Book Review: My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises Cover - a little blonde girl is standing next to a large black dog looking out into the distance

A Girl, Her Grandmother, Their Fairytale

I read Fredrik Backman’s My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises as the May selection for The Girly Book Club. If you’re a gal who loves to read and you’d like to get together with other gals in your area to read a book that the club is reading internationally, find your club here. Reviews for other GBC books can be found here and here.

Relationships are important

The key point in this book is that relationships are the cornerstone of one’s life. Don’t underestimate them and ask questions so you can build understanding about the other person. Elsa’s grandmother patiently answers all of Elsa’s questions with an honesty that is gifted to grandmothers. Their relationship is clear and strong, as Elsa is bullied at school and struggles to make sincere connections with others.

“…life saving and driving people nuts are Granny’s superpowers. Which perhaps makes her a bit of a dysfunctional superhero.” (pg 3)

Granny is the catalyst to everything in this tale. She’s the true protagonist (and possibly antagonist, depending on which character’s point of view you take). Elsa and her Granny get into all sorts of troublesome situations, which I personally enjoyed. I loved that Granny would do what she pleased, even go so far as to fling poop at police. She protects Elsa in her way, using her super powers of story-telling and detail to weave an alternate reality for Elsa. This alternate reality is called the Land-of-Almost-Awake. It is a reflection of reality: elaborate kingdoms, citizens that are tangled up in wars, royals that rule the lands.

The Gift

As a knight in the Land-of-Almost-Awake, Elsa is required to take on missions and complete them. Her grandmother conjures the most detailed quests for Elsa, putting her utmost faith in her ability to complete them. Elsa, curious about the meaning of the missions, takes them on due to her knightly pride. She is a knight of the Land-of-Almost-Awake and she will not forsake her duty. Plus, her only friend in the world (her grandmother) is trusting her to complete them, regardless of how hard they may seem to an almost eight year old.

“You’re not a little kid Elsa. You always say I should treat you like a grown-up. So stop answering me like a little kid. Why do you fight?” (pg 61)

Wanting to be treated like an adult is one of Elsa’s most endearing traits. What child doesn’t want to be a part of the adult conversation? To have their voice heard and their opinion respected as part of the decision making process? I was like Elsa as a child. I loved listening to adult conversation, trying to navigate what they were talking about, enjoying listening to different points of view and deciding which camp I fell into. Blessed to have a mother who would indulge in my quest for knowledge, my questions were answered. Had I also been blessed with internet at the time, Wikipedia would have been my best friend as well. However, my tool is the dictionary. I loved looking up words to figure out a new context, a new piece to the word puzzle.

Delivering Letters

As with all good things, they must come to an end. It is fairly clear from the beginning of the story that Elsa is going to experience her own loss and coming of age. Elsa is set to go on the greatest scavenger hunt of them all while dealing with the new emotions of grief, loss, anger and forgiveness. She sets out on her journey to deliver the first letter, along with Granny’s regards and apology.

Elsa’s Granny is the best schemer of all time. She has taught Elsa that everything has meaning, even if she doesn’t understand it right now. In order to have no fear during that time of ambiguity, Granny sends her on this journey to meet people that she’s been living around her whole life but doesn’t know who they are. As she delivers letter after letter, Elsa discovers people. She discovers their messiness, stories, and love. As each of the surface level characters are taken to a depth of 1000 feet, it is apparent that Elsa is meant to come of age with a community that has been encouraged to circle her with what love they can give.

Receiving Love

Elsa is experiences love from the adults closest to her – her mother and Granny. However, she’s the subject of the bully’s attention at school. If you haven’t ever been bullied or witnessed it, the account that is in this novel is a fairly accurate one. You learn to run, quickly. Learn to avoid certain places at certain times. Perpetuate the fear outside of the bullying environment. Being bullied results in being hyper-aware and distrustful of people. Elsa is keenly aware of her predicament and wants to have friends her own age, to feel the friendly love that familial love cannot provide. Outside of your immediate circle, it is an incredible blessing in life is to receive love.  Friends love you for who you are, who you are becoming and, most importantly, they grow with you.

Through Granny’s letter delivery quest, Elsa begins to realize that she has an ability to connect with people. Her interpersonal skills aren’t always on point but what almost eight year old has refined that super power? Elsa begins to cultivate the respect that her neighbours had for her Granny, sometimes changing it into love for herself, as she worked through her grief. This mature little girl receives love in so many ways: people taking the time to drive her, hearing the content of the letters, saving her from bullies, accompanying her on walks. It was an impressive coming together of the characters from the Land-of-Almost-Awake. As Elsa discovers each of them as their characters, she has an automatic connection with them. After all, the master tale spinner has been helping her to understand them in fairy tale form for most of her life.

Overall…

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes is a book that takes the reader through the Land-of-Almost-Awake and drowns them in the theme of humanity, particularly relationships. Elsa’s story picks up steam with the final quest, this book is an impressively simple read that is slow to start. Start to finish this one!

Four stars!

(PS I picked up the British version and loved it. Reading it with an accent and learning some new vocabulary was fun!)

Book Review: Broken Angels by Gemma Liviero

Broken Angels by Gemma Liviero4 Stars. Pull on the heartstrings.

Broken Angels by Gemma Liviero was chosen for a book club that I host, the Edmonton Chapter of The Girly Book Club. This is the third book that I have read as part of the international book club and I am more impressed than I was with Swear on This Life by Renée Carlino.

I’m a sucker for novels with different points of view in them.  Using this skill speaks to the author’s ability to weave tales from the same tapestry, pairing with their imagination to bring each of those characters to the forefront. In Broken Angels, we have three characters: Elsi, a girl left in the ghetto; Matilda, a girl ripped from her home; and Willem, a Nazi doctor.

Three people, living through World War II, each with their own fears and perceptions. Each needs to know exactly is happening and their role in it. With something as large as war, the need to know is unsatisfied and each chooses to embrace their situation. They fight their own war, with hope of continuing their lives in peace.

Liviero is an artist with emotion. She encourages you to read a little further which propels you into the next character’s storyline.  You get some answers you beg for in the previous chapter but fulfillment comes upon return to that character.

In a novel with revolving viewpoints, each character has their own inner life and Liviero delivers. The following three quotes are from the Elsi, Matilda, and Willem respectively.

A thick cloud of smoke hangs above the city. Someone yells that there is another fire. There are whistles in the distance. A fire truck speeds down the center of the road, narrowly missing an elderly man who is crossing. One more life gone would not make a difference. (Elsi, pg 111)

 

Since we have come into the house, we have not discussed our future escape, thought the thought is still there. Commander once asked me about my parents and to describe where I lived. The officer who stole me did not write down where I came from in the brown file that has my name on the front. I did not tell Commander anything in case one day I do escape, and the child thief, Herr Lehmann, has hopefully forgotten where he has stolen me from. (Matilda, pg 346)

 

It was no one’s fault – a premature birth, a medical anomaly – and yet I remember the promise I made to be with her at the hospital. Perhaps I would have noticed her fever before it was too late. (Willem, pg 221)

The novel teems with structure and chaos on a background of loss. Each character loses along the way and each gains. It is a tale that is for those who are interested in the human perspective of World War II, have a strong stomach (there are quite a few ghastly scenes), and want a great read.

I am now a fan of Liviero’s and will look forward to more books by her in the future.