My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry: A story is never just a story
I met Fredrik Backman through “A Man Named Ove” and the meeting was so frothy, so funny despite the sadness, so deep despite the simplicity, in a word – so beautiful, that it convinced me to read, in chronological order (an old whim of mine…) all his books.
That’s how I got, without being sorry at all J, to „My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry”.
About the author
Fredrik Backman is a 40-year-old Swedish columnist, blogger and writer. Reading his interviews, I was struck by his normality and naturalness and I understood once again: Backman does not write, Backman tells stories! His literary debut was in 2011, with the international bestseller “A Man Named Ove” (soon to be screened, starring Tom Hanks). He later published five more novels, all of them having a fabulous success, about which the author says: „I hope the reason that my books have found an audience abroad is that they are not constructed out of big words and complicated language, but out of stories. Because stories are universal, they will not get lost in translation.”
About the book
Reading this book, I felt as if I admired a naive painting, naive artists being those who use the candor of childhood to beautify reality. We are dealing with a simple, even banal wordling, specific to the author, who is debugging his story from the perspective of an 8-year-old girl considered “different”, named Elsa. We quickly understand that, when it comes to Elsa, “different” means mature, intelligent, nice, empathetic, funny and loving. But how could she be otherwise, once she grew up in a close relationship with her grandmother, the frothy and enigmatic character who conquers us from the very beginning? I would tell you some of the grandmother’s adventures, but I would stray too far from the essence, for the sake of such a beautiful appearance. Still, I must tell you that, from the very first lines of the book, the grandmother enters the scene being investigated because she jumped the zoo fence and “threw shit at the police” who were following her. In a sad but predictable manner, the grandmother quickly leaves the scene, leaving behind a chain of letters in which she apologizes. Elsa must find all the recipients and hand them over the letters. In a way, Elsa’s journey of finding the recipients, which barely manages to alleviate the pain of losing the grandmother, reminds the reader of Dorothy and the world of Oz. And the similarities do not stop here.
Grandma, a former surgeon dedicated to rescuing people from all over the world, chose to give Elsa life lessons and help her overcome emotional obstacles (such as her parents’ divorce, her stepbrother’s upcoming birth or the bullying from the school) by inventing stories full of hidden meaning. These stories take place in the six kingdoms (each having its own symbolism) of the Land-of-Almost-Awake and in a “secret” language whose genesis is emotionally revealed to the reader.
The recipients of the letters prove to be Elsa’s neighbors and, also, the source of inspiration for the characters of the stories from the Land-of-Almost-Awake. They hide amazing life stories that I let you discover by yourself, warning you only that the boundary between the real and the imaginary world is becoming extremely volatile.
Backman juggles the two worlds with fantastic dexterity, he fascinates with his overflowing imagination, he handles the oxymoron with refinement (e.g. – the fearful monster), he invents funny words and he creates complex characters that you invariably end up adoring. The Swede writer uses an interesting mechanism for manipulating the reader’s emotions – he introduces the reader to unsympathetic characters, afterwords vulnerabilizing them by revealing their unhappiness, thus arousing his empathy.
The spatial and temporal landmarks are almost missing from Backman’s novels, as well as the physical details of the characters. The reason is simple – the universality of the stories – and the goal, even simpler, is revealed to us by the author himself: in the absence of these “details”, the reader will focus on how the characters behave, think and feel.
Backman addresses two types of themes: perennial themes (love, compassion, the pain of losing loved ones, sacrifices, the power to forgive etc.) and modern world themes (traumas of children after parental divorce, traumas of children sacrificed on the altar of parents’ careers, children “different” etc.).
At the end of the book, one of the supporting characters leaves the stage to head to the lead role of the next book signed Backman: “Britt-Marie was here”.
Fredrick, det är ett nöje att låta mig frestas till ett nytt äventyr!
(Fredrik, it is a pleasure to let myself tempted into a new adventure! – Google Translate, Swedish)
- “Not all monsters look like monsters. There are some that carry their monstrosity inside.”
- “Only different people change the world. No one normal has ever changed a crapping thing.”
- “It’s strange how close love and fear live to each other.”
- “Until there are so many of them that no one dares to chase them anymore. Until they’re an army in themselves. Because if a sufficient number of people are different, no one has to be normal.”
- “Never mess with someone who has more spare time than you do”
Read more book reviews by the author here.