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From the author of the internationally bestselling A Man Called Ove, a novel about a young girl whose grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters, sending her on a journey that brings to life the world of her grandmother's fairy tales.
Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy, standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa's best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother's stories, in the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.
When Elsa's grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa's greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother's letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones, but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.
1. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry begins with the pronouncement, “Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero.” (page 1) Do you agree? Why is it so important that children have heroes? Who were your heroes when you were a child?
2. Names play a significant part in Elsa’s grandmother’s stories. How do the various kingdom and heroine names from the Land-of-Almost-Awake (Miamas, Miploris, Mimovas, Wolfheart, the Chosen One, the sea-angel, etc.) inform your understanding of Granny’s stories? Did you agree with how their real world counterparts were portrayed in the stories?
3. Elsa’s mother grew up in a nontraditional family environment. Do you think this influenced her parenting style with Elsa? In what ways?
4. Were you surprised by the ways in which each of the apartment tenants were connected to the others? Which relationship surprised you the most? Why?
5. Granny is a polarizing figure in My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. Describe the way each of the characters reacts to her. Do you think their opinions of her are justified? Why or why not? What did you think of Granny? Do you know anyone like her?
6. Discuss the role that books, especially the Harry Potter novels, play in Elsa’s life. Why do you think Elsa relates to the Harry Potter books more than other novels? When you were growing up, were there books you particularly loved? Which ones and why?
7. What did you think of Britt-Marie when you first encountered her? Did she remind you of anyone in your life? Where do you think Britt-Marie goes at the end of the novel?
8. Elsa believes that her “teachers are wrong. [She] has no problems concentrating. She just concentrates on the right things.” (page 47) What kinds of things does Elsa concentrate on? How does this create problems for her? Do you think that Elsa is a good student? Why or why not?
9. Which of the characters in My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry surprised you the most? Why?
10. Discuss Britt-Marie’s marriage to Kent. Did you think they were well suited for each other? Do you think the marriage changed Britt-Marie? How can being in a bad relationship affect someone’s personality?
11. Fairy tales can provide a way to teach children some fundamental truths about the world. How do Granny’s fairy tales help Elsa understand the world around her? What lessons does Elsa take away from the tales her Granny tells her about life in the land of Miamas?
12. When her grandmother dies, Elsa is of course sad, but she also experiences a wide range of other emotions, including anger. Can you name some of the others? Consider how the loss of a loved one can lead us to have feelings that are much more complicated than sadness.
13. In this book, as in his previous novel A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman paints a vivid portrait of the relationship between an older person nearing the end of his or her life, and a young child. What can people at the opposite ends of life learn from one another? How are the very old and the very young alike? How are they different? When you were very young, was there an elderly person who played a significant role in your life? What did you learn from them?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Kirkus Reviews says My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry puts Backman “Firmly in league with Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman.” Read some of Dahl’s and Gaiman’s works and discuss them with your book club. Do you see any similarities between the works? What are they?
2. Granny’s fairytales provide comfort to Elsa. Why do you think that fairy tales are comforting to her and other children? Share some of your favorite fairy tales with your book club.
3. One of the themes in My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is the attempt of one generation to reach another via fantastic stories, both successfully in the case of Elsa and Granny, and unsuccessfully in the case of Granny and Elsa’s mother. As a group, watch the movie Big Fish, which similarly explores this idea and contrast the ways in which the fairy tales in each story play a part in the intergenerational relationships.
I’d like to welcome Fredrik to bibliobeth today and thank him very much for his time in giving this interview.
1.) Both your debut novel, A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises feature complex characters with hidden depths. Which character have you most enjoyed writing (past or future novels) and why?
I think I’m always most fond of the character I’m writing at the moment. I think it has to be that way, maybe not unlike a relationship, you have to be in love with the person you’re with right NOW. You can still be friends with the old characters, but you have to invest your time and your attention to the one you’re with right here. To be honest I think my feelings about the characters go as far as me almost forgetting things about the characters in my old books, since I’m too invested in the present. People sometimes asks me detail questions about an older book and I have to answer “I don’t remember, I have to re-read what I wrote”. That’s not to say I don’t care about the old characters, I really, really do, but the present characters consumes all of me. My thoughts and my feelings and my memories and my plans. My experience is that whenever I write a book like that, giving it absolutely all I’ve got, then the characters become real people to me. I consider them actual human beings, so I begin to view and react to my old books more as documentaries. As if I did an interview with an actual person, wrote a book about it, and afterwards that person continued their life and went on to other things and had an existence without me. Does that make sense?
2.) When the story begins, Elsa has two superheroes in her life – her grandmother and Harry Potter, although she may gather a few more along the way! Who were your superheroes when you were younger, literary or otherwise?
I liked sports. That was my biggest pretend universe. I find sports to be the same kind of escapism as literature or movies of comics: You step into a place where everything is made up but we pretend it’s real. We pretend it matters. We invest real feelings into it. And the second we decide we don’t want to, it all falls apart. Star Wars and Lord of the Rings would be nothing without an audience, and football is the same thing. It’s all pretend, and deep down we know, but we NEED that as human beings. When talking about that psychological model “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”, where human needs such as “food/housing/friendship” and so on are listed in a pyramid, I always find it odd that “imagination” is never listed. Everyone I’ve ever met has something going on in their head that is all made up, and is absolutely vital to them. It can be movies or books or sports or music or whatever. I don’t know if that answers your question. But if not, I answer “Astrid Lindgren”. She’s my absolute favourite writer. If you don’t love her you and me have nothing in common in life at all.
3. One of my favourite characters in the novel is the brave and biscuit-obsessed “wurse.”I’ve already got a mental image of him in my head but please satisfy my curiosity and tell me what breed of dog he most resembles to you? (If he were a dog of course and not a wurse!)
Well, he’s a wurse. They look they way they look. Like a wurse. It’s like asking “what does a horse look like?” It’s not a thin rhino or a very big monkey or a hairy snake. It’s just a…horse.
And I really wanted to write it the way so that every reader can cast it themselves. I wanted to force people to use their imagination. Which of course backfired, because now I’ve, true story, have had more than thirty different email discussions with people from at least six different counties who’s written me to tell me “DOGS CAN’T EAT CHOCOLATE THEY WILL DIE!!!”. And I answer “well it’s not a dog”. And they reply “DOGS CAN’T EAT CHOCOLATE YOU MORON!!!”. And I answer “well it’s a wurse, not a dog”. And they reply “YOU KNOW NOTHING OF DOGS THEY ARE ALLERG…”. And I answer “IT’S NOT A BLOODY DOG!!! IT’S A BLOODY WURSE!!!”.
4.) Elsa’s grandmother is responsible for the most terrific fairy-tales and the creation of many kingdoms. Do fairy-tales still hold a special place in your heart as an adult?
I think any adult who doesn’t hold a special place for fairy-tales needs to get help.
5.) Are you working on anything at the moment and can you tell us a little bit about it?
I’m writing a book to be published in Sweden this autumn. It’s a lot more serious than my precious ones, according to ones who’ve read it. Less jokes, more story, and perhaps a bit darker. It’s different. So maybe everyone will hate it, I don’t know. But it’s what I wanted to write right now and I thought I have to take the chance now that the publishers actually WANT to publish my books. Because that will all change as soon as they figure out I don’t really know what I’m doing here.
And now for some quick fire questions!
E book or real book?
I don’t care. I read a lot of printed books, I read a lot of others on my phone. I have two kids, I don’t have the luxury of choosing HOW to read. If I get to read I read anything. And “real” book? What does that even mean? “You do book or you do not do book. There is no try.”, as Yoda might have put it.
Series or stand alone?
I’ve always viewed series as just a REALLY long stand alone. Divided into smaller chunks. So…both?
Fiction or non-fiction?
Fiction. Easy. There’s quite enough reality in reality.
Online shopping or bookshop trawling?
Bookmarking or dog-earing?
Once again, a HUGE thank you to Fredrik Backman for giving up his time to do this interview and for his frank and very funny answers. My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises was published on June 16th 2015 by Atria Books and is available to buy from all good book retailers now! I’m very much looking forward to reading his next novel, Britt-Marie Was Here so look out for a review of it on bibliobeth very soon.