Sunday 30 December 2018


Finished December 16
Beartown by Frederik Backman, translated by Neil Smith

I read this for my December bookclub meeting. I really enjoyed it, but it took me a while to get into it. I like hockey and live in a country where it is very popular, but it was the characters and the relationship dynamics that really made this book for me.
The story takes place in a small remote town in Sweden, Beartown. The town has been gradually declining, with businesses closing and people moving away. One hope for revitalization is to be the location for a new hockey school being built. The decision on where to build it will take place soon.
The town is split geographically by class and wealth. The richest people live in the Heights, a part of town uphill from the center. The poorest live in the Hollow, downhill from the center.
Peter Andersson is a hometown boy made good. He had a short NHL career and then came back to be the hockey club general manager in town. His wife Kira, is a successful lawyer, and works in another town nearby. They have two kids, Maya who is fifteen, plays guitar, and Leo, twelve. Maya's best friend Ana often stays at their house as well.
Sune is the coach for the A-team, and the one who convinced Peter to return to town. David is coach of the junior team and has a very different style from Sune. The two have grown apart, partly due to pressure from the club board and from David to move the star player from the junior team, Kevin Erdahl, up to the A team. Sune doesn't think he has the maturity.
Fatima is the cleaner at the club, a single mother, whose son Amat has been allowed to practice on the ice early in the morning in exchange for helping the caretaker. He is a good and fast player, although not that big, and currently plays on the team below the juniors, as he is only fifteen. Amat's best friends are Lifa and Zacharias, boys who, like Amat weren't like everyone else. Lars is the coach of the boys' team that Amat plays on.
Other players on the junior team are also important to the plot. One is Benji, Kevin's best friend, a good player himself, more mature than normal for his age. He grounds Kevin to a certain extent, but he also has his own secrets. Another is Bobo, a bully who throws his weight around, but also has a moral centre. William Lyt lives next door to Kevin and wants to be his best friend, but stands no chance with Benji around.
Other people in town that play important roles are Robbie Holts, a middle aged man who was once a hockey star, but wasn't mature enough to take the bad times with the good in stride, and is now down on his luck. Ramona owns the local pub, the Bearskin, just like her mother and her grandfather. She went to every game until her partner Holger died eleven years ago. Now she never leaves the pub. Her "boys" bring her what she needs.
As the author says, "hockey tells stories" and it definitely does here.
As the team works up for their big game, and then for the game after that, we see the various characters interact, make good choices and bad choices, and see lives get changed.
This is a book about hockey, about small towns, about families and friendships. about sexism and class. It is a microcosm of life.

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