my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry

Title: my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry
Author: Fredrik Backman
Publisher: Atria Books

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The first passage that made me cry:

“I’m not stupid, Granny,” she whispers. “I know you did all that stuff tonight to make me forget about what happened at school.” Granny kicks at some gravel and clears her throat. “I didn’t want you to remember this day because of the scarf. So I thought instead you could remember it as the day your Granny broke into a zoo–“

I would continue down the list, but I’m afraid I’d have half the book in here and I’d get sued for reproduction. Let me say, though, that I mean that in a good way. (Not the suing, the crying). This book hit home for me in a lot of ways, from the divorced parents to the go-getter mom just trying to navigate everyone’s needs, including her own. And it does it so in beautiful, unpresumptuous language that captures all sorts of universal truths.

It’s strange how quickly the significance of a certain smell can change, depending on what path it decides to take through the brain. It’s strange how close love and fear live to each other.

Okay, enough with the sappy, here are the deets: Elsa is seven and struggling with bullies at school and her divorced parents’ new families at home. It’s all okay, though, because she has her grandma and her grandma’s amazing fairy tales—until, all of a sudden, she doesn’t. Her grandma post-humously leads her on a quest that connects her fairy tales with the residents of the flat in which they lived, and, eventually, there is lots of closure for lots of people. Be warned: grandma’s first career was as a medical doctor in war zones and refugee camps, and many of the flat residents came to know her through that work, i.e., experienced significant trauma that still effects them.

Before you accuse me of never criticizing anything, let me say that, as a dog lover (check out my Instagram for puppy overload), I was not pleased with the wurse. I refuse to believe that a medical doctor told her grandchild to feed a dog chocolate. For a while, I sustained a belief that the wurse was actually a magical being or at least an exotic animal whose nutritional needs were perfectly met with chocolate and cookies, but, well — I don’t think that’s what the author intended.

Other than the wurse, I loved how this book dances around the line between reality and fantasy, between what actually happens and what we perceive happening. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think a mere recital of what physically happened often doesn’t fully capture what people experience. Adding a fantastical element can help flesh out how people see their circumstances and why they react the way they do. If books are really about exploring the human experience–which I think they are–then fantasy serves an important role here.

Ultimately, I would definitely recommend this book — but I’d also recommend you read it in private. (Unless your local coffee shop is totally okay with you bawling).

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