The Loveliest Compliment in 7 Words {Book Club}

I love the connections you are making between Ove in A Man Called Ove  by Fredrick Backman and other works.

Carl in Up. Thank you Raven.

Shrek and Donkey in Shrek. (Think Ove and Cat Annoyance.) Thank you Kiera!

This week Ove reminded me of Nikolai, an 84 year old Ukrainian immigrant living in England in A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. What first brought this book back to mind was that I remembered laughing when I read it. Like A Man Called Ove, though, it reaches something deep.

All four of these works touch on themes of loneliness and belonging.

I’ve got to be honest, the first part of this section got to me. As I grew to understand more of what had happened, I just ache for Ove.

These were three themes I saw in this section:

Powerlessness: This came up twice. From the end of Chapter 20, “Ove sinks onto the stool in the hall. Sharing with humiliation. He has almost forgotten that feeling. The humiliation of it. The powerlessness. The realization that one cannot fight men in white shirts.”

From Chapter 23 in response to seeing Sonja in the hospital after the bus accident—”It would pursue him every night for the rest of his life: his utter impotence of the first week.”

Sonja also touched on in Chapter 23 as well when she interviewed for the job and was told, “‘This is not education, this is storage.’ Maybe Sonja understood how it felt to be described as such.”

And all those letters Ove wrote! Letter after letter . . . changing nothing.

Another theme, and Ruth touched on this in the comments, Unprocessed Grief.

Combine powerlessness with unprocessed grief over the cumulative loss Ove experienced and you’ve got Ove. The need for control is palliative. When I first moved to the city of Chengdu, the bicycle lanes were patrolled by volunteer retired people. If you didn’t stop at a light or if you violated the law, watch out! The wrath of the grannies and grandpas would rain down on you.

The seemed to be like Ove, people who had been powerless for so many years that when they got a little bit of power, they bludgeoned people with it.

In Chapter 23 Ove was described as being “so weighed down by anger.”

After we learn the history between Rune and Ove we read, “Maybe their sorrow over children that never came should have brought the two men closer. But sorrow is unreliable in that way. When people don’t share it there’s a good chance that it will drive them apart instead.” Yes, I thought. Yes.

Ove had much to grieve. Loss after loss. But through them all, he had Sonja. I can see why her death was the final straw for him.

But then around Chapter 25 I saw more glimmers of Hope woven in.

Actually, this glimmer comes from Chapter 23. “But Sonja would not have been Sonja if she had let the darkness win. . . . ‘We can busy ourselves with living or with dying, Ove. We have to move on.'”

In Chapter 25 when Ove used the corrugated tin to electrocute that awful yappy dog and Cat Annoyance looked at him as if to say, “You’re not serious, are you?” . . . “No, I suppose not.” He packed it all up, not because they don’t deserve it, “But because he knows it has been a while since someone reminded him of the difference between being wicked because one has to be or because one can.” (I love Cat Annoyance.)

When Ove meets Adrian—though of course we don’t learn his name for a chapter—he sees himself: A young man in love but not sure what to do, a young man without an older guy to advise him, and finally . . . working two jobs to buy a car! (Albeit a French car. Oh the horror.)

And then Ove goes and volunteers to teach Parvaneh to drive. When Ove got out of his Saab, shut up the SUV driver, and then returned to the Saab, I teared up when he made his short speech to Parvaneh about all that she has overcome (especially the “and you’re holding together a family of obvious incompetents”).

“And then he utters seven words, which Parvaneh will always remember as the loveliest compliment he’ll ever give her. ‘Because you are not a complete twit.'”

I about lost it again at that point.

This week the theme is “Welcome to Ministry Life” and this quote made me think of us. “Ove looks at the group assembled around him [in the car coming home from the hospital], as if he has been kidnapped and taken to a parallel universe.” Ha! A parallel universe. Yup, that could be a description of ministry life. The good, the bad, the ugly, the sameness to other jobs, but the difference that makes it, at times, feel like a parallel universe.

While we certainly could read this book faster, I’m thankful we are taking our time digesting and discussing. See you in the comments, friends.


P.S. We finish next week. How will it end?!
August 29: Chapters 30-The End


  1. sarah August 22, 2017

    This is probably my favorite section of the book. So many things come together- why Ove has so much animosity toward Rune, why Sonja was in a wheel chair, why they never had kids, why Ove hates the “white shirts” so much. Yeah, it’s got lots of heartbreak, but of course, lots of humor and Ove being heartwarming on the sly.
    As a cross-cultural worker, I absolutely loved Chapter 21. Ove thinking “Sennjaur” meant “Ove” in Spanish, and them calling him “Senor Saab” after him thinking they were talking about cars when they needed to get to the hospital. Ove going around, fixing everybody’s stuff while Sonja took a siesta, because that’s what he does- he grumbles while he helps people. The strangest superhero ever. 🙂

    1. Amy Young August 24, 2017

      That part cracked me up too, Sarah. Senor Saab!!!

  2. Kiera August 22, 2017

    I am still loving this book and had a hard time keeping myself to today’s section – I read it all right after we finished the last one and then had to wait days for this post. Haha. And now, I’m trying to remember what I read and what stuck out. Parvaneh learning to drive – I have such empathy. I will need to re-do my driver’s test soon to get a license again and although I did drive before, it’s been quite a long while. Thankfully, I will NOT be learning to drive a stick-shift because that is way too hard, no matter what Ove says. 🙂 Amy, the theme of powerlessness that you pulled out is so strong in this section. I especially feel the indignation at the man in the Skoda who drives into the residential area and leaves his cigarettes around etc. all because he can. It’s painful to read the way that institutions have worked against Ove. So much of this section helped us see Ove for why he is the way he is and yet, I love the promise that things are changing for him. Can’t wait to finish it up!

    1. sarah August 22, 2017

      Kiera, I also had to retake the driver’s test last year, despite having driven as a teen/early 20’s in the States! What a weird experience! It was like becoming an adult in the US again, or something. But, it all came back way faster than I expected. And, the driving test was shockingly easy, despite not having driven for 7 years and then only practicing a few times before taking the test. I hope it goes well for you!

    2. Amy Young August 24, 2017

      One does have strong opinions :). We just won’t tell him you’ll be taking the driver’s test on an automatic car.

      And those cigarette butts! So symbolic on how powerless Ove was. Only a powerful JERK would do that. UGH!!!

  3. Phyllis September 6, 2017

    The driving lesson was the best part so far! I was laughing out loud, and then I teared up right with you, in the same spot. I can almost picture myself in the same situation. I never learned to drive. I used to think that if I ever needed to, I would just learn then, but lately I’ve been thinking that I’m too old now; I wouldn’t be able to do it. But, if I were in a situation like Parvanah and had a teacher like Ove, maybe it work.

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