Books and Beyond

As you know, I’ve been writing about older books for several months — many of them classics. Not too long ago I bought a fairly recent novel, “A Man Called Ove,” by Fredrik Backman, while we were on a road trip. Usually I take a bag of books along, but this time I thought I might be too busy. I’ll never do that again. We went to the closest store to our motel and I bought two books.

“A Man Called Ove” was written by the Swedish author in 2012, and translated in 2014 by Henning Koch.

The reader gets used to each chapter having a title that begins “A Man Called Ove “or “A Man Who Was Ove.” Then a phrase gives you an idea of what’s coming. I’m going to start by telling you about Chapter 4: “A Man Called Ove Does Not Pay a Three-Kronor Surcharge.”

When the chapter begins, we hear Ove talking to his wife, Sonja. He has brought plants for her. He kicks at the frozen ground, and he tells her it will probably snow tonight. He’s wondering if he will tell her about the cat who came close to him while he was doing his job inspecting the area around the row houses. No, she would have wanted to bring the cat into their house.

Now we go back to a quarter to six this same morning, when Ove gets up. We follow him out to his garage in the housing area he lives in. He gets into his Saab and drives along the other row houses, seeing a woman we will soon meet — Paravaneh. There used to be six houses in this area; now there are hundreds. Paraveneh lives with her husband and two little girls. She is pregnant.

On the way to the florist’s at the shopping center, Ove gets into difficulty with a man in a black Mercedes. The driver has “white cables trailing from his ears.” This turns Ove off, that’s for sure. There are two parking places left near where Ove wants to shop. He makes sure the Mercedes doesn’t get the other one. The car that pulls in is a Toyota. It’s Paravaneh, her husband, and one of their daughters, Nasanin.

At the florist’s he talks to a young woman, “a phone-texting nineteen-year-old.” (I won’t tell you another adjective he used.) Ove wants to buy one plant, but his coupon is for two plants. They won’t let him get just one. If he misuses his card, he will pay a surcharge of three kronor, so he buys two plants.

Now he is back with his wife. He tells her about the plants and not paying the surcharge, talks about his new neighbors who “put saffron in their rice and things like that…” He digs up the plant that is frozen in the ground, and carefully digs in the two new plants. He says, “I miss you.” She died six months ago.

In the next chapter we read about Ove’s “mum” and his father. Mum died when Ove was fairly young, so we get a picture of him learning a lot from his father and enjoying their time together. They feed the birds, play cards, and have sausages and potatoes for supper.

Father rides a bicycle to his railway job, but one day he gets a car — a Saab 92. He had repaired one of his bosses’ cars (for nothing), and was given the old Saab as a gift. Many hours now he works on it, teaching 8-year-old Ove all about cars. Ove then starts going to the railway yard to be with his father after school. He loves his father, who dies when Ove is 16.

Soon after the death, Ove takes some of his father’s wages to the railway company, because he thinks his father died before he earned all of them. That’s when Ove begins to work for the railway, at age 16.

Five years later he meets Sonja, and now we have a wonderful, long marriage to read about.

I want to tell you a bit about the cars in the book. I consider them characters. One car Ove doesn’t like is the Mercedes you heard about in Chapter 4. Parveneh and her husband Patrick have the Toyota. Ove always has a Saab. The other cars we read about: Volkswagen, Volvo, BMW, Skoda, Renault, SUV, and Audi. It’s Rune that has a Volvo, and that’s why he and Ove don’t get along for the most part.

I had “A Man Called Ove” in my lap when I went to the dentist to get a tooth pulled. He said he saw the movie, and he asked if I’d read the other Backman novels. It’s fun to think about all the times an interesting conversation starts when people see me with a book.

Other titles by Backman in your library include “Britt-Marie Was Here,” “Beartown,” “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry,” “Me Against You.” plus two novellas: “And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Home Longer and Longer” and “The Deal of a Lifetime.”