Meet Fredrik Backman. The most popular Swedish author since Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” series. If you haven’t heard of him you have probably heard of his first book “A Man Called Ove.” (In Sweden it is titled “En man som heter Ove.”)
Ove, is a lonely curmudgeon who screams at his neighbors for parking in the wrong place and punches a hospital clown whose magic tricks annoy him. Six months after his wife’s death, he’s planning to commit suicide and has turned off his radiators, canceled his newspaper subscription and anchored a hook into the ceiling to hang himself. But he keeps getting interrupted by his clueless, prying neighbors. He strikes up a friendship with an Iranian immigrant and her two young daughters, who find Ove’s grumpiness endearing. It’s a wonderful story.
When American publisher Atria bought the rights to Ove they knew that Backman didn’t fit into any obvious genre mold, and “there was no guarantee that his whimsical, oddball sense of humor would appeal to Americans. Atria was cautious at first and printed 6,600 hardcover copies, a decent run for a debut novel in translation.”
Sales were slow at first. But the novel got a boost from independent booksellers, who placed big orders and pressed it on customers. The Book Bin in Northbrook, Ill., sold around 1,000 copies, largely based on word-of-mouth recommendations.
Ingebretsen’s also carries Backman’s books. We know you can go to a certain online bookseller (who shall remain nameless) or big box stores and get the books. As always we appreciate your business and hope you will visit us in the store or online to get your Backman books. You can find his books here.
Before we go on, since the title “A Man Called Ove” is used quite a few times, let’s start with a lesson on how to pronounce “Ove”:
I remember it by thinking “groove-ah” without the “gr.”
Backman got the idea for “Ove” when he was freelancing for the Swedish magazine Cafe. A college dropout, he worked as a forklift driver at a food warehouse, taking night and weekend shifts so he could write during the day.
One of Backman’s colleagues at Cafe wrote a post about seeing a man named Ove explode with rage while buying tickets at an art museum.
“My wife read the blog post and said, ‘This is what life is like with you,’ I’m not very socially competent. I’m not great at talking to people. My wife tends to say, your volume is always at 1 or 11, never in between.”
After that Backman started writing blog posts for Cafe about his own pet peeves and outbursts, under the heading, “I Am a Man Called Ove.”
According to an article in the New York Times:
Fredrik Backman got tepid responses when he sent out the manuscript for his debut novel, “A Man Called Ove.” Most publishers ignored him, and several turned it down.
After a few months and a few more rejections, he began to think perhaps there wasn’t a market for a story about a cranky 59-year-old Swedish widower who tries and fails to kill himself.
“It was rejected by one publisher with the line, ‘We like your novel, we think your writing has potential, but we see no commercial potential,” said Mr. Backman, 35, who lives outside Stockholm with his wife and two children. “That note I kept.”
To date, the book has sold over 2.8 million copies and been translated in over 38 languages. I imagine that publisher spends time with the publisher that rejected Harry Potter.
A movie of “A Man Called Ove” was released in 2015. It won multiple awards in Sweden and other countries.
Now, Tom Hanks is producing an American/English adaptation of the book with him starring as Ove. It is scheduled to be out in 2019. His wife, Rita Wilson, is also one of the producers. She said:
“This story about love, tolerance and hope amplifies the qualities in movies that are hallmarks of the classic films we know and love. A Man Called Ove transcended the language barrier to touch readers and audiences in ways we long for.”
Ove was published in 2012 and since then Backman has written and published:
- My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (“Seven-year-old Elsa loves her crazy Granny’s stories about the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, where everyone is different and nobody needs to be named. Then, when her grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins.”)
- Britt-Marie Was Here (“Britt-Marie, a 63-year-old woman of precise habits, is starting life over. She lands in a tiny crumbling village filled with annoyance, children, and perhaps some of the love and courage that’s been missing for so long.”)
- The Deal of a Lifetime – A Novella (“A poignant holiday novella about a man who sacrificed his family life in the pursuit of success, and the courageous little girl fighting for her life who crosses his path.”)
- Beartown (“People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning.”)
- Us Against You – A sequel to Beartown (coming soon to Ingebretsen’s) (“A small community tucked deep in the forest, Beartown is home to tough, hardworking people who don’t expect life to be easy or fair. No matter how difficult times get, they’ve always been able to take pride in their local ice hockey team. So it’s a cruel blow when they hear that their town’s ice hockey club might soon be disbanded.”)
He also published a novella called Sebastian and the Troll on his website that you can read for free. All he asks is if you enjoy it to make a donation to a charity.