Archive for the ‘My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry’ Category

An abandoned town and an abandoned woman. Borg is the town. Only those people who couldn’t get out remain there. Britt-Marie is the abandoned woman. Taken for granted by her husband for so many years, having an extra-marital affair, nothing positive to say about her, she finally walks out. How the latter made her way to the former, is the beginning of this wonderful novel, Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrick Backman. This is definitely one of the best novels I’ve read this year.

Britt-Marie was a character in Backman’s previous novel, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, not a pivotal character as was her husband, Kent, who plays a large role in this story as well. A woman with no skills other than house keeping, Britt-Marie finds herself in need of a job. After pestering the woman at the employment agency, as only Britt-Marie can do, she lands a three week assignment as the caretaker of a derelict recreation center scheduled to be razed. An impulsive cleaner, Britt-Marie’s first task is to clean the space from top to bottom, several times over, regardless of the rec center’s impending doom. When several children come in to watch a soccer match, she is startled. Thus begins a relationship between Britt-Marie and the town that is unusual at the very least and unbelievable at the very best.

Many young adult novels are described as ‘coming of age.’ If it is at all possible for a 60+ year old woman to come of age, then Britt-Marie does so in this book. Having spent all her days in the service of someone else, her mother and her husband, leaving Kent was the first thing she had ever done for herself. Surviving in Borg, a town that everyone has given up on, building her self esteem, is no easy feat.

Backman has a way with words. An example: Soccer is an important element in the book. He writes of the town’s rag tag team, “One of the boys takes aim at the fence but instead manages to shoot the ball right back to Britt-Marie, which, if you consider the angle, is quite an impressive feat as far as under-achievements go.” The cast of characters is most unusual and most lovable.

I was not warned, but I will warn you…you will, without a doubt, need a box of tissues at the end. Don’t say I didn’t tell you if you fail to follow my instructions.


Start with My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. Move on to Britt-Marie was Here and in between read A Man Called Ove. The perfect reading list.

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The last line of Fredrik Backman’s AManCalledOve Acknowledgements at the end of A Man Called Ove reads, “Rolf Backman. My father. Because I hope I am unlike you in the smallest possible number of ways.” That says it all because that’s how I felt about my dad. And if Ove is even remotely like Rolf, Mr. Backman Sr. is worth emulating.

I’ve always said I’ll morph into a curmudgeon when I get older (and my kids notify me that I’m already there). If I do or if I am, I’ll take being compared to Ove as a compliment (as I do when compared to my father). He’s a quiet man. A man who found the love of his life and throughout 40 years of marriage could not understand by Sonja married him. He believed in few things. There is a right and a wrong. There are rules that must be followed. You can, to some extent, judge a man by the car he drives (absolutely!). And a person should be able to care for himself and his possessions-house, car, etc. If you can’t, you’re most likely an idiot. Ove is the type of man who is lost in today’s world of fast talkers, computers and possessions.

And so it is that when Sonja dies of cancer, Ove is lost. The one thing he valued most in this world is gone as are all the little things they did together. Have breakfast in the morning. Go to the café on Sunday morning where Sonja would have coffee and people watch while Ove would read the newspaper. He misses her curling her finger in the palm of his hand.

While alone and lost in the quiet of his house, he is annoyed when he sees someone backing a trailer in the space between his and the neighboring house, ruining his garden and running over his mailbox. To save what remains of his yard, he ultimately backs the trailer up himself. His new neighbors consist of a hugely pregnant Iranian woman, Parvaneh, her ‘idiot’ husband (he can’t back a trailer into a drive), and their three and seven year old daughters.

Little does Ove know the havoc they are going to wreak on his life, borrowing this,MyGrandmother asking that, barging in to his house uninvited, needing rides here, there and everywhere. It is sure to throw a major monkey wrench into his plans.

Backman’s latest book, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (which I loved), is filled with the kind of quirky characters I love to read about. In A Man Called Ove, Backman has created a character that it is hard not to love. Indeed, Ove is gruff. He’s opinionated. He can harbor a grudge (even after forgetting how it originated). But he loved Sonja more than life itself. He visits her grave every week, changing the flowers, telling her the news, imagining her responses.

I don’t know if Backman has a thing for animals but they pivotal roles in both books.  What can be bad about that, right?

I found the translation of this Swedish book to be somewhat halting in nature. And there were several favorite phrases that kept on appearing. But for some reason it added rather than detracted from the book.

It is rare that I read two books by the same author back to back. And it’s rarer that I like the second one more than the first, but that was the case with A Man Called Ove. I’m even considering making it part of my personal library. That says a lot. If you are in the mood for a truly satisfying read, Fredrick Backman is the author for you. I am awaiting impatiently for his next book. I hope it comes out soon.

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My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Swedish author MyGrandmotherFredrik 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).

AManCalledOveI 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.

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