Thursday, 15 September 2016

"A Man Called Ove" by Fredrick Backman

A more principled fictional character is hard to find.  Ove has a gruff exterior that is difficult to understand or get to know.  He is exactly the kind of individual who few befriend and even fewer employ.  Yet, the rewards of a friendship could hardly be greater.  The Indian woman living next door who couldn’t drive a car yet had to care for her two children and an inept husband discovers it.  His wife seemed to know when she first met him.  His best friend enjoys Ove’s company for years until he purchases a BMW.  For a right thinking Swede such as Ove, Saab is the only vehicle of choice and worst among those other choices would be a BMW or, God forbid, a Toyota. 

My dad was very principled.  Back in the days of the Cold War, he used to say that, without principles no form of government is going to work. And, he was big on rules.  Ove is also big on rules.  Heaven help you if you happen to drive into his residential area.  Cars aren’t allowed and he’ll chase you down on foot if you do.  Or display incompetence.  Say, you’re fixing a bike and he happens to see you struggling.  He’ll either show you how to do it or dive right in and do it for you.  But, don’t expect to thank him or seem grateful in any way.  That’ll just make him angry.  Or save your life. A simple thankyou or nod in his direction will suffice.

Surprisingly, for a man of principles, Ove is surprisingly tolerant.  He hates cats but when a stray shows up at his door, he grudgingly feeds it, then gives it shelter, then basically takes it wherever he goes.  His tolerance would extend to people as well.  Sure, he may ask gay men if they’re bent however should one be in need of assistance, they are few others he could better turn.   

This is a terrific book.  Funny, insightful, heartwarming and strangely more relevant today than ever in a world of where the media cares more about the sensational and meaningless than things that really matter and make a difference.  People like Trump even though he lies.  Is he really a man of his word?  When he promises to pay his contractors what they’re owed?  Does he worry about the livelihood of the tradesmen who might otherwise not receive their wages?  Is he a man of principle?  Does it matter? Thankfully, there’s always characters like my dad and Ove, working in the background, making the everyday happen without recognition or fuss.