trevanner.se/se/film/en-man-som-heter-ove-2015/

saabIn the vein of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared, A Man Called Ove is an homage to a certain type of man who finds life changed, himself replaced, the world alien and doesn’t like it. Ove’s antics will charm you, make you laugh, and ultimately, shed a tear or two.

UPDATE: On September 30, 2016, the movie adaptation of A Man Called Ove will be in theaters. The film, in Swedish with English subtitles, has made the rounds of festivals and garnered several awards:

  • Winner – Audience Award, Best Actor (Rolf Lassgård), Best Make-Up (Love Larson & Eva Von Bahr) – Guldbagge Awards 2016
  • Opening Night Selection – Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival 2016
  • Closing Night Selection – Stony Brook Film Festival 2016
  • Official Selection – Seattle International Film Festival 2016
  • Swedish star Rolf Lassgård, whose performance won him the Best Actor award at the 2016 Seattle Int’l Film Festival

I can’t wait to see this film adaptation of the wonderful novel!

MENU

Ove’s favorite meal is meat, potatoes and gravy. This may indicate meatballs, but that’s not the translation. Ove drinks black coffee, percolated, no fancy espressos for him, and takes a very rare drink of whiskey. My meal would be based on one bestowed on Ove by neighbor Parvaneh: jasmine rice and chicken.

I found a delicious Persian Chicken and Rice recipe on the Honest & Tasty blog: http://honestandtasty.com/chicken-and-rice-morgh-polo/

Parvaneh also served birthday cake and cookies. My Persian Kitchen has a yummy recipe for Naan Gerdooee (walnut cookies). http://www.mypersiankitchen.com/naan-gerdooee-persian-walnut-cookie/

MUSIC

Ove dislikes that modern, pop music with its drum beats that sound to him like gun shots. He occasionally watches television but doesn’t seem to listen to a whole lot of music. Of course, the Kings and Queens of Swedish pop music are ABBA and much of their work has the sort of free-spirited, upbeat feel that would match well with the tone of A Man Called Ove. 

MOVIE

I’d love to be able to see this movie but it’s not on Netflix or Amazon Prime. http://variety.com/2016/film/festivals/a-man-called-ove-review-1201722435/

Happy Reading & Eating!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Edge of the Seat Algebra in Space: The Martian, by Andy Weir

the martian book

There’s life on Mars. But not the little green man or the Warner Brothers kind. This guy’s name is Mark Watney and NASA sent Marvin_the_Martianhim as part of a five-person mission, partly because he’s a botanist, partly because he’s a mechanical engineer and partly because he can weather intense situations with humor and cool decisiveness … and MATH. Reading Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, actually made me slightly regret that I didn’t understand the mathematical calculations and scientific wizardry that hero Watney utilized to stay alive after he was left for dead on the Red Planet.

This is a FANTASTIC book. And I have to give a huge shoutout to narrator R.C. Bray who mastered Watney’s humor, NASA’s stress, and every single accent (German, Indian, Chinese, Brooklyn) with skill.

I finished listening to it today and was literally on the edge of my seat during the last twenty minutes.  The book was originally self-published, and then purchased by Random House and re-published on February 11, 2014 and I suppose the movie rights were already sold because Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain and a full Milky Way or Hollywood stars have already made a film that will be released on October 2, 2015. Here’s a link to the trailer: https://youtu.be/Ue4PCI0NamI. It looks good, Mr. Damon. Looks good. And I have to say I’m glad your old buddy from Southie is nowhere to be found in the cast list.

Since I listened instead of read the novel, I can’t tell you how great the prose was or how majmath-namesestic the imagery. Frankly, I doubt that’s what Weir was going for. I can tell you the math was astounding and the plot left me anxious to return to my drive so I could find out how Watney was going to survive the: explosion, deflated habitat, sub-arctic cold, lack of food,
rover crash, sandstorm, explosion, build-up of CO2, loss of communication with earth, explosion . . . you get the idea. Lots of math. AND it’s fascinating. Don’t ask me how because other than one year on the Math Bowl team (which surprised no one more than me), I have no capacity for the subject.

Not only does he use math, he uses botany to transform 12 potatoes, sent by NASA so the original six astronauts of Watney’s mission could have a “real Thanksgiving meal,” into several thousand. He uses chemistry to turn his own urine into rocket fuel. He uses astronomy in the form of a 16th Century Sextant and observations of the Martian moon to establish longitude and latitude. This guy is a walking encyclopedia of stuff I did not learn in school. AND I LOVED IT.

The novel, now transformed into a movie starring none other than Matt Damon, began as a free, serialized story on computer programmer Weir’s own website. He could find neither a literary agent nor a publisher willing to invest in the novel. Not only that, but the Washington Post is giving Weir credit for saving none other than NASA itself.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/achenblog/wp/2015/05/05/andy-weir-and-his-book-the-martian-may-have-saved-nasa-and-the-entire-space-program/

nasa-logo-vector2

READ this book. And be prepared to spend a couple of days reading. Or listen to it. I’m very glad I did.

MENUspace food

We grew up eating “space food”sticks. Remember those? Sort of pre-Power Bar power bars. I found that you can still find these sticks in space museums. If that’s not practical, you can also order Astronaut Ice Cream from amazon. Both of these would be fabulously fun food to serve.

In the same vein, you could serve dehydrated apples or other fruit.

One item you will definitely want to serve is potatoes. Lots and lots of potatoes. Do a little Forrest Gump thing. Fry ’em, boil ’em, bake ’em, bake ’em twice, hash brown ’em, etc.

MUSIC

Rocket Man, Elton John

All by Myself, Eric Carmen

Staying Alive, The BeeGees

Space Oddity, David Bowie

Space Cowboy, Steve Miller Band

ABBA: The Album (Released 1975)

MOVIE CASTING

The movie has already been cast and though I’d quibble with one or two choices (Kate Mara I’m looking at you — does she look like a Johansson?), overall I like it.

Kate Mara Kate Mara
Beth Johanssen
Kristen Wiig Kristen Wiig
Annie Montrose
Jessica Chastain Jessica Chastain
Matt Damon Matt Damon
Sebastian Stan Sebastian Stan
Chris Beck
Sean Bean Sean Bean
Mitch Henderson
Chiwetel Ejiofor Chiwetel Ejiofor
Mackenzie Davis Mackenzie Davis
Jeff Daniels Jeff Daniels
Teddy Sanders
Michael Peña Michael Peña
Rick Martinez
Donald Glover Donald Glover
Aksel Hennie Aksel Hennie
Alex Vogel
Naomi Scott Naomi Scott
Ryoko
Sam Spruell Sam Spruell
NASA psychologist
Jonathan Aris Jonathan Aris
Brendan Hatch

HAPPY READING!

Making Art, Waging War: The Stockholm Octavo

theseeker

Emil Larsson has a problem. He needs a wife or he will lose his job as a sekretaire in 18th Century Stockholm; a job that has brought him a good income, legitimate and illegitimately taking bribes from the ships he inspects at night in the harbor of “The Town,” Gamla Stan.  To help him find an answer to this most pressing romantic problem, despite the upheaval of revolution in France that is spreading its message toward Sweden, he turns to his friend Mrs. Sparrow and her unique brand of fortune-telling:  The Octavo.

“I have come to believe that we are ruled by numbers, Mr. Larsson.  I believe that God is no father, but an infinite cipher and that is best expressed in the eight.  Eight is the ancient symbol of eternity.  Resting it is the sign that mathematicians call the lemniscate.  Raised upright it is man, destined to fall into infinity again.  There is a mathematical expression of this philosophy called the Divine Geometry.”

Emil begins his search for the eight who make up his Octavo, encountering a cross-dressing calligrapher, a French fan-making emigre, a runaway bride, and most fascinatingly, the Uzanne, a widowed baroness, fan collector, instructor of maidenly “arts” and defender of the aristocracy.  The Uzanne uses every means within the realm, and some that are not of an earthly nature, to enforce her dogmatic will.  Her favorite tool in waging her own war is a mysterious and beautiful fan called “Cassiopeia.” Oh, and magic.

turquoise_green_fan_png___updated_by_jssanda-d4snb1w

It the book sounds like an intriguing 18th Century mash-up of The DaVinci Code and The Witches of Eastwick, that’s what I thought too.  It is not.  Amid all the interesting references to card reading, the revolution in Europe, the mysteries of the Divine Eight, how to use a fan to cause men to pass out-do your bidding-fall madly in love in an instant, etc., I found the novel lost momentum about halfway through and became rather a chore to finish.  The elements of fascination were there, and I definitely would like to read more about fans.  But ultimately, Emil was not a protagonist that garnered my sympathy.  He was too foolish and easily swayed to root for him in his quest.  Mrs. Sparrow went AWOL for much of the novel.  And no other central character in Karen Engelmann’s novel proved particularly sympathetic

The much more interesting conflict, and one less focused, in this book:  against the backdrop of revolution and class warfare … and ultimately war, Emil’s friend calligrapher Fredrik Lind, the French fan-maker Christian Norden, and the Uzanne herself, attempt to preserve art in the face of war.  In The Stockholm Octavo, the artists are conquered by the magicians and warriors at least temporarily.

The Monuments Men explores a based-on-real-life story of another eight men tasked with saving art in a time of war.  George Clooney, who wrote the script with his buddy Grant Heslov, gives himself a wonderful monologue that is at the very crux of art and war.

“While we must and will win this war, we should also remember the high price that will be paid if the very foundation of modern society is destroyed.  They tells us no one cares about art.  But they’re wrong.  It is the exact reason that we’re fighting, for culture, for a way of life.  We are at a point in this war where that is the most dangerous to the greatest historical achievements known to man.  You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground, and somehow they’ll still find a way back.   But if you destroy their history, destroy their achievements, then it’s as if they never existed.  That’s what Hitler wants.  That is exactly what we’re fighting for.”

The Monuments Men save art in the lap of war.  The Uzanne plans to use art to make war.  Why wage war if not to save art?  Perhaps the answer is written only in the night sky.Cassiopeia

If you decide to choose “The Stockholm Octavo,” for your book club, I offer a delightful recipe from my grandmother’s recipe box, written in her own hand.  It’s a meatball soup, chosen by me due to the Swedish meatball refrain that has run continuously through my mind.  I would serve this with wine, lots of wine in the book, and make sugar cookies in the shape of fans for dessert.  A lovely soundtrack for your evening would be George Winston’s Winter into Spring c.d. (1982).  Of course, if you want to be tongue-in-cheek and/or prior to discussion, ABBA would be fun!

Meatball Soup

Cover several beef bones with 3 quarts water, bring to boil, simmer 4 hours.  Strain, chill and skim off fat.  Add to broth, 1/2 cup diced carrots, 1/2 cup thin sliced onions, 1/2 cut fine cut celery, 1/2 cup sized white turnips, 1 package frozen corn and 1/2 can of tomatoes, 4 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/4 teaspoon basil.

For meatballs:  1 pound ground been, 4 slices stale bread (soak in water and squeeze dry), 1 egg (slightly beaten) 1 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, 3/4 teaspoon thyme.  Make 3 dozen tiny meatballs and add to soup.  Simmer about 30 minutes.