Thought Box

Kaleidoscope - A Li'l Bit Of Kindness

Kaleidoscope - A Li'l Bit Of Kindness

by Deepa Gahlot February 4 2016, 10:00 pm Estimated Reading Time: 2 mins, 57 secs

Intolerance is the word of the season-- all over the world, people are losing their patience, compassion and that sense of community that makes life worthwhile. What does a bit of kindness cost at a time when every day brings dark and depressing news?

Frederick Backman’s charming novel A Man Called Ove is just that spoonful of sugar that a bitter world needs. Backman, a Swedish blogger, wrote about a crotchety man called Ove (pronounced Oover), and the character became so popular that a book resulted, beautifully translated by Henning Koch.

Men like Ove could be found all over the world—widowed, no family, no friends, looking like "a middle-aged man who expects the worthless world outside to disappoint him." He is a meticulous keeper of schedules, a stickler for rules, a creature of habit (he hates everyone who does not drive a Saab), every day being exactly the same. He lived a tough life of struggle and toil, and the death of his wife, Sonja, took away all happiness and desire to live. At 59, all Ove wants is to die in peace.

His careful preparations to hang himself are disrupted by a noisy, friendly family moving in next door. They first annoy Ove by knocking down his mailbox, and then drag the reluctant grouch out of his self-imposed solitude.

The husband is the mild-mannered and clumsy Patrick, his wife, the very pregnant Iranian, Parvaneh, and they have two daughters, one quiet and studious, the other a complete riot. A mangy cat attaches itself to Ove too, much to his annoyance.

The writing is simple and very funny, moving back and forth in time, alternating Ove’s current state of irritation and helpless surrender to Parvaneh, with his harsh childhood, romance, marriage and life with Sonja. As the book proceeds and the reader gets to know the true nature of his devotion to his wife, the admiration for Ove grows.

Parvaneh does not let on, but she understands Ove’s state of mind, and has an uncanny knack of interrupting her neighbour’s latest suicide bid. Ove’s objections and rudeness have no effect on Parvaneh, or on Jimmy, the overweight computer geek next door, who envelop him with the warmth of being needed—whether it is driving to the hospital Patrick who broke his leg falling off a ladder borrowed from Ove, or helping a neighbor fight a nasty care worker who wants to take away her ill husband to an institution, or supporting another gay neighbour against his homophobic father. Early on he saves a man who has fallen on to a railway track (where he had gone to die), and resists the local journalist’s insistence on telling his story and turning him into a hero. The journalist later joins Ove’s fight against heartless bureaucrats “men in white.”

Ove, who spent his life building things, has the magical ability to fix anything; what he doesn’t know is that he is capable of repairing broken emotions too, till Parvaneh barges into his misanthropic life.

It’s a sad story too, but uplifted by so much kindness and wit that you wonder why people don’t help others and make the world a better place. All it takes is will.

The book makes the reader smile and wish this were how things could be in real life, when nobody would be lonely, and despair would be wiped out with love and humour.

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