Book Reviews With Oumissa #14: A Man Called Ove

 

Title: A Man Called Ove
Author: Fredrik Backman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published: 2014Genre: Fiction
Rating 4/5

What the world sees is a gruff, socially handicapped old man. The vibes he gives off are unwelcoming and sometimes border on being harsh. Almost no one considers that he has lived a life worthy of being told as a story. They assume he has always been like this, of course with no idea of how incidents in his life have affected him.

Ove is upset by everything. The list of infractions that attract his indignation includes the carefree attitude of young people, how anyone would drive a car asides his infallible Saab, the influx of immigrants into Sweden changing the country as he knows it, the nonchalant behaviour of his neighbours towards maintaining a decent community; according to his standards of course. He is even annoyed by cats and men who cannot fix things around the house. He is a man who finds great fulfilment in working with his hands, values diligence, tidy council layouts and community responsibility.

The book is narrated mostly in Ove’s mind’s voice. He is taciturn and most of his expression is the form of monologues in his head where he grumbles and complains about different things. He has devised a secret plan to but the people and incidents around him find a way to get his attention and delay it further from accomplishment.

This is a truly beautiful rendition of how the tensions between new immigrants and already-present nationals can be transformed into relationships built on trust, friendship and even love. In this regard, the credit goes to Parvaneh, his new pregnant Iranian neighbour. She takes a liking to him and is not rebuffed by his outward appearance of steely indifference or hostility. An uncanny friendship builds between him and her young family as he finds himself; against his inclinations, helping them and accepting their help. We witness an unlocking of his memories from a childhood tragedy, youthful days, falling in love with his wife Sonja and finding radiance the type that should last forever.

Image of elderly couple walking down a country road.Book quote: One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead.

They, however, suffer a terrible tragedy that changes the course of their lives. This singular incident seems like the last one too many. Choosing to carry on with what he had left involved great sacrifice, loyalty and dedication leaving a normally reticent person even less available for social interaction. He is still to face perhaps the greatest tragedy of his life, the extinguishing of the one light he has left, and the one person whose love and companionship made life worth living. He is suddenly floundering, unable to carry on, the buffer that helped him navigate necessary human relationships gone. Ove fully descends into the permanent disagreeable mood everyone avoids.

“And it wasn’t as if Ove also died when Sonja left him. He just stopped living. Grief is a strange thing.”

There is a brilliance in the way Backman reveals her death. It was easy to think she was in a state where she couldn’t talk as Ove carried on conversations with her every single day. The story doubles back to his plan to end things in a bid to join her in her realm. A plan which then gets disturbed each time by Parvaneh and her cheery playful daughters, youths in his community, his former best friend with who he has had a feud for decades and even a cat. In them, he finds help to render, receives love, and ultimately they unravel the kind, helpful, loyal man who would risk his own life to protect those he cares about.

So meticulous is he that he postpones his suicide for the duty to help these people even as he finds them annoying. They warm their way into his heart having found the real Ove wasn’t quite as scary as his reputation and inadvertently destroy his suicide plans. They form a giant family, navigating major life experiences together like birthdays, childbirth, hospital visits, crime, driving lessons, coming out to homophobic fathers, caring for a pet with human-like mannerisms.

One big theme of this book is that humans cannot be held at face value. We truly do not know what anyone is like until we get to know them. When they are hostile as Baba Ove was, it takes more effort and can be frustrating but it is clear that in this case, it was worth it especially as his attitude was more of a social recluse who was not violent to anyone. It makes you think of how many people in your life you have misjudged because you do not know more beyond their general demeanour. How many are carrying around unhealed trauma? It makes you want to be kind just as it urges the traumatized person not to view everyone else as an enemy.

The vivid representation of grief, sadness, a difficult childhood and how repeated trauma defines a person’s character and world views was heavy. In addition, we see how the system can consistently be unfair on honest upright citizens as Ove is frustrated at many points in his life by local council rules that take things he loves away from him. All his attempts at fighting back are mostly futile. This causes pent-up resentment and feelings of letting himself, loved ones and values down.

This was a unique reading experience in first, the characteristic tone translated works tend to have, each chapter being eponymous with the book title and of course Ove thinking of himself in the third person meaning he was even aloof from his own essence. An overriding issue that the author highlights is modernity moving too fast for the elderly especially those who have no one left to relive the moments their youth with. They end up feeling dissociated and lonely from the new culture.

The protagonist’s warm side came alive with his mother and then Sonja who despite being dead was such a huge presence all through the book. All of this changed with his new family, a motley of characters who create the atmosphere of love and acceptance he needed and achieved the mean feat of keeping a grief-stricken old man from taking his own life.

It is compelling and would evoke tears so be warned.
Have you read this book? What are your thoughts?


Dr Mariam Toye

Book Reviews With Oumissa 12: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Generational stories take more time and dedication. It is harder to tie together and make the dates, historical events and flow add up. When an author achieves this, the time spent is worth it because you don’t have to be doing the mental gymnastics.

Two sisters start life out on vastly different paths. One gets married to a slavemaster, the other is captured.And in this way, two genealogical lines are formed. This heartrending account follows the lives of their descendants across different eras and locations, tracking their journey. Each lifetime had a tumultuous event that drastically redirected their path in life in a major way.

No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free. But still, Yaw, you have to let yourself be free.

They all remain connected not just by blood but by an indecipherable spiritual bond. So powerful is it that centuries after the forerunners , their descendants meet in a most unexpected of places.

The work of historical fiction begins in the Gold Coast when the intraAfrican and then transatlantic slave trades were in full swing. As it unfolds, positions change, fortunes dwindle, and expectations get shattered into splinters.

The branch that remains at home experience abolition, colonialism, a budding democracy and then migration to America. The other lives through the horrors of the dreaded voyage across the Atlantic, slavery and the variety of indignities people of colour faced.

Yaa adeptly describes the ugly moments and how slaves fought to hold on to the few moments of normalcy and happiness in all that bleakness. Abolition, the harsh conditions of the coal mines, racism, economic disenfranchisement give way to the drug era and finally an educated generation that is do close to getting equal rights as whites.

Through it all, we see love in its purest form survive the most arduous circumstances. Aku is that member of the family that’s the link between the past and the future. She binds everyone together and feels the experiences of the lost relatives she has never met. She has gripping visions of the dark past, holds tight to her customs and beliefs, lives to see the Gold Coast become Ghana and is so attached to Marjorie, her granddaughter helping her to recognize her past.

In America, the worst thing you could be was a black man. Worse than dead, you were a dead man walking.

There is a pervading sense of the supernatural throughout the book and many passages will raise the hair at the back of your neck. It is also beautiful to see how each character tries to pass down the family history to the next generation.

It was a gripping and fast-paced read.so graphic were the descriptions that you could feel how tight the slave decks were in the ship, could feel the claustrophobia in H’s coal mine, feel the self hatred Richard had towards his wife and child and feel that electric spark when Marjorie falls in love with her many times removed cousin. It is a splendid work in narration, vivid in its capturing. While the continuity isn’t great as one person’s story often ends abruptly leaving you wondering what happened to them, it is in all, a brilliant work that paints so well what black people still experience today.

Amazons Helping Women Build Business Empires – Femfunds Workshop 2.0 Review

Femfunds, an organization which grows female-owned businesses by providing female entrepreneurs access to interest- and collateral-free loans hosted a workshop in Lagos this Saturday. ( Learn more here.)

Ushers with warm and non-plastic smiles welcomed you from the registration point all the way to your seat. Treating every attendee like movie stars are. This gave the impression I was going to enjoy this. The ambience of motivation emanated from the neatly arranged seats, hall lighting and 90s I-can-do-anything themed songs.

It is no surprise as Landmark Events Centre has a way of bringing events to life. And it was a delight to see the hall was half-full at about 30 minutes before the program started. Henceforth, I don’t want to hear anyone say Nigerians can’t keep to time. The workshops went smoothly for a number of reasons which I’d highlight as you go on.

Oh the joy of all-women panels! (You don’t see this every day.)
Line up
Tosin Durotoye – Consultant Strategist, TechAdvance.
Mo Odele – lawyer, Curator ScaleMyHustle.
Chika Uwazie – HR expert, CEO, Talent Base.
Oluwatosin Olaseinde – investor, Founder The Money Africa
Arese Ugwu – author, CEO Smart Money Africa.
Afua Osei – media entrepreneur, Co-founder She Leads Africa
Dr Chinny Ogunro – researcher, Co-Founder Africa Health Holdings

Video- Watch Afua Osei give an electrifying talk on building a digital tribe .

Content

Moderators set the tone for an event and Lamide Akintobi (award winning journalist and TV presenter) was remarkable. The speakers are young, accomplished women in fields ranging from real estate, academia, and health to law, sharing experience about career, family, and confidence and having the right attitude towards money. It was indeed a brilliant selection of successful Nigerian female entrepreneurs with local and global impact.

They held the attention of audience all through. Loud cheers reverberated across the hall to herald the presence of these women, who between them, have inspired millions for years via social media.

The talks and panels centred on the art of negotiating better deals and salaries, scaling business to global markets, pitching brands, investing in real estate, understanding money intricately and a short guide to digital marketing. Tasks were assigned, burning questions answered and free coaching sessions given out. It was an eye-opening session with every one of the attendees charged to implement these lessons in their businesses.

Food
Meal tickets were handed out at registration. After the talk, attendees went on a queue for food and drinks. The food was tasty party jollof and beef. The caterers did not forget the topping almost every Lagos woman likes- dodo. (Is there anyone who doesn’t like dodo?). It was a free event so no grand feelings of entitlement with the menu. But in all, the organizers provided a decent meal.

Souvenir

A beautiful book combining event agenda and a weekly planner. A blend of thoughtfulness, functionality and cuteness.

Convenience
This was neat and again reflects the great choice of venue. The restroom was clean, properly maintained by cheerful staff with everything needed present in abundant supply. It smelt so good that you forgot what it was meant for. I’m particular about this because dirty conveniences spread infectious diseases. And we all have attended fancy events whose planners forgot this important part.

Organization
There is a special type of beauty in time management. Two email reminders prior to the event urged attendees to be punctual. That is the kind of follow up we need more of. There was strict adherence to time allotted for each speaker. This highlighted the importance of rich quality content. Being able to effectively manage hundreds of guests is no easy task but rewarding when done to near-perfection

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In all, the impact of workshops like this is far-reaching. More young women need to be supported in their ground-breaking ideas. They should not think of themselves as extensions of anyone else but individuals with equal rights to financial independence and stability.

Imagine a world with more accomplished women in their twenties just as some of the speakers are.

It is possible.

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Were you at the event? Kindly share your thoughts.

-Oumissa