Book review: Beartown

Bestselling author Fredrik Backman’s Beartown – translated by Neil Smith – set in a small community explores the secrets that tie it and courage that can fracture even the strongest bonds. At once profound, dazzling and hard-hitting, Beartown is a must read.

Fredrik Bachman | 2016 | Fiction

Bang bang bang bang.
That’s how this book will seem if you’ve read A Man Called Ove or Anxious People by Fredrik Backman.

Bang bang bang bang.
There is nothing sweet, warm, or comforting about this book.

Bang bang bang bang.
Misogyny. Racism. Toxic masculinity. Bullying. Victim shaming. Those are just some of the things Backman brings to you in this one.

The story is set in a fictional town called Beartown. The author brings the deadly winter landscape of rural Sweden to life through the town’s imagery and, most importantly, through Ice Hockey. Ice Hockey is the stage upon which this entire story plays out.

Arrayed with a complex cast of characters and with cutting insight and dialogue, this book will make you squirm. Some of the locker room conversations and some of the attitudes displayed in the stands during a game – it should and will feel uncomfortable. You’ve been guilty of it yourself, man or woman. Don’t even try to say no.

Here are some samples:

“…needs to put the handbag down.”

“Does your wife make all the decisions at home!”(this is yelled as an insult)

The wife of the general manager is mistaken to be a waitress at a diner (because women are never traditionally present in these meets). When she objects, she is derisively told she “Can’t take things too seriously, eh?”

Above all this, this is a book about the heartbreaking reality of parenting. Can we ever protect our children? Can we ever make the right decisions for our children? Do our kids become good people because of us? Do we really have that power? A line in the book sums it up “If she does everything right at work, things usually go as planned, but it doesn’t matter if she does absolutely everything in the universe correctly as a mother: the very worst can still happen”. Bang bang bang bang.

This book, in a nutshell, shows you everything that is wrong with the world and perhaps with your own self. But it also gives you everything that is right with the same world because what is our world, if not a set of contradictions and dichotomies? This book gives you Amat, Fatima, and Benjamin. It gives you the quiet strength of Peter. The “wolf mother” Kira.

This book gives you the world.

Be ready to be shocked.

Be ready to cry and smile through those tears.

Be ready.