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Translated from Swedish by Henning Koch

“Ove is fifty-nine. He drives a Saab. He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his finger a policeman’s flashlight.”

When we meet him, Ove is trying to buy an iPad and driving the salesman crazy. (He often has that effect on people.) He is a stickler for rules, especially the ones he makes, and finds most people a waste of time.  

But his world is about to change. A new family moves in next door: Parvaneh, an Iranian woman, her husband Patrick and their two young daughters. In spite of himself, the family—especially Parvaneh—become an important part of Ove’s life. As does the mangy cat who haunts his doorstep, and Jimmy, his next-door neighbour (when Jimmy was a child, Ove got rid of the boy’s abusive father). There is also Mirsad, a young gay man who Ove takes in when his father throws him out.

The grumpy man we meet at the beginning of the book is fleshed out little by little, both through his interactions with his neighbours, and through his memories, especially of his adored wife Sonja. She brings light into his life and understands him in a way no one else does. When she dies, Ove can’t see the point of continuing to live.

He sets his affairs in order and tries to kill himself. He is stymied every time, often by his neighbours, who just won’t leave him alone, much to his annoyance: “Considering how they are constantly preventing him from dying, these neighbours of his are certainly not shy when it comes to driving a man to the brink of madness and suicide. That’s for sure”, he grumbles.

I loved the way Fredrick Backman writes about deeply moving events without losing sight of the humour (see the quote above). It is a beautiful portrait of a marriage, a relationship between two people who care deeply for each other but are completely different. Backman brings it alive through little details: “She had a way of folding her index finger into his palm, hiding it inside. And he always felt that nothing in the world was impossible when she did that.” Ove’s pain over the loss of his wife is heart-breaking.

I also loved the relationship between him and Parvaneh. She is a wonderful character—strong, feisty and full of compassion. From being what he sees as an annoying neighbour, she becomes his closest friend and the person he trusts to take care of his affairs after his death.

This book had me laughing and crying and most of all, believing in these people. I thoroughly enjoyed it.