Archive for the Category ◊ Book Reviews ◊

• Friday, June 21st, 2019

Fredrik Backman was born in 1981 and grew up in Helsingborg, Sweden. After dropping out of college he worked as a forklift driver at a fruit warehouse and chose night and weekend shifts in order to dedicate his days to writing. He is a columnist, a blogger and a novelist writing fiction and non-fiction books. He has written for the Swedish daily newspaper, Helsingborg Dagblad and for Moore Magazine.

“A Man Called Ove”, Backman’s first novel, was published in Swedish in 2012 and English in
2013. The book became an instant success and one of Sweden’s most outstanding literary exports since Stieg Larsson’s thriller “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, published posthumously in Sweden in 2005. “A Man Called Ove”was adapted as a successful stage play in 2015 and an award-winning Swedish feature film. It has sold many copies, has been translated into several languages and an American movie is planned, starring Tom Hanks.

Fredrick Backman was voted Sweden’s most acclaimed author in 2013. He was married in 2009 and presently lives with his wife and two children near Stockholm, Sweden.

“A Man Called Ove”, tells the story of a slave to routine, retired, eccentric, bad-tempered fifty-nine-year-old Swedish widower called Ove. From the first chapter of the novel the reader gains a glimpse of Ove’s character. He is uncompromising and committed to what he believes in. He is a man of few words, set in his ways, who is obsessed with Swedish “Saab” cars, of which he has continuously owned various models.

Overwhelmed and depressed by his loss, Ove is unable to deal with his grief following his wife, Sonja’s demise six months earlier from cancer, after forty years of marriage. He misses her and longs to join her in the after-life. Several times he attempts to commit suicide but fails due to various incidents and interruptions. He ends up dying of heart problems.

The author reveals Ove’s past in strokes, which helps the reader to comprehend his embitterment and his feeling of being rejected by society due to several elements in his life he deems unfair. First, he experienced a harsh childhood, losing both parents at an early age and had to struggle for a living. Second, he was unexpectedly forced to retire after working for the same company for forty-three years. Third, the unfairness of the untimely death of his wife and fourth, because he is no longer the chairman of the neighbourhood Residents Association, having been replaced by his former friend, Rune.

An undesired, challenging, as well as the unpredictable relationship, starts with a provocation between Ove and a young friendly couple, who move into the neighbourhood next door. This is the Iranian, immigrant, pregnant Parvaneh and her clumsy “lanky” husband, Patrick, accompanied by their lively, uninhibited seven-year-old and three-year-old daughters.

Parvaneh has an entirely different personality to Ove. She is extrovert as well as being self-assertive. She never gives up on Ove until she succeeds in mellowing him by bringing out his altruism, which leads to being forbearing and open to others.

“A Man Called Ove” is an easy read. It is a sad, touching and funny story about a constantly irritated misanthrope character who warms up to thoughtful, friendly, persistent approaches which reach their target by taming him unexpectedly. It reveals goodness hidden under his hard shell, gaining him the empathy of his neighbours as well as the reader and turning him into a lovable, sympathetic character.

In an interview, Frederik Backman admits his susceptibility and justified exasperation toward people who do not comprehend his anger. He says about himself: “I’m not very socially competent” and he says, referring to Ove: “There’s a lot of me in him. When we get angry, it’s about a principle, and we get angry because people don’t understand why we’re angry.”

We all have some of Ove in us, sometimes hidden deep and sometimes revealed when the opportunity presents itself, indicating that: “No man is an island” and there is always hope for the human race.

• Friday, May 24th, 2019

Laurie Lico Albanese is an American writer who grew up in Long Island, New York. She graduated from New York University with a degree in journalism and has written fiction, poetry, journalism, creative non-fiction and memoirs. Albanese is also a specialist in the field of tourism and travel.

In 2014 she obtained a Master Of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine and received the New Jersey State Council in the Arts Fellowship in Fiction Writing and a Catherine R. Dodge Foundation Fellowship to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has taught and tutored writers for more than fifteen years and from 2004 to 2008 she also taught at Wagner College on Staten Island, where she developed a memoir writing class.

Her poems, short stories, journalistic works and novels have received many awards. She lives in Montclair, New Jersey with her husband, a publishing executive, and her two children.

Stolen Beauty, published in 2017, is Laurie Lico Albanese’s fourth novel. It is a fictitious story with an authentic background and real people. It depicts the life and relationship of a young, wealthy, married Jewish Austrian woman, Adele Bloch-Bauer, who becomes the muse and lover of the famous Austrian secessionist, symbolist and avant-garde artist and painter, Gustav Klimt. The story is set in Austria at the time of rising anti-semitism leading up to the second world war stretching to the beginning of the years two thousand. The reader follows the chain of horrible events of anti-semitism and the second world war through the narrative of Adele’s niece, Maria Altmann.

The author explains in painful, lingering detail – most chapters taking place in 1938 – this disquieting and traumatic period of the history of the persecution of the Jews following the German Nazi invasion of Austria in the nineteen thirties. In contrast, Laurie Lico Albanese chooses not to provide her readers with sufficient background about Gustav Klimt’s life and art.

Nevertheless, the bright Jewish biblical figure, the widow Judith, who is wealthy, courageous as well as being beautiful and The Woman In Gold, two of Gustav Klimt’s well-known works of art, both featuring Adele Bloch-Bauer, are an essential part of the plot. The author describes all the events behind their conception and achievement as well as the imminent danger of their elimination.

In 1941 the Nazis stole the iconic portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, who died from meningitis in 1925. After the second world war, the painting was exhibited at the Austrian Galerie Belvedere, according to Adele’s will, although she had left all her assets to her husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Baeur to dispose of as he wishes. When Ferdinand died in 1945, he bequeathed his entire estate to his nephew and two nieces.

Adele Bloch-Bauer’s heirs, who were long waiting for justice, had to endure a strenuous long court battle with the Austrian Authorities for the restitution of the portrait. Maria Altmann’s lawyer took her case to the United States Supreme Court. The court ruled on the matter: the Republic Of Austria versus Altmann in 2004. Adele Bloch-Bauer’s heirs succeeded and the painting was restored to its rightful owner. It was sold the same year to the Neue Galerie in New York, where it hangs today, for a hundred and thirty-five million dollars, a record sum of money for a painting at the time.

The story of Stolen Beauty is told by Adele, alternating with the story of her Jewish niece, Maria, the daughter of Adele’s sister, Thedy. The two women have in common their courage, endurance and determination to pursue their aim against all the odds. The chapters are interlaced with the two of them going back and forth between 1889 and 2006. The author says: “I write historical fiction based on the lives of real people and put women at the centre of those stories”.

The readers get a glimpse of the glamorous, golden days of Austria’s cultivated high society under the Habsburg reign, before its dark period of Nazi occupation. The time when Vienna was considered one of the main cities for art and culture. The days it harboured the Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, as well as all sorts of modern thinkers. There were home-held cultural salons by wealthy supporters of the arts and science, not forgetting the sought-after ballroom dances of debutantes and the stylish, leisurely coffee houses, highly cherished by the Viennese.

Stolen Beauty is a story of a wealthy Viennese Jewish family, dispossessed of all their wealth during the Nazi occupation and the courage of two women unconventionally ahead of their time. Coupled with the story behind Klimt’s paintings and in particular, the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer called, The Woman In Gold. Other topics addressed in the novel include endurance, passion, art, marriage and fidelity as well as political hatred and violence combined with alarming anti-semitism and the devastation and tragedy of the second world war. The author has thoroughly researched European art and history, including interesting imaginary conversations.