A Man Called Ove – Reflection: Representation and Diversity

8750275571_5fda61700d_zPhoto credit: The Diversity MaskGeorge A. Spiva Center for the Arts | CC by 2.0

Trigger Warning: Suicide mention

A few years ago, I suddenly and unexpectedly developed a chronic pain condition as a result of a very minor injury. That chronic pain condition had an autoimmune component, which triggered a long list of health-related issues. Within six months of the initial injury, I was no longer able to work. My life was ripped out from underneath me and all of a sudden, everything was different, harder, longer, worse, and I did not know if I could go on. Thoughts of suicide began to creep into my head. At the same time, something else phenomenal happened; I gained an entire community of people willing to give as much of themselves as they could in order to be there for me. After watching the movie, Collateral Beauty, I have been calling it my collateral beauty. I lost a lot, but gained even more.

That’s not to say that it is not hard sometimes to adjust to this new life, which constantly is shifting under my feet. I’ve wanted to see my story, my loss, my pain, my grappling with how to go on in someone else’s story. I have read a few books with the hope of hearing my life echoed in them, but none have resonated. Enter, A Man Called Ove, and my heart sang. Here was my story, for the most part – a person whose early life was filled with tragedy and loss; an introvert who believes in doing right and working hard, finds the one thing that brings sense, structure, calm, and meaning into the world is ripped away from her/ him. But among that loss is so much beauty, it is almost too bright to look at. I needed this story. I needed this story more than I knew and more than I can explain here. Because my soul has been dying and I needed to see that another person’s soul also was dying, but that the light they gained was enough. I needed to feel this in those dark moments when it is just still a tad bit too hard and the pain threatens to swallow me whole.

This is why representation matters. We need to see stories of ourselves and feel just a little less alone. We need to carry in our hearts the knowledge that we are not the only ones. Even in our hyper-connected world, it can be easy to feel alone. Other people on the internet can feel one-dimensional and even people in real life can hold a lot of themselves back. It is the magic of books where we get to see that internal struggle, those darks thoughts, the things we don’t talk about, and feel more whole for having seen we are not alone. Representation in books matters so much exactly because it can show all the sides of what it is to be a flawed, beautiful human.

But this leads to the question of who can write that representation? Does it matter that this story, the one I finally connected with, was written by a straight white Swedish guy? Does that make it less representative? Wouldn’t it have been better if an American disabled lesbian had written the story – someone more like me? I do not have a great answer for those questions. They are questions I have been grappling with for nearly two decades now. What I can say is that, on the whole, it is hard for authors to write outside of their own perspectives. This is not a critique, but a fact of life. We all are stuck in our realities and ways of viewing the world. At best, we can try to overcome them and sometimes succeed. But it is also important to remember that there are some aspects to life that are universal, loss being one of them. Because of that, I could have potentially seen my loss in nearly any story about loss, but this one resonated with me because it captured a few other aspects of myself as well. Which brings me back to the statement that representation matters. The problem with continuing to allow marginalized voices to be marginalized is that all sorts of important representation is not out there for people to connect with, but also, there are all sorts of universal aspects of representation that are not out there either. This means that there are stories we will not read with the potential to connect us and show us that even among our greatest differences, there are commonalities, namely, we are all human. If A Man Called Ove teaches us anything, it is that even the most different people can be connected through a bit of vulnerability and humanity and that connection is what makes life worth living. So yes, this blog will continue to focus on traditionally marginalized voices, and though one could make a case that a Swedish voice is uncommon in American literature and could thus fall under the concept of “traditionally marginalized voices,” it is a bit of a stretch. But from time to time, when extremely compelling, other books which do not strictly fall within traditionally marginalized voices may be reviewed here. After all, ways of diversifying perspectives comes in many forms and I’d rather error on the side of inclusivity over exclusivity. A Man Called Ove impacted my perspective, so for now, it is on this blog. Plus, it serves as a great launching point of discussion for what makes a book diverse.

What do you think? How do you feel about representation that comes from a person of a traditional majority group? What does representation mean to you? Is a perspective outside your country of origin diverse enough, or does it need to be outside a larger culture (for example, non-American versus non-Western)? Share your thoughts below!

A Man Called Ove – Review

a man called ove cover.jpgA Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman – 4 / 5 stars

I’ve struggled to figure out what to say about this book. I’m a bit late to reading it, so it feels as though there is not much I can contribute beyond what has already been said. This is an honest, raw, incredibly well-written book that will touch you deeply and sneak inside your heart. The description does not do it justice, but it’s nearly impossible to put into words what transpires throughout this book. I will do no better than the official description, but will try anyway.

In some ways, this is a story about a grumpy old man and why he is grumpy. But it is more than that. This book does not preach or harp about how we all have reasons for the way we are, though the human connection of sadness, loss, and challenges is part of what makes this book so amazing. But it would not be a great story if it was outspoken about it; its beauty comes in its subtlety, the way it slowly builds to this deep, rich, and full life picture of a grumpy old man. Yet, that is not the full picture of this story. It is also about how much impact we have on those around us without even knowing it. It is story on the powers of community contrasted with the desire for control. There are many layers here and it goes far beyond a grumpy old man having to deal with new neighbors. In the end, it teaches us all a little bit about accepting everyone around us and accepting all the beauties life has to offer.

This story is very touching, but also a little bit too perfect. The book is initially a bit challenging to get into because there is so much grumpiness and so little understanding of all the characters involved. The writing style is perfect, but there’s use of language that is a bit unsettling. This is a moving and touching story, but not one that changed my life or I will carry deep in me for eternity. For these reasons, it is not a 5 star, favorite book rating. But it is a book I highly recommend to everyone. I doubt there is any type of reader who will not like this book. So stop waiting to read it and pick it up today!

Add it on Goodreads! A Man Called Ove

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The Judgment of Richard Richter – Review: Kindle First

I am breaking my review schedule to post this review because it is the first Kindle First book I’ve greatly enjoyed and it is currently free to Prime members through the Kindle First program through the end of August (you do not need to own a Kindle reader, but do need the Kindle app). If you are not a Prime member, it is currently on sale for $1.99 through the end of August. I wanted to make sure you can snag it if you’re interested in reading it (I will NOT receive compensation if you decide to download it). I will not be reflecting on this book.

If you enjoy this review, can you please consider liking it on Goodreads and/ or marking it helpful on Amazon? It would help drive traffic to this blog. Thank you so much!

the judgment of richard richter coverThe Judgment of Richard Richter by Igo Štiks 4/ 5 stars

Trigger Warnings: Suicide (not graphically depicted); suicide ideation (discussed at length); wartime violence (not graphically depicted); incest (discussed at length; not graphically depicted)

While I enjoyed this book more than I expected, it is not a book for everyone. It is a work of true literary fiction, in the style of Dostoevsky and Joyce, with long descriptive sentences, which often contemplate on the ideas of fate, war, destiny, and identity. Long passages in the book debate and reflect on these ideas, without really moving the plot forward. This style of writing can be boring to some, laborious to others, and enjoyable to readers like me.

The Judgment of Richard Richter is written in the first person with Richard Richter narrating and writing a personal memoir, thus going back and forth between his writing of the memoir and the actual story he is writing the memoir about, sometimes without clear transitions signaling the change in timeline. Richter is a writer who upon separating from his wife, moves back in with the aunt who raised him. It is here where Richter finds the information that upends the truth of his life and sends him searching for answers. To say much more would give away large sections of the plot.

In Richter’s search, there are plot points which become obvious before they are related to the reader and then other plot points which come as a surprise. Much of what is obvious is meant to be so as Richter himself greatly alludes to how certain parts of his story play out. This is connected to the theme of fate, as though it was inevitable for certain things to happen, and in the present, he laments on the cruelty of fate. These lamentations are often melodramatic and highlight Richter’s cynical nature. This follows the writing style of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, two of several authors whom Richter references in his writings and calls them friends.

The story unfolds slowly, spending time building up all the necessary pieces and giving enough depth to the main characters to make the reader more invested in their story. The tone throughout the book is foreboding and suggests there will not be a happy ending. Richter makes that clear as he sits in Vienna writing down the events which recently transpired. Yet, the story is not sad, it simply feels inevitable, and thus, one walks away with more satisfaction from having learned all the details than with sadness for all which has transpired.

This writing style is not for everyone as in addition to the long descriptive sentences and passages, Štiks makes uses of literary references and other languages. There are several specific references to several specific books and if one has not read those stories, it can be a bit challenging to understand the deeper symbolism, but one can still understand the plot. These references can at times be lengthy and used as explanation for what is happening in the scene. The story also makes use of many different languages including French, German, Bosnian, and Spanish and these phrases are only rarely translated. There are also times when one is not quite able to garner their meaning from the context. Richter argues that Simon’s use of all these languages mixed in with his English makes his speech richer. While for the most part, the use of untranslated language did add to the book, there were a few times it was frustrating and partly detracted from the book.

As one can garner from the trigger warnings, this subject matter is not for everyone. The theme of suicide and incest are throughout the book, making it advisable to pass on this book if discussions of such topics are triggering for you. The book is not graphic in its depictions of any potentially triggering scene, but the sheer length and depth of discussion around particularly incest could potentially be as triggering as graphic depiction. The theme of suicide is throughout the book, but it is not discussed to the same length or depth as incest is. In addition to the discussion of incest itself, there are several references to Oedipus Rex by Sophocles and Max Frish’s Homo Faber.

I found this to be a beautifully written book contemplating fate through a slowly developing story, but one of my favorite novels is Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. I found the long contemplation on various concepts to be engaging, but I enjoy deep, intellectual conversations and reflections. I enjoyed the long sentences and long passages with descriptive, overly written language, though I appreciated that it was more accessible than Dostoevsky and Joyce. I did not mind that the book was long and that there was not much in the way of plot. This is the style of book I am looking for when it is labeled literary fiction and I am so glad this book satisfied. A decent number of books today do not live up to the literary fiction labels, but this one does.

I received this book free through the Kindle First program, though this did not affect the honesty of this review.