'A Man Called Ove': A Swedish Curmudgeon Wins Hearts On The Page, And Now On Screen Move over, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — a grumpy man may soon take your place as America's favorite fictional Swede. The film adaptation of the best-seller A Man Called Ove is now coming to the U.S.
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A Swedish Curmudgeon Wins Hearts, On The Page, And Now On Screen

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A Swedish Curmudgeon Wins Hearts, On The Page, And Now On Screen

A Swedish Curmudgeon Wins Hearts, On The Page, And Now On Screen

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Here's a trivia question. Who is the most popular fictional person from Sweden?


Up to now, it's been the girl with the dragon tattoo. Now she may be replaced by a grumpy old man.

INSKEEP: He's the main character in a novel, and now the film, "A Man Called Ove," which opens in the United States today. NPR's Lynn Neary reports.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: When Swedish director Hannes Holm was offered the chance to direct "A Man Called Ove," he wasn't interested. Holm says he was afraid of the novel's many fans in Sweden.

HANNES HOLM: If you're going to shoot a best-seller, you will have all these book lovers on your back all the time. So I really - I said, thanks, but no thanks.

NEARY: But after he said no, Holm decided to read the book.

HOLM: I started to read it in the evening. And then the morning sunrise - and I find myself in bed, crying. And my pillow was wet. And then I just called the producer and said, I've seen some things in this book now. And I really want to do it.


NEARY: Ove's the kind of guy most of us try to avoid. He picks fights with storekeepers and prowls his housing complex, making sure gates are locked, garbage has been properly stowed and no one, especially dog owners, is breaking any rules.


ROLF LASSGARD: (As Ove, Speaking Swedish).

JESSICA OLSSON: (As Mahat, Speaking Swedish).

NEARY: But it is the gradual unfolding of Ove's that has made the novel by Fredrick Backman so popular. It was already a best-seller in Sweden when it landed on the desk of Peter Borland, editorial director at Atria Books.

PETER BORLAND: I'd never heard of it. I knew nothing about it.

NEARY: Borland took "A Man Called Ove" home to read over the weekend and fell in love with the novel.

BORLAND: Ove is such a curmudgeon at the start of the book. And then as you gradually come to understand more about him and learn his backstory and figure out why he is the way he is, you just sort of melt.

NEARY: Even so, Borland didn't have huge expectations for the book. Atria ordered a modest first printing of 6,600 copies. The book sold well in hardcover but really took off in paperback. It's been on The New York Times best-seller list for 38 weeks.

And there are about a million print and e-book copies in circulation. Borland gives much of the credit for its success to independent booksellers like Nancy Usiak of The Book Bin in Northbrook, Ill.

NANCY USIAK: I'm just excited to be here to talk about my very favorite book in the world.

NEARY: Usiak grabbed "A Man Called Ove" from the stacks of books that publishers sent her store because the title intrigued her and she liked the cover.

USIAK: I read it and handed it off to the rest of the staff and said, listen. Am I crazy? Or do you love this book? And very seldom does one book hit notes for everybody that's in the store. And this is one of those rare exceptions - that everyone who read it said, this is an amazing book, and I can't wait to sell it.

NEARY: Usiak says she loved the friendship that formed between Ove and his new neighbor, Parvaneh, a young Iranian mother who won't be steamrolled by an old curmudgeon and can even make him laugh at himself sometimes.


LASSGARD: (As Ove, laughter).

BAHAR PARS: (As Parvaneh) Ove.

USIAK: He puts up such huge walls. And here's this woman who walks into his life. And all of a sudden, she realizes that there's a lot of depth to him. And I would hope that if I met someone like that, I'd have the patience that she did to embrace him and find what's underneath all those layers.

NEARY: Of course, it is just this kind of devotion that first made Hannes Holm uncomfortable about taking on the adaptation of this novel. But Holm says he understands that fans worry the book they love will be ruined.

HOLM: Myself - hate to see when a good book is being massacred on the screen. So it's like the audience and the director must meet each other. I think I must do a good job as a director and screenwriter to steal the story out from the book and then throw away the book.

NEARY: When Holm read the book, he realized the story he wanted to steal was not about a grumpy, old man. It was a love story told in flashbacks.

HOLM: And that reminded me of when I was a young boy, looking into my parents' photo album - the black-and-white photos where I could see how much in love my parents were before they get us, the children. So therefore, I've got the opportunity to shoot the scenes when my parents really met.

NEARY: "A Man Called Ove" is Sweden's official entry for an Academy Award for best foreign language film. Peter Borland, the editor who launched the book into the U.S. market, says you can't really call it a sleeper hit anymore. It's a full-on success story. But he says he's keeping his expectations low for the Oscar race.

BORLAND: I'm trying not to think about it too much. But I will admit in the back of my head, there's an idea that it's going to win (laughter). But other than that, I'm not thinking about it at all.

NEARY: The question is, can you catch lightning in a bottle more than once?

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

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