A Man Called Ove
Everyone has a story. We are all living out our own stories day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. These are made up of countless smaller stories, and they inhabit thousands of larger stories. We easily recognize our part in our own; we know it by heart. We are intimately acquainted with our own sadnesses, joys, heartaches, triumphs, failures. But are we as quick to recognize our part in someone else’s story? This is the question A Man Called Ove forces us to reckon with.
Ove is a gruff, taciturn old man who snaps at his neighbors and causes trouble with the establishment. You know him. The man whose backyard children are terrified to hit their baseball into; the one whose house Girl Scouts know to steer clear of when selling Thin Mints and Shortbread cookies. The curmudgeon whose bleak outlook on life no one understands, and the brusque neighbor no one dares attempt friendship with. The pages of Ove’s story urge us into his private world and force us to wonder what causes his reticence.
As the story unfolds, we learn of his loves, his likes and dislikes, and the events that have shaped his present temperament. A new neighboring family barges its way into his life, forging an unlikely friendship made possible by impeccable timing, persistence, and a bit of serendipity. In an unmistakable parallel, we are simultaneously getting to know Ove bit by bit, piece by piece. And by the end of the book, Ove has become a friend. Through Ove’s story we feel the heart-wrenching sorrow of loss, we bear the weight of injustice, we taste the goodness of friendship. As Ove learns to open his heart to a dark, unfriendly world, we begin to truly care for him.
The author, Fredrik Backman, uses a marked change in verb tense throughout the story to highlight the loss in Ove’s life. As the story carries us through the past and present of Ove’s life, these changes punctuate the sadness of loss. I love. I loved. The first is a simple statement; the second elicits from us a kind of yearning sadness. The past tense signals a change in status; things are not as they used to be — something has been lost. Traveling in and out of Ove’s past, we experience the disparity between Ove’s life as it was and as it is now.
Ove's journey will not only take you out of your own story, educing a compassion for the Oves in your own life, but will also cause you to reflect on the limited time you have in your own story. As Ove’s past is in view, one cannot help but wonder how one’s own past will appear later down the road.
“Time is a curious thing. Most of us only live for the time that lies right ahead of us. A few days, weeks, years…And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for. Memories, perhaps. Afternoons in the sun with someone’s hand clutched in one’s own. The fragrance of flowerbeds in fresh bloom. Sundays in a café. Grandchildren, perhaps. One finds a way of living for the sake of someone else’s future.”
With this poetic musing, Backman reminds us that life is worth living when it is lived with and for other people. And thus Ove’s story becomes another page in the grand story of humanity; a confirmation that the way of selfless love is the way of true life and flourishing.