Friday, January 13, 2017

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry: A Book Review

by Taylor Patskanick

This poignant story by Fredrik Backman often defies reality in the pursuit of celebrating the diversity of human experiences.

Elsa, an extraordinary seven-year-old, is something of an outsider among her peers; and Granny, an eccentric 77-year-old, is her best friend and superhero.

Granny tells Elsa nightly bedtime fairytales about the Land of Almost-Awake and its legendary six kingdoms in a wardrobe that seems to grow with Elsa inside of Granny’s apartment. But when Granny loses her battle with cancer, Elsa is tasked with the adventure of a lifetime to deliver apology letters from Granny to others from throughout her life. 

Gradually, Elsa meets many new friends in her apartment building with characteristics and histories that mirror the stories she has heard from the Land of Almost-Awake. 

Meet Alf, a cantankerous cab driver; Britt-Marie, the fussy leader of the “leaseholder’s association;” the Monster, a soft-hearted germaphobe; and a wurse, a bizarre creature that loves chocolate. 

Those are just a few of the acquaintances Elsa befriends. Not only do these new friends help Elsa fill the hollowness of Granny’s death, but they become important allies when their apartment building is threatened by an enemy likened to a fearsome dragon in the Land of Almost-Awake.

Backman’s words are whimsical and charismatic, highlighting the complexity of our greatest social concerns today - bullying, domestic violence, feminism, mental illness, grief, loss and more. 

The intersection of Granny’s past and Elsa’s present through the fairytales will captivate and enchant you - reminding us of the need for empathy in understanding others' experiences of others, while showing the limitless power of the grandmother-grandchild relationship.

Backman’s quirky writing style might take some adjusting too, but I enjoyed experiencing life through the eyes of a 7- going on 8-year-old, though the fairytales are also meant for adults. 

As we grow up and life becomes complicated, we think we have to let go of our heroes from childhood stories. Backman pushes back against these ideas, proposing that perhaps life does not have to be this way. 

Elsa and Granny’s story is one example of how generations connect through stories.

Let’s continue the conversation:

How has intergenerational storytelling influenced your life or your family?

Taylor is an MSW/MPH candidate at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. She is also a Master’s Research Fellow in Aging with the Friedman Center for Aging at Washington University’s Institute for Public Health.


Anonymous said...

A very nice review of the book. Now, I am going to pick up a copy. Everytime I go to the bookstore, I have picked it up and put it down. But Taylor's review has sold me.


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