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Simple yet touching, “A Man Called Ove“

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

By Aileen Xie Dec. 9, 2020


Rating: (5/5) Balance of sadness and humor, fresh writing style, character dynamic.


Meet Ove, a cranky 59-year-old widower whose bullheadedness and short fuse make others see him as the “neighbor sent from hell.” In the novel “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman, set in contemporary Sweden, Ove finds his solitary world turned inside out when a rambunctious young family suddenly move in next door. Having lost his wife to cancer, then his job to forced retirement, Ove decides to finally join his wife in death. While planning his suicide one morning, his new neighbors back their moving trailer into Ove’s house. This one incident and the unexpected friendship that follows cause a series of “mundane happenings” that get Ove to open himself up to a community that had long excluded him as an outcast.


With this nonlinear narrative, Backman lays down the origins of Ove’s strict, black-and-white personality.

On the surface, Ove is not very likable. A narrow-minded grumbler who refuses to adapt to modern times, he is judgmental of anyone who does not conform to his fixation on “the old days.” Through chapters alternating between past and present events, Backman reveals pivotal moments in Ove’s life—from first working a railway job alongside his father, to meeting Sonja, his wife, for the first time. With this nonlinear narrative, Backman lays down the origins of Ove’s strict, black-and-white personality.


Ove’s past reveals that Sonja’s vibrant warmth brightened his gloomy pessimism, making her absence even more tragic. Nothing in his life—not the fire that burnt down his house, nor his congenital heart defect—compares to the death of his wife. However, when his new neighbors suddenly barge into his world, their persistent sociability force Ove to break out of his shell.


As Backman shows how Ove’s history shapes his perception of the world, the reader learns that Ove is not mean for no reason; rather, he is haunted by times people have tricked and manipulated him.

The novel’s seemingly simple premise explores complex themes like resurfacing memories and the importance of community. As Backman shows how Ove’s history shapes his perception of the world, the reader learns that Ove is not mean for no reason; rather, he is haunted by times people have tricked and manipulated him. Additionally, the story shows that the concept of family encompasses relationships beyond blood ties. Only after allowing community members to enter his life does Ove begin to recover emotionally from his loss, convincing him that life is indeed worth living even after tragedy.


Backman’s skill lies in his seamless balance of tragedy and humor; readers can still experience empathetic joy when traversing despair and helplessness.

Backman’s skill lies in his seamless balance of tragedy and humor; readers can still experience empathetic joy when traversing despair and helplessness. The characters are rooted in realism, with each facing personal adversities that are resolved through their faith in one another. Touching and thought-provoking, this story demonstrates that it is okay to take a breath, let go of old woes and trust in others to heal.

 

About the Contributor

Aileen Xie

Viewpoint Editor


Aileen Xie is a junior and the Viewpoint Page Editor. She likes watching movies with complicated plots (so that she has something to think about when distracted from schoolwork), reading science fiction, and she occasionally draws a thing or two when in an artistic mood. She always needs to listen to music when doing work.

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