Sweden is in the news. So not surprisingly, being readers, our conversation soon veered from supposed attacks, to horses rescued from wells, to an English translation of a Swedish book we had read recently. Fredrik Backmans ‘My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises‘ (American title ‘My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She Is Sorry’) translated by Henning Koch, was delightful, quirky, poignant, full of humour and throughly enjoyable.
Seven year old Elsa is precocious to the hilt and her Grandmother is her superhero because to her ‘a grandmother is both a sword and a shield’. Her school and her mother think Elsa needs to learn to ‘fit in’ but her grandmother knows that she is perfect and introduces her to an entire land of the imagination where currency is not coins but good stories. Elsa and her grandmother are not just inhabitants of this land together but friends in real life. When her grandmother dies she entrusts Elsa with the task of delivering a series of letters, personally, to various people that takes her on a journey of discovery.
PS: Often stories get lost in translation.No matter how good the translation is, it is not possible to bring out the nuances of one language in another. But strangely we didn’t even realise that this was a translation.
LL: I think I was initially too absorbed by the craziness of the grandmother who fires paintballs from her balcony and breaks into the zoo in the middle of the night and assaults beleaguered police officers with animal poop.
PS: Any child who has read ‘superior literature’ would want a Grandmother who can argue the merits of Spider-Man vis a vis Harry Potter.
LL: The book is full of blurring of lines between being a child and being an adult, reality and fantasy, goodness and evil and death and life and all of this somehow combines to make a story that sharpens the focus on life.
This is a book about accepting people and their eccentricities. And about how the circumstances of life can effect people differently: “Because not all monsters were monsters in the beginning. Some are monsters born of sorrow.” It is also about finding unlikely companionship in a journey dealing with loss. Ultimately we were a little envious that Fredrik Backman, being so young (in his early thirties when he wrote this book), can write so insightfully.