I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
I recently heard that a high school friend grew up with a mom who criticized practically everything she did and still does. We hung out often, shared the same BFF, and snuck into the same concerts at the Mad Monk. My impression of her was that her confidence overflowed and her home life was very Leave it to Beaver. Despite the abundance of disclosures teen women share, this one confession about my friend’s mom evaded our circle of friends.
People rarely show their whole selves. What the viewing public gets are pieces of a person and like the puzzle you bought at the thrift store, several pieces are never seen. Unfairly and naturally, assumptions are made about a person based on the bits shown because, let’s be honest, assuming is often easier than learning the truth.
Swedish author Fredrik Backman infuses the contrast between our assumptions of who people are and their true selves in his debut novel, A Man Called Ove. Ove, the main character, is ornery, righteous, and a bit obsessive compulsive. His opinions are made of steel. He’s honestly not a man I’d want to spend more than a few mandatory minutes with. Well, at first glance, that is.
In most stories, it’s the hero who transforms after confronting a hardship or two; but in A Man Called Ove, the readers and Ove’s neighbors change their perception of Ove while Ove remains steadfast in his character. Author Backman shares slivers of Ove’s past amidst Ove’s carping and his many attempts to join his deceased wife. The snippets reveal an Ove who lives by his belief that “Men are what they are because of what they do. Not what they say”.
Past the crusty surface presented to the world, Ove is a man who cares deeply and defines altruism. My favorite scene is when he’s teaching Parvaneh, his neighbor, to drive. She’s struggling to shift the car into gear while a car of hoodlums is harassing her. Ove exits his car, yanks the hoodlum driver from the car behind them, and asks the hoodlum if he’s never been a first time driver. Then, he returns to the car and gives Parvaneh a heart-warming pep talk. Scenes like the driving scene remove the fog from who Ove is and reminds us that first impressions are not always the truth.
Ove’s neighbor Parvaneh plays a catalytic role in showing readers Ove’s true demeanor. Her name in Persia means butterfly. An apt name for a character who helps readers transform their opinions of Ove into something free and beautiful.
I didn’t expect to fall in love with Ove. But by the end of the story, I wanted him for a grandpa. Also by the end of the story, I wanted to give Backman a hug for reminding me to slow down on making hard and fast conclusions about people I meet and those I already think I know. As for my friend from home, I wish I would have known your secret because I could tell you that your mom was wrong.