Washington Square Press, 2015
Ove is fifty nine years old, and convinced that most people are idiots—that is, the ones who aren’t thieves and scoundrels. Every morning before dawn, he goes out to inspect the neighborhood, looking out for illegally parked vehicles, unlocked sheds, incorrectly handled trash. Ove believes in rules, order, thrift, responsibility, self-reliance and the undeniable technical superiority of Saab automobiles. He can’t understand the younger generations who can’t drive a stick shift, fix a radiator, or make a decent cup of drip coffee. His long-time employers have just retired him, telling him to “get some rest”. Taciturn and embittered, he feels at war with the modern world.
Then one morning, a cheerful young man moving his family into the neighborhood backs his trailer into Ove’s mailbox. The man’s gregarious Iranian wife brings Ove some saffron-flavored Persian rice dish to help make amends. Ove wants nothing to do with dark-eyed, pregnant Parvaneh and her two precocious daughters, but he finds himself increasingly entangled in their lives, and those of his other neighbors. Meanwhile, despite Ove’s strenuous efforts to discourage him, a mangy stray cat decides that living with Ove is better than dying of exposure in the Swedish winter.
This is a wonderful book, delicate and artful. When the author introduces Ove, you’re ready to despise him, but gradually the novel reveals the stresses and sorrows that have made Ove the curmudgeon he is. Meanwhile, as Ove reluctantly interacts with his neighbors and the rest of the world, he gradually changes from the angry, combative old man everyone’s afraid of to a true hero.
I don’t want to say anymore about the plot. Part of the joy of reading this novel is the skillful manner in which Fredrik Backman reveals bits and pieces of Ove’s story. A Man Called Ove is a fast, entertaining read, but it is not trivial. It offers some deep truths about being human.