When you work in the book publishing industry, you read A LOT. Not just fifteen books a year, but fifty to one hundred to sometimes even more like two hundred. There are so many words and dates and names that run through our little publishing brains on a daily basis, that you can get a little bogged down in the jobbiness of it all and forget why it is that you work so hard for books.
Every once in a while, a novel comes along that reinvigorates and inspires and is a call to arms for a publicist. A novel that reminds me that I work hard for books because I love reading. I love new ideas. I love big words. I love discovering and unwrapping characters, the emotions that a wonderful work of fiction can stir in you, the conversations that a good book can inspire. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is one of those novels for me—a novel that became a passion, a novel that makes the art of publishing feel meaningful.
If you like to laugh AND feel moved AND have your heart applaud wildly for fictional characters, you will certainly fall for the grumpy but lovable Ove (it’s pronounced “Oo-vuh,” if you were wondering). Ove has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell,” but he’s just the type of man who puts his head down and gets his work done without help from “twitters” or “iPizzles” or whatever it is that people have their heads buried in these days. But while Ove is a taciturn, unsmiling curmudgeon of a man, his disapproving exterior hides an unexpectedly moving personal history—and the pain of his lost love for his recently deceased wife Sonia. Even now, it makes me teary to think of Ove’s beautiful love for his wife, his light leaving the world.
When a boisterous young family moves in next door to Ove’s lonely little home, with one inquisitive daughter and another on the way, his whole world is turned upside down, and you’ll thank the reading gods for the heartwarming story that ensues. It is the story of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. It is about the thousands of tiny but important ways that one life impacts countless others, and it reminds us that the pain of loss can only be made bearable by taking the risk of allowing other people to get close to us again.
Originally published in Sweden in 2013, A Man Called Ove has sold over 500,000 copies there alone (a number made all the more astounding when you remember that Sweden is a nation of a mere nine million people), and has gone on to be published in over twenty-five countries around the world. When it landed on my assignment list last year, I thought, “Great! Another international bestseller from Scandinavia.” But then I read it carefully, pouring over the beautiful language, highlighting laugh-out-loud quotes to use in press releases, and thinking of angles to pitch reviewers. While reading the last thirty or so pages, I looked like a blotchy-faced mess, alternating between laughing and sobbing, while my spouse looked on with concern.
When I was done bawling, I put A Man Called Ove down, took a lap around my apartment to regain my breath, and then picked it right back up again, reading it this time for my own enjoyment. I still loved it! A second time! But still, I had to make sure my total adoration wasn’t unfounded. I read long passages aloud to my husband. I sent a copy to my mother. I posted about it on social media, talked about it at weddings, and did my fair share of shouting and cheerleading for it at work.
A Man Called Ove is charming, delightful, and the best book I read last year. You will totally understand my devotion to these characters from the very first pages; just make sure you have a box of tissues on hand for all those tears.
Ariele Stewart is a Publicity Manager at Atria Books.