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

Danfo: The Travails of a Lagos Commuter #1

two-people-holding-hands-1101732Waking up late and having to rush to work is a vicious cycle of stress. It was such a relief to get to the main road and find traffic. Let me explain, it was not the notorious kolori-konidi type. You know the ones you can neither make head nor tail of. I could easily see that it was due to a construction diversion and therefore was moving.

Hurdle number two was getting a bus. Due to the increased LASTMA presence, all drivers were obeying the no-indiscriminate-stops rule. I had to walk back to my initial start point to get a bus. Next time, open your eye well dear. Hurdle number three, getting a bus to my next stop is an exercise in patience as they come one in fifteen. Always annoying to see bus after bus approaching only to be disappointed at the destination being called.

At last, I found my bus and hurdle number four was beating the other Disappointed Gang members to the few available seats ahead of the many others going my way. It is important to identify your competitors in this battle. If not you will sleep there.

Alhamdulillah, let’s take a deep breath, get comfortable on the plank seat and use my inner mind to try to channel the traffic into dissipating. The predictable fifth hurdle of change was laying in wait. The fare was already hiked so I was in no mood for this everyday shenanigans. The conductor grumbled, “Ko si change o, mo ti so fun yin ki e to wole”. I kept my money.

I thought to myself, “Ah, this man can lie! He did not mention any such thing when he was looking for passengers. When you are ready, you will collect your money.”

“E ma bole o,” he added in a feeble attempt at being menacing.

“You and who are coming down? After waiting twenty minutes with the sun burning my face, you must be joking bruv. Emi ti mo ti late.”

We coasted along. After a while, the road became free and Fast and Furious mode began. The whizzing air started billowing my scarf inside one man’s eye. Sorry o!

Mr Conductor collected his money finally and said we would have to sort change when we get down, that he has multiple people to give change to. I still did not say anything. God will help, you hear?

As I was bracing for the inevitable Joining Games, the conductor started calling my end destination. What manner of luck is this? I asked him if he would stop at my precise junction, he said yes and I was thrilled. One less bus to jump, less exposure to the sun.

Onwards Island, we connected with the Third Mainland Bridge. We raced alongside other cars until we saw a build-up of vehicles. Now, this is actually the story. My therapist, bless her heart, is used to my long preambles and digressions by now. Be like her and let me land.

“Iru hold up wo leleyii bayii,” a lady with her goods lamented. So we are even plenty that are late. A MOPOL got down from his car and helped direct the traffic. That’s when we saw a long line of cars and people. In confusion, we craned our necks and wondered why they all stopped without an obvious accident. What really habbun? Then we heard one of the numerous bystanders saying someone has jumped inside the water, The car the person apparently got down appeared to have a sinister aura.

Oh no! Not again.

This had a chilling effect on us all. The following exchange ensued in the bus:

Conductor: Why will anyone kill themselves? How can he get down from the car and jump like that.

Trader: E ma so be! You don’t know what the person was going through. (Yes, the general assumption was a man even though Yoruba does not have separate pronouns for the sexes.)

It is not easy o. people are facing a lot.

Eleha: Some people have problems with no one to help them and this feels like a way to end it.

Conductor: Ehen! (the one that means ‘you don’t mean it’)

Trader: It’s true. One woman near my shop found her husband’s swollen body at home, he had downed a whole bottle of *now-banned pesticide*. This feeling is like a strong spirit, one needs to speak out about it . Avoid staying alone.  If not, it will overwhelm you and the voices will tell you to kill yourself. When I feel like that, I go out and spend time with my loved ones or anyone that can cheer me up. May God have mercy on us.

Man in Northern attire: face registering confusion. Someone translated from Yoruba to pidgin. Confusion gives way to shock and he shakes his head in palpable consternation.

Conductor: This is terrible. I heard of a similar case who drank *same now-banned pesticide*. He is not a poor man o.

Trader: It is not always about money. Some people have overwhelming problems with no hope. Some feel sad more easily than others. It could be debt but it could also be anything. We have to watch out for these sad feelings.

Other passengers: exclamations and heavy sighs.

Eleha: I hope the divers usually around there get him out. They have saved several people this way. When this thing happens, one can go to the clinic and get treatment before it gets to this level.

There is silence as we all are lost in thought, end up forgetting our bus stops as the driver heads to a different destination than originally planned.

…………………

I hope that the person who jumped off the bridge yesterday was rescued. I saw a video of the LASG rescue team and the divers. The bridge is such a common location for suicide but the increased police presence at different parts of it is thought to prevent this. However, anyone whose mind is set on it can get past the watchful eye. Telling the Uber driver he wanted to throw up only to jump must have been such a nerve-wracking experience for the driver.

Suicide can be prevented. We need to listen, be sensitive, build resilience, strengthen our mental health services, increase awareness and end the stigma around mental illness. There is hope.

Book Reviews With Oumissa 7: What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky by Leslie Ann Arimah

Title- What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky
Author- Leslie Ann Arimah
Winner ,Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa
Publisher- Farafina
………
This is a collection of short stories delving into a rich mix of human experiences. The book has a strong Igbo presence of characters giving valuable insight into the culture, language and contemporary life.

The themes range from immigrants, class divides, naughty children, folklore, Biafran/Nigerian Civil War, family tensions, finding and staying in love, a dash of fantasy, to a futuristic story about a mathematician with a secret formula for emotions.

Racism, sexism , poverty and mental health are some of the issues Leslie Nneka Arimah explores in this book. She twists reality to tell us what we already know but are refusing to accept, and that is perhaps the most powerful aspect of her work.

I did enjoy some of the stories. But still think it was over hyped. Like I should have been allowed to discover this book sans the heavy marketing, I may have liked it a little more.

It has a fresh take on many pressing issues.and I like the use of futuristic and fantasy to retell stories we are all familiar with, relive experiences and show the struggles we face as women , children, blacks , immigrants, Igbos etc.

What did you think of When a Man Falls From the Sky?
My favourite story was the one that shares titles with the book.
Yours?

_______

OumissaInspire

260818

Trust Your Journey

Mental health is coming into the limelight as a major threat to overall wellbeing for many people. When a celebrity is lost to suicide, it is easy to detach oneself from it. But when it affects someone close to you, it takes the shape of a more vivid reality.

It results in a rollercoaster of emotions. You feel sad about losing them, you feel helpless for not being able to help them.. you may even feel guilty in the terrible case that you may have contributed to their trauma.

Being a young doctor in Nigeria of today is an existence that is tough. The system is not suited to latest standards of care, your career prospects may look bleak, you grapple with exams, and you see your friends moving ahead in life. The mirages of good pay and prestige fritter away before your eyes as you run for cover (in both literal and figurative ways).

In all of this, it is important to have a good support system of both colleagues and mentors who can help navigate the treacherous waters and work together with you to find your way.

A colleague who is an epitome of excellence in her work, studies, leadership, friendship and helping others wrote this message on a forum for colleagues. In the hopes of reaching more people with this lifeline, I asked to share it here. Now, it was directed at a group of young doctors but it’s words can apply to anyone feeling like they are underachieving.

Hi guys, good afternoon. This is random but I thought I should put it out here. I know it might seem like everyone is out on a path, figuring their lives out, getting married, getting fantastic jobs, writing and acing exams and stuff.

I just want to leave a word of encouragement to folks who feel their life is a mess or they have no idea what to do, say post housejob or post NYSC. Somehow, the government planned our lives from primary school to NYSC level and there might be someone here confused about what next.

Please guys, there are always folks around to help. We are a family here and I really like what Leo did some weeks back about appreciating everyone. Perhaps you’ve written IELTS again and again and keep failing, say Writing tasks, or you’re studying for USMLE and you keep forgetting what you’ve read or you lowkey did Primaries and didn’t pass.

Don’t worry, keep pushing, try again and again and again. Weird but I have this belief that if anyone who can pass 300Level Pharmac exam can pass any exam in the world. Perhaps you’re the one person that your whole family looks up to, you hardly saved anything during housejob because of responsibilities here and there and you don’t even have money for exams right now, always remember God’s got you and there’s a time for everything.

I honestly don’t know why this came to my mind this afternoon but please guys, SUICIDE IS NOT AN OPTION.

Have a nice day, fam.”

– Dr. Akudo Umeh

_____

I really hope this helps someone at least to trust their journey and believe they will surmount all obstacles.

______

OumissaInspire

060518

Lagos, Nigeria

First Do No Harm – by Dr Lawal Abisoye

In work environment bedevilled with heightened stress and sometimes difficult conditions, it is imperative to remind doctors to pay attention to their physical and mental well-being. Dr Lawal Abisoye wrote a piece doing just that below.

_____

Good morning colleagues, a quick reminder.

We have a noble call, which is the servitude of mankind. Alleviation of sufferings and restoration of health is what we do. This takes a lot from us, physically, mentally, emotionally, morally and even spiritually.

I want to remind us that we are humans, however “super”. Our bodies, spirits and souls need to be looked after.

Eat adequately; have your breakfast, take adequate water, let your kidneys rejoice, take fruits in any and every form, even smoothies, exercise, pace yourself. Don’t stay on a liquid diet, don’t console yourself overtly with junk.

Take time off to rest, our activities call for sacrifices and stretching, not at the expense of your good health; recognize and embrace your limits; after all, you are also human.

We make a lot of withdrawals from our emotional bank. We aren’t numb to the sufferings of our patients, every death takes a piece of us. Give yourself time to grief, talk about it at least to colleagues that understand. Get a psychologist if need be; there’s a limit to bottling up, we all need sanity. Cry if you must, weep in your closet if you have to, you’ve earned it.

Don’t let anyone guilt-trip you into doing beyond what you can; you owe yourself a responsibility to be healthy. The funny thing is that you owe this responsibility to your patients as well.

Have a connection with God our Maker and in whatever belief you ascribe to if you don’t believe there’s a God. Spiritual health is as important and physical.

First do no harm.
Do not run yourself down.
Have a wonderful day and week ahead.

Ecstacy

______

Visit Dr Lawal’s Twitter thread

Be Grateful


Too often we value those things we do not have. We focus more on the amazing things going on in other people’s lives but not in ours. Yet in no matter situation we may find ourselves, chances are we have got treasures we have either chosen to ignore or haven’t yet discovered.
This is so important for our mental, spiritual and by extension, physical well being. Replace that sulk with a smile. Look inwards and be amazed at what you find.

To make it even resonate better, get out your stationery and make a list of all the good things you have. For this earth and all the beautiful creation, being alive in itself, freedom,health, good hair, good skin, spouse, children, a bed to sleep on, clothes, food…..some of these are gifts millions do not have and yet we find them leading happy lives. 
In all, no one has everything. We are meant to partner in goodness and make each other better. We should not flaunt our possessions to sadden others. Neither should we gawk at the blessings of others forgetting ours.
Do not place too much happiness on material things. With the sheer volume of edited images on the net we are bombarded with today, this may seem impossible. But you see, we should take charge of more things in our lives and thus make conscious efforts to do self-reflection. That rich person on earth may have none of the Akhirah and the outwardly poor one already has a great abode. Let us be more concerned with our standing before Allah ( SWT).
We should strive to enjoy the most of every moment and opportunity. Yes we may not have what we want yet but we keep on working towards our goals and not being knocked down by challenges. Who are we if not the #PeopleofAlhamdulillah?
For more, check previous posts on this blog  in the #TheRamadhanBaby series 
Have a most amazing Jumu’ah. There are many checklists circulating. Make sure to make the most out of it.
OumissaInspire

Lagos,Nigeria

13:04

Friday 04 August 2017

Jumu’ah 11 Dhul Qadah 1438AH

Book Reviews With Oumissa 2 : Stay With Me- Ayòbámi Adébáyò

 

 ​The àmì on the author’s name made me translate the title into Yoruba subconsciously and there! I got a loose idea of what the book was centred on – Àbíkú.

However , nothing prepares you for the twists and turns, the suspense and carefully woven tapestry of this work, the ending that is as unexpected as it is beautiful. All of this makes Stay With Me such a fantastic piece.

The plot mirrors common but rarely discussed experiences. In it, you are made to feel the pressure, frustration and all other emotions of a childless couple in 80’s South West Nigeria.

You feel the pain of betrayal, the rawness of deception, the calculation and misguided love in the ties connecting Akin and Yejide to Funmi, Dotun, Moomi and other characters. Witnessing the  darkest side of each’s persona still does not make you judge them. Such is the candour of Ayòbámi’s presentation.

Perhaps what made this book so striking is the familiarity of the setting.

It is amazing how the author manages to incorporate so many themes in a concise and enjoyable read. Among them are life in Nigeria’s military era; escaping poverty to middle class through education; retaining core aspects of cultural heritage nonetheless; dedication and sacrifice of mothers; sickle cell disease and mental health.

It provides insight into the overwhelming importance placed on having biological children, how this leads to desperation, unforseen circumstances and uncontrollable consequences that defy best laid plans. Societal expectations are seen to be more stringent on women. Even self-proclaimed feminists are not spared.

P.S I would love to know more about Akin. For me, he was the most layered and interesting character.