My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Sep 29, 2017

I read A Man Called Ove last year, and my feelings toward that book have only grown fonder with time. So I was excited to dive into another of Backman's novels, especially one with a title as endearing as this one (although, I really think it should have been My Granny . . .  since Elsa never refers to her as Grandmother, but nobody asked my opinion).

The story starts out charming enough. Seven-year-old Elsa and her granny are sitting in the police station after breaking into a zoo and then dodging the police. Oh, and Elsa's granny had to actually break out of the hospital in order to break in to the zoo. With an opening scene like that, you realize pretty quickly that this is not your sit-on-the-porch-and-knit kind of granny.

She and Elsa have a strong bond, made only stronger by their secret language and the fantasy world of Miamas, a magical kingdom that they travel to almost every night. But the whole reason Granny is in the hospital is because she has cancer. It's terminal, and when she passes away (soon after the zoo incident), Elsa is devastated. Granny is her only friend, and she feels the void like only a seven-year-old can.

But before she dies, Granny gives Elsa the first in a series of letters to be delivered to various neighbors and friends. In each letter, she apologizes for something, and along the way, Elsa learns about her granny's past, the mistakes her granny made, and how the people in her world fit together.

Even though I loved the opening scene, the story soon bogged down for me because of the aforementioned fantasy world. The line between fantasy and reality is quite blurred for Elsa, which made it quite confusing for me: Was that really a wurse Elsa was feeding cookies to or just a really big dog?

I found myself desperate to get through the stories from Miamas so I could get back to the real world and try to make sense of what was going on.

And finally, finally, things did begin to come together; the two worlds lined up and came into focus, and when they did, well, then I started to think Fredrik Backman might be something of a genius. Because isn't that how seven-year-olds see the world? As a mix of truth and fiction? So even though Elsa is an extremely bright, precocious seven-year-old, she's still at a very impressionable age, and it was pretty amazing to see the world through her eyes and make the connections right along with her.

That said, the characters maybe all fit together a little too perfectly for my tastes. In a turn of events rivaling a Dickens novel, everyone was related to or in love with or enemies with everyone else. It was both brilliant and totally unbelievable, and yet, there again, from a seven-year-old's perspective, sometimes everything really does connect in rapid succession just like that.

I know some reviewers have criticized this book, saying that Elsa acts too mature for her age. But actually, for me, it was just the opposite. Elsa saved the book. Because she was only seven years old, she could get away with so many things and made the unbelievable much more believable.

Even though I didn't love it as much as A Man Called Ove, I can't deny that Fredrik Backman knows how to tell a darn good story.

Content note: There's some strong language in this one, especially from Granny and Alf. 


  1. Hmmm...this was a really interesting review! I'd heard almost exclusively negative reviews about this book, but I liked how specific you were about what worked and what didn't. Sounds like quite the story! Maybe I'll give it a try after all, since Backman is quickly becoming a favorite author of mine :)

  2. Yep, agree with this assessment 100% (and I even like fantasy way more than you). He got there in the end, but there were moments I doubted. It was definitely weird for a while.

  3. Thanks for the review. This is the only Backman title I haven't read yet, and the fantasy element hasn't really interested me. Maybe I'll try it on audio. Or would that just make it more confusing to follow, I wonder?


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