In preparation for our Facebook Live Book Club discussion of A MAN CALLED OVE, Off the Shelf goes behind the scenes to talk to Peter Borland, the editor of Fredrik Backman’s beloved bestselling novel.
When did you know you wanted to publish A MAN CALLED OVE? What made you want to buy this novel?
I acquired A MAN CALLED OVE when only about 50 pages had been translated into English, and I don’t read Swedish. It’s rare that I acquire a first novel from a partial manuscript, but there was something so wonderfully infuriating about Ove that I felt pretty certain I’d enjoy spending another two hundred pages in his company. Ove fights with everyone he encounters, but only because principles matter to him just as much in little things as they do in big things. I guess I acquired the book because I believed in Ove.
Did you ever expected that A MAN CALLED OVE would be so successful in the United States?
Every time I acquire a book, I believe and hope it will sell—to be a book editor is to be an eternal optimist. But no, I never dreamed we’d sell more than two million copies of A MAN CALLED OVE in the U.S. alone. I’m an optimist, not a crazy person. The book’s immense popularity is a tribute to the power of Fredrik’s storytelling, and to how deeply people relate to the Ove character.
What’s your favorite part of the novel?
Sometimes I’ll hear people say they love the book because of how Ove changes over the course of the novel. But that’s not true. What’s remarkable about the book is that Ove doesn’t change at all. Not even a little bit. Instead, once we learn his backstory and understand why he is the way he is, we change—and we fall in love with him.
How much Swedish have you learned throughout your time publishing Fredrik Backman?
Sadly, my Swedish is still non-existent. Fredrik, like most of his fellow Scandinavians, speaks perfect English, which makes it far too easy for the rest of us not to broaden our language skills. However, after accompanying Fredrik for a week on his US book tour, his Atria publicist returned to New York with an enviable command of Swedish curse words!
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