My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Swedish author Fredrik Backman’s second novel starts out like this. “Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero. That’s just how it is. Anyone who doesn’t agree needs their head examined. That what Elsa’s granny says, at least.” And from this auspicious beginning Backman weaves a touching reality/fantasy story about Elsa and her granny and all the tenants in her apartment building.
You see, Granny is the kind of granny every almost-eight-year-old needs. She’s a non-conformist. She’s a staunch advocate of her granddaughter. She applauds those who are ‘different’, such as Elsa. Elsa has no friends, other than Granny, but they are the closest two friends can be.
Granny spent much of her adult life away. A doctor in a time when few women were doctors, she traveled around the world assisting in disaster areas, leaving Elsa’s Mum in the care of others, primarily Britt-Marie, another tenant in the leasehold Granny lived in. But when Elsa was born, all that changed. Her main focus, her only focus was being a good Granny.
She developed the six kingdoms of the Land-of-Almost-Awake, a fairy tale land that Elsa could go to when she was frightened and couldn’t sleep. She developed a secret language that only Elsa and Granny knew. She told Elsa all of the fairy tales on this land. And together, they could go on adventures. I wish I had that when I was almost eight.
When the book opens, though, Elsa is dealing with two major life changing events. It soon becomes clear that Granny has cancer. Secondly, Elsa’s Mum is expected a baby, Elsa calls Halfie since she doesn’t know the sex yet. She’s afraid of losing Granny and afraid of losing Mum whose attention will be devoted Halfie. This is tough stuff for an almost-eight-year-old, no matter how different or how precocious she is.
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is a marvelous story which blends fantasy and reality, as Elsa, the adventurous knight of the Land-Of-Almost-Awake, navigates her world. There are quirky characters (my favorite kind) galore, such as George who seems always to be making eggs, Lennert who is always brewing coffee, Britt-Marie who always picks invisible specks of something off her clothes and Alf, the always cursing taxi driver. But my favorite character is the wurse (find out for yourself who that is).
I will admit, as I usually do, that I was a tad misty at the end of the book, but Backman neatly wraps everything up in a tidy package which will make you smile. This is the kind of book worth having in your own personal library. I’m off to snare his first book, A Man Called Ove. There seems to be one copy on my library shelf and I want it before anyone else gets it.
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is a contender for the best adult book I’ve read this year.