Friday, December 02, 2016

Sweden: My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises, by Fredrik Backman

Seven year old Elsa is different. She lives with her mother and stepfather George, in a block of flats in an unnamed Swedish town. Elsa's mother is very busy running the hospital, so she spends a lot of time with her grandmother who lives in the next flat. Her grandmother is slightly crazy (in a good way), getting up to all sorts of antics such as busting into a zoo, firing paintball guns and making snowmen who look like real men who have fallen from the roof. She also tells Elsa stories about the magical kingdom of Miamas. In short, she is Elsa's superhero, and every seven year old who is different needs a superhero.

When Granny becomes ill, she leaves a trail of letters for Elsa to deliver. Each time Elsa delivers a letter to one of the inhabitants of the block of flats, she hears their story, and receives another letter to deliver. Gradually we learn more about her grandmother and about all the other people in the block of flats.

This is a wonderful story full of understanding of the complexities of human nature. I did have to suspend my tendency to nitpick a bit. For instance, Elsa meets and rescues the wurse (who seems to be actually a very large dog) but it is never quite explained why the wurse seemed to have been living in a flat on its own. Or why the wurse is so remarkably accommodating and well behaved when Elsa hides him in various places such as the garage or a wardrobe.

And I did feel a bit sceptical at times about Elsa herself. She is not supposed to be a typical seven year old. She is very smart (though the school does not seem to think so, due to institutional tunnel vision that is concerned only with whether a child "fits in"). Nevertheless - and I've known some pretty smart children - at times I thought her behaviour and wisdom was stretching it a bit even for a very smart seven year old. Still - it's within the bounds of possibility that somewhere in the world is a child who is as smart as that (I'm talking emotional intelligence rather than solving complex mathematical equations, although Elsa is also a prodigious reader).

Still - a great read for the not too cynical reader. My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises was translated by Henning Koch.

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