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"And they who for their country die shall fill an honored grave, for glory lights the soldier's tomb, and beauty weeps the brave."
– Joseph Rodman Drake  
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  Volume No. 15 Issue No. 5 May 2018  

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Front Page   |   Feature Stories   |   Search This Issue   |   Log In
Kathy Hare

  “A Man Called Ove”
  By Kathy Hare

   Most of Ove’s neighbors view him as an anti-social old grump. He is a “by the book” type of man, so when the sign in his neighborhood states “No Motor Vehicles,” that’s exactly what it means. No excuses! It doesn’t matter if you have a broken leg or need to unload a moving van. In Ove’s mind, the wimpy whiners who can’t obey the local rules are undermining the very fabric of civilization.
   Although Ove is only 59, the digital age seems to have knocked him for a loop. He can fix cars, bikes, home heating systems or other mechanical devices. While still in his teens, he rebuilt his childhood home. After working various manual labor jobs, his wife, Sonja, urged him to pursue his childhood dream of becoming an architect. The job fit him perfectly; he loved drawing the blueprints by hand, taking care to ensure every meticulous detail was correct. Then, those blasted computers came along!
   A Luddite, Ove sticks to his pen and paper, unwilling or unable to adapt to new technology; which is why, after decades of dedication to the job, he was made “redundant.” Since the word means superfluous, there is little wonder that is how Ove feels. Now that he no longer has a job, all he longs for is eternal peace. But Ove is about to discover another thing he can’t seem to master. He cannot commit suicide, because his pesky neighbors won’t stop pounding on his door, demanding his help.
   Readers will quickly notice an exceptionally foreign tone to this novel. “Different” is the only way to describe it, but in an interesting fashion. That’s because Swedish author, Fredrik Backman, uses his homeland as the setting and blends cultural aspects of his country into the plot.
   Backman shifts the story’s timeline between present and past with ease. Glimpses into Ove’s past allow us to understand his present mental state. Now watch how the author intertwines comic relief with important social issues. Through his cast of characters, Backman slyly addresses elderly care, homophobia and the heavy hand of mean-spirited government officials. These underlying subplots are what make “A Man Called Ove” an exceptional novel.
   Ove begins his daily inspection of the neighborhood by first pulling on his doorknob three times to ensure his front door is locked. He will continue around the neighborhood, checking the bike shed and garage doors in the same manner. Each handle will receive exactly three tugs. Some of his other obsessions are kicking inanimate objects to determine if they are still sound, a fervent loyalty to Saab and a strict adherence to schedules. So it certainly appears as if Ove has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and his lack of social graces also indicates Asperger syndrome; but Backman never labels Ove’s behavior.
   Suddenly, Ove notices “The Blonde Weed.” She is a wannabe Paris Hilton, “with a cosmetic plastered face,” who hobbles around the neighborhood in high heels. She is in the process of throwing rocks at a pathetic-looking stray cat. When Ove shouts at her to stop, she curses him. “It hissed at Prince,” she screams. This, of course, is the pint-size dog she carries in her purse.
   For me, “The Blonde Weed’s” cruelty is part and parcel with her self-absorbed personality, which makes it impossible for her to have empathy for living creatures that are of no use to her. However, in this novel, the cat gets top billing, appearing to have a higher purpose in life than this nasty woman. But don’t get the wrong impression, Backman develops characters that appear to represent good or evil aspects of culture, but he never, ever, analyzes them! He lets readers interpret his message.
   Next, Ove has a run in with “The Lanky One” and “The Pregnant One” when they drive over his mailbox while moving into the neighborhood. We will later get to know them as Patrick and Parvaneh. They have two daughters, Mirsad and Nassanin, with their third child due shortly. Parvaneh, an immigrant from Iran, is the only woman other than Sonja who can see beyond Ove’s caustic demeanor. She and her daughters play an essential role in this novel.
   Then, there is Rune and Anita, a couple who moved into the housing complex the same time as Ove and Sonja. They were best friends for decades until Rune displaced Ove as head of the “Residents’ Association.” Ove might have gotten over that, but then Rune performed the ultimate insult. He purchased a BMW. “You just couldn’t reason with a person who behaved like that,” Ove mused. But even this affront doesn’t stop Ove from coming to Rune’s aid when the chips are down. Other residents, such as Jimmy, the overweight computer nerd, and Adrian, “the bent barista,” both start out on the wrong foot with Ove. Yet, they too learn to appreciate the man behind the gruff.
   While Backman created more likable characters than villains, his unsavory characters are more memorable because they are truly evil. There is Tom, a railroad worker, “with fists as big as flatbed carts and eyes that always seemed to be looking for some defenseless animal to kick around.” Then, there is “the man in the white shirt,” a social service agent who wields his omnipotent power in a vengeful manner.
   A battle ensues between the neighbors and the social worker, wherein the residents learn to appreciate each other’s skills. Even Ove discovers that technology is not all bad. While, “A Man Called Ove” is designed to make us think about many social issues, Backman’s overwhelming message is that each of us has a purpose in society. Yes, even grumpy old men!
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