A Place Without Coordinates {Book Club}

A Place Without Coordinates {Book Club}

A Note from Sarah and Rachel: we are thrilled to have Bayta hosting Book Club this month! She’s definitely not a stranger here, and we are excited to be reading Backman together as we hear Bayta’s perspective.


Before we jump in, let me say that I come to And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer with no personal experience of dementia or Alzheimer’s. I know that if your story involves walking alongside someone suffering with these diseases, you will read this short novella very differently. If you feel ready to share, we would so value your voice in the comments!

It feels hard to capture the atmosphere of this book. Hauntingly beautiful. Deeply moving. Searingly painful. Incredibly sad. Full of warmth, love and hope. These are just some of the words that come to mind. What would you add? Let’s go on a journey together to see what we each discovered and what stayed with us.

“Is he talking to his son? Or his grandson? And are these real events? Or something happening in his mind? Memories of bygone times, maybe?” I have to confess, I often felt confused and a bit lost. Just when I thought I’d figured it out, the narrative shifted, and the questions started again. At times, I started to get a bit frustrated. Then I realized that was probably the point. Fredrik Backman skillfully lets us experience a bit of what the main character battles with as he slowly loses some of his mental abilities. It’s not quite walking a mile in his shoes, but it very effectively helped me relate and gain at least a glimpse of understanding.

Each family has its own dynamics – some beautiful, some challenging. It soon becomes obvious that Noah and his grandfather have an extraordinarily strong bond. A bond that Noah’s father seemingly never had with his dad. It’s not just the time they get to spend together (though I’m sure that plays a part) but the fact that they seem to think in similar ways. Both love numbers, whereas Noah’s dad never did.

At one point the book says, “The dad likes numbers and the boy likes letters; they’re different languages.” Isn’t that just so true?! From the few hints we get, it seems that for much of their lives, their relationship was stuck. It’s only at this late stage that they start to find ways of reaching out to the other, of seeking to meet them on their turf. I wonder what the son felt like, seeing the natural connection between his own son and his father. Was it a mix of sadness (because he did not have that) and joy at the love those two had for each other? And what was it like seeking to support both his dad and his son on this difficult journey? As it says right at the beginning, there is no map, there are no roads and no coordinates. Each person, each family, needs to find their own way.

Let’s finish with another beautiful moment that caught my attention. This one comes toward the end of our section and describes the relationship between Noah and his grandmother. As she started having some physical challenges, Noah “taught himself to pour half cups so she wouldn’t spill any, because she was always ashamed when she did and he never let her feel ashamed in front of him.” What amazing kindness and respect! Kindness seems to be a theme running through a few of the books we read recently. I feel convicted and inspired to show that same level of regard to people around me. It is so easy to get annoyed with people’s weaknesses. Oh, what a difference it makes when we lift each other up, when we go out of our way to treat each other with dignity!

In many ways, this novella is very different from the other books we’ve read by the same author. Yet I felt the same empathy and kindness towards his characters shining through that I appreciated in the longer novels.

And lastly, if this has whetted your appetite – it’s not too late to jump in! This is not a long read at all so you’ll easily be able to catch up and join the discussion!

What was your response to the first half of this novella? What struck a chord? What did your heart and mind ponder? See you in the comments!

August Schedule

August 11th: And Every Morning Part 2– to the end of the book

August 18th: The Deal of a Lifetime Part 1- Beginning to Page 34/location 171/36%, the line “I failed with you. Fathers are meant to teach their sons about life, but you were a disappointment.”

August 25th: The Deal of a Lifetime Part 2- to the end of the book

Photo by Dominik Lange on Unsplash

7 Comments

  1. Sarah Hilkemann August 4, 2020

    Thank you for leading this month, Bayta! This book has really struck a chord with me. My grandpa suffered from Alzheimer’s, and it was excruciating to watch the slow decline. I also focused on dementia for projects in college adult developmental psychology and health psychology, and although that was a long time ago now, those suffering from dementia and their caregivers are especially close to my heart. It is so hard when your mind betrays you. Backman rather brilliantly takes us into the grandfather’s mind in this book, I thought, to show the little pieces of memory that are still there, or the struggle to remember and put things together. In my studies of dementia it also reminds me how intricately the Father designed us, the absolutely amazing capabilities of our brains and the pain that can be caused when our brains become ill.

    Noah’s kindness stuck out to me too! What a beautiful way to show you care about someone, to adapt and ease any shame they might feel.

    1. Bayta Schwarz August 4, 2020

      Thanks so much for sharing, Sarah! I am grateful for your insights both from personal experience (though I am sorry you had to go through that) and from your studies. It truly is remarkable how intricately we’re made!

  2. Phyllis August 8, 2020

    I think Backman’s gift is showing real sadness, but not without hope and love.

    1. Bayta Schwarz August 8, 2020

      Oh that is so true, Phyllis! Such a great insight! Sitting with the sadness, not rushing past it, is not something many of us from Western cultures are particularly good at. Making space for sadness but (as you say) not without hope or love – that truly is a gift he has and is giving us!

  3. Amanda Hutton August 11, 2020

    Dementia is not something I have personally had any encounters with, but the thought of it always leaves me unsettled. What struck me most in the book were the memories that he held onto and cherished. They weren’t his accomplishments or successes in life, per se. He was never famous and didn’t have anything really worth writing a book about.

    “We lived an extraordinarily ordinary life.”
    “An ordinarily extraordinary life.”

    Every person carries fascinating stories and memories, but sometimes it is the most ordinary things that make life beautiful. The memories I cherish and couldn’t bear to lose include: the giggles as my kiddos play together on the beach, homemade pizza and game nights with friends, and laying next to my husband and the end of the day, talking about whatever comes to mind.

    1. Bayta Schwarz August 12, 2020

      That’s beautiful, Amanda! So true! It’s so easy to miss or take for granted those moments.

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