All good [summer!] things must come to an end, so we headed back to Michigan from Sao Paulo on New Year’s Eve. [Which, by the way, explains why I was flying the trip anyway. None of the senior guys wanted to fly on New Year’s Eve, the football playoffs were on! And it was New Year’s Eve!]
We took off at 2200 Local, so we got to celebrate the New Year over the Amazon rain forest. Even though it was mostly clear, no fireworks for us. Apparently the tribes that inhabit the Amazon aren’t interested in fireworks.
We flew north out of Brazil–flying out of Brazil is almost 1/3 of the entire trip!–clipped the southwest corner of Suriname. Flying through Guyana, we coasted out over the Caribbean Sea just east of Venezuela.
We hit “The Merge” around about the north coast of South America. “The Merge” is when all of the flights coming down from Canada and the United States pass all of the flights going back north. For about an hour we kept passing southbound flights, flashing our landing lights at each other as we passed at a merge speed of around 1000 mph.
The weather was remarkably clear most of the way, so we had a good view of Puerto Rico as we flew right over the top of it at 34,000 feet. I got the third crew break, so just north of Puerto Rico, I headed back to the crew seat and fell asleep quickly. I slept most of the way until the final push into Detroit, when all three crew members are on the flight deck.
We were greeted in Detroit with light snow. Yep, back to winter…
Ove had a friend in the neighborhood in which he lived for 40 years, his name is Rune, who is married to Anita. Anita and Sonja, Ove’s wife, get along quite well. Rune and Ove do also… at first.
For some reason which neither can articulate now since it is so far in the distant past, the pair had a falling out and now they are bitter enemies, attempting to undermine each other in the housing association. Rune orders a robot lawn mower that mows the common area outside of Ove’s house endlessly. Ove rewires the robot mower and it mysteriously drives itself into Rune’s pool. The tales of subversion are endless. It doesn’t help that Ove will only drive a Saab and Rune will only drive a Volvo. Each thinks the other is an imbecile.
Without giving away spoilers, Mr. Beckman uses the relationship as the climax of the book when Ove discovers quite unexpectedly [and the reader with him], the value of community and the necessity of friends and human interaction, even when one is inclined to be a curmudgeon and hermit.
This, ultimately, is the value of Mr. Beckman’s book and no doubt the reason it became a bestseller internationally. We all need community around us to support us when we need help, and to be helped by us when we are able to offer it. Ove needs to both be served and to serve, which the reader realizes is the human condition. We need to serve in community and not be too pride-filled to be helped by our community when we need it. Combine that aspect with a genuine, sweet, endearing love story and one can see the draw of the book across cultures.
Mr. Beckman manages to pull off a sad, sweet, bitter, happy ending to his excellent book, but of course I will not reveal that to you, dear reader. That is for you to discover on your own.
Well, the cat has moved in and Ove seems to tolerate it, even though he acts like he doesn’t, indeed, the reader begins to suspect that Ove likes the unnamed cat, even though he doesn’t want anyone to know that he does. The cat rides around with him in the car and pretty much goes wherever Ove goes.
Mr. Beckman has a knack for vibrant and humorous detail, especially in regards to the cat. In this scene Ove is teaching the pregnant Foreign Lady [Parvaneh] how to drive and they have stopped at a café:
The cat and Parvaneh make themselves at home, the latter mopping sweat from her forehead although it’s ice-cold in there. Colder than outside in the street, actually. She pours herself some water from a pitcher on the counter. The cat unconcernedly laps up some of it from her glass when she isn’t looking.
We discover that Ove has stopped at the café to help fix a bicycle for a young man who is trying to use it to impress a girl. Parvaneh, who seems to be the first to discover that Ove is not nearly as curmudgeonly as he lets on, points out:
“So me and Ove drove all this way just to give you a bike so you can mend it? For a girl?”
Adrian nods. Parvaneh leans over the counter and pats Ove on the arm.
“You know, Ove, sometimes one almost suspects you have a heart…”
This is what the reader slowly begins to understand as Ove’s life and backstory are languidly revealed: Ove has a heart, a huge heart. It’s hidden behind a fierce, curmudgeonly demeanor, and despite his best efforts to keep it hidden, weird things keep happening to Ove that force him to reveal it.
Gradually, Mr. Backman fills the reader in on Ove’s back story, on Ove’s family (only a mother and father), but more importantly on the love of Ove’s life, his wife Sonja.
Ove meets Sonja and is so smitten with her that he rides the train the wrong way every day for an hour so he can talk to her. This is a man who is committed! He eventually manages to win Sonja’s heart, despite the misgivings of her friends, because Ove doesn’t say very much and is nothing more (the reader is led to believe) then a cleaner on the night train. Who would marry a guy like that? Sonja would because she sees more than everyone else can see. They are blind, but she is not. Gradually, Mr. Backman opens up Ove’s real character and the reader discovers what Sonja discovers. Ove is something more than a curmudgeon.
Not that Ove likes cats, mind you. He does not.
“Is it dead?” Parvaneh [the Foreign Woman] asks in terror as she rushes forward as quickly as her pregnant belly will allow and stands there staring down into the hole.”
“He [Ove] doesn’t understand where this woman keeps appearing from all the time. Can’t a man calmly and quietly stand over a cat-shaped hole in a snowdrift in his own garden anymore?”
“Maybe he’s sleeping,” he offers, peering into the hole. Before adding: “Otherwise he’ll come out when it thaws.”
Parvaneh digs the cat out of the snowdrift and rushes it into, guess where…Ove’s house! Where Ove by default ends up with the cat.
“When they get back to the house, Ove reluctantly feeds the wretched animal, and once it’s finished, announces that they’ve got errands to run. He may have been temporarily press-ganged into cohabiting with this little creature, but he’ll be damned if he’s going to leave a wild animal on its own in his house.”
And this is how the wretched cat comes to live with Ove.
“Ove glares out the window. The poser is jogging. Not that Ove is provoked by jogging. Not at all. Ove couldn’t give a damn about people jogging. What he can’t understand is why they have to make such a big thing of it. With those smug smiles on their faces, as if they were out there curing pulmonary ephysema. Either they walk fast or they run slowly, that’s what joggers do. It’s a forty-year-old man’s way of telling the world he can’t do anything right.”
Ove’s riffs on everything from his neighbors to joggers to his local housing association and beyond are what make the book sparkle. I don’t recall a book with which I have chuckled so often.
Ove doesn’t use people’s names. He doesn’t care about people. There is “The Blond Weed” who totters “around the streets like a panda on heels as long as box wrenches, with clown paint all over her face and sunglasses so big that one can’t tell whether they’re a pair of glasses or some kind of helmet.”
Ove doesn’t like the Blond Weed. The Blond Weed doesn’t like Ove.
Ove also has new neighbors! He calls them the Lanky One and the Pregnant Foreign Woman. The Lanky One drives over his mailbox with his moving trailer. Ove doesn’t like the Lanky One or the Pregnant Foreign Woman.
Ove is obsessed with putting a hook into the middle of the ceiling in his living room. He plans carefully choosing just the right anchor bolt so that the hook will hold. It isn’t too long before we discover the reason he needs the hook so badly, but that is one of the spoilers of the book.
Suffice to say that in the space of a few pages, Mr. Backman has switched things all around on us. A Man Called Ove is not solely a funny book about a curmudgeon. And he has managed to hook us on this delightful, funny, happy, sad, amazing book.
I stumbled across this book while browsing in my favorite bookstore in the whole world (Powell’s in Portland). It is a magical gem.
The book starts out following the main character, Ove. He appears to be a typical old manly, curmudgeon who insists on doing everything his own way (because it’s the correct way, of course!).
“While his proper cup of coffee was brewing, he put on his navy blue trousers and jacket, stepped into his wooden clogs, and shoved his hands in his pockets in that particular way of a middle-aged man who expects the worthless world outside to disappoint him.”
Ove meets a cat. Ove doesn’t like cats:
“The cat sat with nonchalant expression in the middle of the footpath that ran between the houses. It had half a tail and only one ear. Patches of fur were missing here and there as if someone had pulled it out in handfuls. Not a very impressive cat.”
Is Ove the curmudgeon he appears to be? What will become of the ugly cat?
Stay tuned because Fredrik Backman (the author) has some surprises in store for the reader.
…at Christmas, then Hawaii is not a bad place to be sent.
This is kind of cool, because I got to stay at the Ala Moana hotel, which Cherie and I and the kids stayed at way back in about 1995! The hotel is pretty swanky. There is a gorgeous lagoon right across the street in which I remember swimming back, so I brought my swimsuit and swam in it again. Nice workout. Lovely day.
“From first to last, the Christian life is a matter of grace. Grace initiates our salvation, it sustains our salvation, and it will complete our salvation.” Table Talk – 9 September
“The confidence we have that the Lord will not allow His people to fall from His hand is His sure, unbreakable promise (John 10.27-30)” – Table Talk – 9 September
Cherie and I love to feed and watch birds. The migration of the various species that come to Michigan (or pass through on their way north) gives us sadness in the fall, but great hope in the spring. With the advent of birds, comes the promise that winter is now past and summer and it’s long days and lazy evenings is coming.
We watch for three species in March: Sandhill cranes, robins, and red-winged blackbirds. Sandhill cranes are usually the first, sometimes they even arrive in the last week of February, although this year they were late because February was so freezing cold. They didn’t show up until halfway through March! Cranes are large and have a funny, ungainly flight in which their wings almost pause on the down stroke. They like to hang out and dig for grubs and things in the middle of plowed farm fields. Since we live in farm country we see a lot of them all summer.
Next come Robins and red-wing blackbirds. Both usually show up around the middle of March, but Robins are normally the first of the two. How they survive the freezing cold nights in March is a mystery to me. We will often see red-winged blackbirds at our feeders in March and April, but once things start growing, we rarely see them at the feeder again. It’s the male red-wings that show up in March, the (smarter) females don’t show up until April, when the males have established their territories so they can attract a female.
I’m glad God created birds and the ebb and flow of migration marking the passing of seasons is one that we watch carefully and anticipate eagerly (at least in the spring!). Birds remind me of this eloquent comment by Jesus:
“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26, ESV)
True story. You won’t find birds sowing or reaping or gathering things into barns. They go about their business as if food will be sufficient no matter where they are. We perhaps ought to learn from their example.