It can be hard to be different in a world where conformity is the nature of the game. Society has rules, and those rules must be followed. A little bit different might be cute, but a lot different can be dangerous, and “dangerous” people often find themselves kicked and punched and ridiculed as others try to force them into a hole that has no space for them.
That’s why those of us who are different need a granny like Elsa’s granny.
My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises is a gloriously irreverent celebration of the differences that make us human. We see the world through Elsa’s 7-year-old eyes, filtered with pop culture references and the great font of wisdom that is Wikipedia. But we experience the world through granny’s actions, and feel her outrage at the mundaneness that is everyday life; an outrage fueled by a personality that fought to become a doctor when everyone said women could never be doctors, and then ran straight toward every warzone and catastrophe that blighted the earth for the next 40-ish years.
Granny is Elsa’s superhero, and it’s not hard to understand why. She’s a tornado in reverse; chaos is in the centre, reaching out tendrils to bring wild winds and fury to the outside areas of calm. No one is safe. Door-to-door religious preachers are fired at with paint pellets while granny wears nothing but a poorly tied bathrobe. Police, called to a disturbance overnight at the zoo, are subjected to projectile monkey shit. When you’re different like Elsa, and bullied day to day, having a granny that wages war with the world seems just about right.
Of course, when granny dies, the adventure really begins. Granny has some apologies to make, and Elsa is her chosen knight. As Elsa reaches out to the residents of her apartment block, offering letters of apology, we start to see the ripple effect that one person can make, especially when that person is different. While everyone has been damaged, by the world and by each other, they are nevertheless bound together by the sanctuary of place and community.
It’s hard to know what to like most about My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises. Best-selling Swedish author Fredrik Backman artfully weaves humour and heartbreak together with such richly detailed inventiveness (credit must also be given to translator Henning Koch for a beautiful rendering in English). We see the real world and granny’s make-believe world of The Land of Almost Awake bleed together until the two are mirrors of each other. People become heroes in both life and in fairy tale, and are somehow more like themselves when the two identities are entwined. Perhaps we all have a shadow self we’re missing?
This is the kind of book that lingers; you might close the cover and put the book down, but the characters follow you like balloons tied through flesh and gristle to the pumping of your heart. My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises is a book destined for the reread pile. It might never leave it.