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!

 

 

 

 

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Johansson

vodka

Allen Karlsson has quite a taste for vodka. This affinity, with a similar affection for blowing things up, has more or less defined the path of his century of life. Right up to the age of 100.

Born in 1905 in Sweden, Allen Karlsson is the Forrest Gump of his time. Karlsson doesn’t just meet Harry Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson, Mao Tse Tung, Stalin, a young Kim Jong-il, Franco, Richard Nixon, various Soviet and American spies, petty dictators, gulag officials and Winston Churchill, he has drinks with them.

Absolut-Vodka-2-Andy-font-b-Warhol-b-font-Oil-Painting-Repro-font-b-Museum-bBut that’s all in the past. In Jonas Johansson’s novel, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared we meet Allen, he’s climbing out the window of an old folks home right before his 100th birthday party. His goal is just to get away, no matter what obstacles may be in his way.

“It was hardly more than a metre high, but Allan was a centenarian, not a high-jumper. Malmköping’s bus and train station awaited him on the other side, and the old boy had just realised that this was where his shaky legs were taking him. Once, many years ago, Allan had crossed the Himalayas. Now that had been difficult. Allan thought about that, now, as he stood there faced with the final hurdle between him and the station. He thought so intensely about it that the stone wall in front him began to shrink down to almost nothing. And when it had shrunk down to its lowest point, Allan crawled over it, age and knees be damned.”

But Allen has no plan. He ventures to the bus station, hands over a few dollars and says he wants to go as far as his money will take him.

Vintage Soviet Advertising for Foreigners (2)Johansson’s amusing, adventurous, road trip, fairytale lands the centenarian in the middle of a kidnapping, murder, drug conspiracy, crime spree involving several nefarious individuals, an almost-doctor/veterinarian/literature expert, a beauty, an elephant and a dog. And lots of vodka. (Did I mention vodka?)

But the spree at year 100 is not the first of Allen’s adventures. Told in flashbacks interspersed with the current narrative, Allen’s life story is one for the ages. (Pun intended) A prison term in a Russian gulag, fighting in the Spanish Civil War on both sides, blowing up various things and helping to create the Atom Bomb as well as a small trip across the Himalayas . . . on a camel.

I listened to the Audible version of this book while driving and was completely immersed in the story and in reader Steven Crossley’s humorous voice. Johansson has put to word Shakespeare’s image: “but man . . . plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven as make angels weep.”

There’s a little something for everyone in your book club in The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared: romance, adventure, crime, travel. And if you have reluctant, there’s a film version (nominated for an Oscar for makeup and hair design) that I intend to watch this weekend. Here’s the trailer: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2113681/?ref_=ext_shr_eml_vi_tt_ov_vi#lb-vi2283254041
100 year old man book

MENU & PLAYLIST

Um, vodka

Peanuts

Swedish Meatballs

Watermelon

And anything else from any country basically anywhere that you might feel like including

iTunes has the soundtrack to the movie available https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/hundred-year-old-man-who-climbed/id841011356

Another fun route would be to choose food/music from each decade of Allen’s life, or each country he visited.

Sweden

Spain

China

Russia

United States

Indonesia

North Korea

Iran

Enjoy! Happy Reading.