Prather’s Pick: Fredrik Backman novel explores right to be different
“My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry,” this week’s novel for adults, is truly unique. It was written by Fredrik Backman, a No. 1, New York Times bestselling author who lives in Stockholm, Sweden. The novel is published by Atria Books (2015).
The book is dedicated “to the monkey and the frog for an eternity of ten thousand tales.” Reading the dedication might give the reader a hint that something special is in store. The story is told by an unknown narrator who knows everything about Elsa, the 7-year-old protagonist, and her grandmother.
Elsa is “different.” She’s one of those kids who is very grown up, who corrects others’ mistakes, and doesn’t fit in with her 7-year-old classmates. For that reason, she’s bullied, but in this case, it isn’t only verbal abuse. Elsa is chased home after school, and when the kids catch her, they beat her up. Having a black eye is the norm for Elsa, and for some reason, the headmaster at school just lets it happen.
Elsa’s best friend is Granny, who might best be described as cantankerous. She’s 77 years old, a genius, and a crackpot. Take the time that men came around the neighborhood, rang doorbells, and talked about God, Jesus, and Heaven. Granny stood on the balcony with her dressing gown open and shot at them with her paintball-gun.
Granny used to be a doctor. She won some awards and saved lives, but one day, she was told she was too old. Boy, did Granny have a lot to say about that.
Elsa and Granny share a magic, secret kingdom known as Miamas. It’s just one of six kingdoms in the Land-of-Almost-Awake. Granny came up with the kingdoms when Elsa was small and her mum and dad got a divorce. Elsa was afraid to go to sleep, so she sneaked out of her apartment and went to Granny’s. She and Granny crawled into a big wardrobe and rode into the Land-of-Almost-Awake on the backs of cloud animals, where they saw elephants, wurses, snowangels, and other creatures. They rode until they came to Miamas, where Granny told the best fairy tales ever.
Granny lives in a four-story apartment building, in which there are nine flats. Granny lives on top. Across from her is the apartment where Elsa, her mother, and George live. (Mum is divorced from Elsa’s father — also a character in the story — but Mum lives with George. They are expecting a baby. Mum is a boss at the hospital.)
Also living in the building are Britt-Marie, “a full time nag-bag”; as well as Kent, a woman who wears a perfectly-ironed black skirt; Lennart and Maud; Alf, a taxi cab driver; and The Monster. Though the narrator says the apartment is “a normal house, by and large,” there is always something going on.
Granny has been in the hospital for two weeks. Elsa doesn’t know it when the novel opens, but Granny has cancer. She escapes from the hospital every chance she gets to do things with Elsa. Then, the unthinkable happens — Granny dies. She leaves behind some letters, apologizing to people she has wronged, and it is Elsa’s job to deliver the letters.
This is a novel with a little bit of everything: humor, fantasy, hope, and love. The central message, however, is the right to be different.
The hardcover book costs $25. You can also find it at the Craig branch of Moffat County Libraries.