Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and its Executive Director, is a committed advocate opposed to the imposition of the death penalty, an advocate for unjustly imprisoned children, and an iconic American citizen at the forefront of discussing racism as reflected in the Judicial System. It is a book that will surprise you, shock you, and appall you. Simply put, read this book, one of the Ten most noted books of 2014 by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and numerous other literary reviews.
My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” -Bryan Stevenson
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption revolves around the case of an innocent man, Walter McMillian, a black man who had a white girl friend in Monroe County, Alabama, framed by the Sheriff, the District Attorney, and convicted by a Jury for the murder of a clerk in a dry cleaner's shop. Condemned to die. The Sheriff and the District Attorney ignored the evidence that exonerated him. Manufactured the dirty evidence that convicted him and placed him on death row. Incredibly, though no law provided for it, the Sheriff succeeded in McMillian being held on death row prior to trial within the Alabama penitentiary system. McMillian was held on death row for a total of six years.
Walter McMillian, Exonerated
Although the case occurs in the home town and county of Harper Lee, the community which has gained fame from Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, there is no Atticus Finch to implore the Jury, "For the love of God, do your duty."
Bryan Stevenson surfaces as a real life Atticus Finch who ultimately gathers the evidence, uncovers the chicanery and political machinations that imprisoned McMillian. Stevenson who was a young fledgling attorney not long out of law school. He has argued cases before the United States Supreme Court five times.
Walter McMillian is a man to cheer for. Stevenson is a man to be emulated by so many others in the Justice System. But Stevenson does not gleefully celebrate his victories, the exoneration of the innocent. A bubbling anger appears to roil within him at the injustices he has continued to attempt to right in those years following McMillian's exoneration.
That anger, for me, is understandable yet disturbing. I have to wonder if Stevenson bears a burden that prevents him from having faith in any system responsible for the administration of justice. Whether it is difficult for him to approach any adversary opposite the court room without feeling there is the possibility of fairness.
I was a prosecuting attorney for almost twenty-eight years. I spoke for vulnerable populations. Abused children, victims of sexual assault, both women and men who were undeniable victims of domestic violence. I directed our County's Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Program for almost four years. I began the private practice of law and for nearly two years, represented children as a Guardian Ad Litem, and Adults charged with Criminal Offenses. The years finally took their toll. I am thankfully retired. The Equal Justice Initiative Office is only ninety odd miles away. I owe Bryan Stevenson a vist. Maybe a little volunteer work.
Alabama's Electric Chair, currently stored in the attic of Holman Prison.
Sunday Morning Coming Down: a Reader's Reflection
I'm having a most unusual Sunday morning. I'm listening to the music of Dale Watson, led there while contemplating Capital Punishment. I'm having a cup of coffee. I've been thinking. A lot.
Reading takes you on strange journeys.
"Yellow Mama" was the name given to Alabama's Electric Chair. Although the Alabama Legislature had authorized death by electrocution in 1923, there was no way to carry out that sentence until 1927.
Kilby Prison, 1922-1969, Montgomery County, Alabama
Alabama needed a way to electrocute Horace DeVaughan for a double murder committed in Birmingham. Inmate Ed Mason, an English cabinet maker by trade who was serving 60 years for theft and grand larceny, built Yellow Mama. The chair was painted with yellow paint from the nearby Highway Department. The same paint used to paint lane indicators on State roads. The inmates named the new chair.
While well built, the chair didn't work too well. On April 8, 1927, Horace DeVaughn was the first human being to experience "riding the lightning." It was a long ride.
"He prayed to Jesus for hours beforehand, and accepted no food, drink or cigarettes on the night of the execution. In his final statement he expressed that he had been forgiven and had no hard feelings toward anyone, and asked for someone to tell his mother goodbye and that his soul was saved. DeVaughan underwent three 2,000 volt discharges between 12:31 and 12:42 AM. At the first 40-second jolt his body surged forward, a thin gray smoke flowed from under the electrode over his head, and the odor of burning flesh was apparent. After the second discharge, flames were seen on his leg, but he was still alive. After the third jolt, he was pronounced dead. Twenty were present as witnesses, included Moore's brother, George, who traveled from Coffeyville, Kansas and claimed a piece of DaVaughn's belt as a souvenir of his visit."
(The Montgomery Advertiser, Montgomery, Alabama, (2002))
Horace Devaughn was a black man. Two weeks later, Virgil Murphy, a veteran of World War I who was convicted in Houston County of murdering his wife, became the first white man electrocuted in the chair. Before the state's use of the electric chair, executions generally were carried out in the counties by hanging. (The Alabama Department of History and Archives) Tuscaloosa County "Old Jail," where the gallows were
So here I am listening to music by a Birmingham, Alabama, native singing about sitting in that chair. Most of my professional career it was my duty to uphold the imposition of the death penalty. No easy burden. It's a lot to think about when you ask a man's jury of his peers to kill him. I have the utmost respect for Stevenson, though we would have been on opposite sides of the court room had we ever met in one.
I have tried my share of Capital cases. The verdicts in each case was guilty. However, the Jury's sentencing recommendation in all but one Life in Prison Without Parole. Those Defendants will never walk out of prison alive. Unless the Legislature changes the law regarding Life Without Parole. It's quite possible. The State is going broke. The prisons are overcrowded. There is a growing geriatric population in our prisons.
The law prevents an Alabama Prosecutor from telling a Jury that the Legislature could one day allow the possibility of parole in a Capital case. Were a Prosecuting Attorney do that, it would be reversible error.
In each Capital case I have tried, the Judge presiding followed the Jury's sentencing recommendation. In each case, I did not ask the Judge to override the Jury's recommendation. In my opinion the Jury had spoken. The verdict was Just. When the Jury recommended Mercy, I believed Justice had been done.
There is that one case, though. The case where I sought the death penalty, the verdict was guilty. I strenuously argued to the Jury that the only appropriate sentence was death. The Jury's recommendation was death. The Judge presiding imposed the death sentence. That was fourteen years ago. The case remains somewhere in the seemingly endless series of Appeals.
The Defendant murdered his two month old son. Beat and shook him to death. The child had two rib fractures on his chest. The child had eight rib fractures on his back. Picture holding a baby in front of you. Your thumbs gently resting on his chest, your fingers cradling each side of his back. The weight of the baby supported underneath his arms by the flesh between your thumbs and forefingers.
Think of the amount of force necessary to break the cartilaginous ribs of a two month old child. Consider it the same degree of force as the impact of two vehicles colliding each travelling at sixty miles an hour. Consider that the baby's brain was shaken so hard that his brain swelled within his soft skull to the degree the pressure became so great his brain shut down all autonomous nerve processes.
The verdict was just. I have no, absolutely no reason, to be ashamed of the verdict I sought, the sentence I sought. Yet I live with the fact I asked twelve men and women to kill another human being. It will bring you down. But it the life denied a child who will never have the opportunity to grow up that haunts me. I do believe there are cases where the denial of mercy is just.
But. There is always the possibility of a "But." I agree with almost every word Bryan Stevenson wrote.
Two Diverging Roads
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken
Bryan Stevenson and I started out on the same road. Neither of us intended to become lawyers.
Each of us felt the compulsion to do something meaningful. As Mr. Stevenson decided he could not help others by continuing his studies in philosophy by philosophizing, I decided not to be a teacher of history, a professor of Classical languages, or even a psychologist, though I took my undergraduate degree in that field.
Actually, I attempted to bluff the Chair of the Department of Psychology into allowing me to undertake my graduate studies in his department a semester earlier. I told him, "Well, if no assistance-ships are available, I'll apply to Law School." It seemed a good idea at the time. I had been tutoring the daughter of a Law Professor in her Latin studies. When the Chair smiled and answered, "We must all do what we must do, Mr. Sullivan," I nodded, swallowed, left his office and applied for entrance to Law School.
I was offered a Graduate Assistant-ship by the Department of Psychology the same day I received my acceptance to the School of Law. In my youthfulness and arrogant pride I turned down the offer and entered the study of Law.
Bryan Stevenson and I also agree about the traditional Law School curriculum. It is esoteric, It is a tortuous experience being the victim of the "Socratic" method of teaching. Students of the law are drilled in the art of confrontation and argument. To me, the desire to "Win" and not "Lose" is instilled in the student of Law. And, therein, lies the danger of Hubris in an adversarial process where the possibility of pride overtakes principle.
Perhaps, I have greater faith in our Judicial system that Stevenson. Or, perhaps I have too much.
There is the point at which we took the road the other did not.
The Tragedy of Walter McMillan
The behavior of two Monroe County District Attorneys primarily contributed to Walter McMillian's conviction and unlawful imprisonment. There should be consequences. Sanctions. The paramount duty of a District Attorney is not to secure a conviction, but to do the right thing. As prosecutors, we are lawyers just as those who are engaged in the private practice of law. I sport a tee shirt that defines a Prosecutor as a lawyer held to a higher standard. I personally always believed that, practiced that.
On June 11, 2015, retired District Attorney Charles J. Sebesta, Jr. was disbarred by State Bar Association of Texas for professional misconduct in obtaining a conviction of Robert Graves for a Capital Murder of six people on the basis of testimony he knew to be perjured. Further, Sebesta flagrantly withheld evidence proving Graves innocence. As a result Graves, an innocent man, was imprisoned for eighteen years for a crime he didn't commit.
It has been fundamental constitutional law since 1963 that prosecutors have an absolute duty to disclose evidence exculpatory to the Defendant. In other words, evidence which might be favorable to the Defendant. See Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215) https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremeco....
In its opinion disbarring Sebesta, the Texas Bar Association found he had violated his ethical duty by: eliciting false testimony from Robert Carter, a Co-Defendant;
failing to disclose the exculpatory evidence of Carter’s statement the night before trial, clearing Graves’ of involvement in the crime;
eliciting false testimony from a Texas State Ranger regarding Carter’s statements about Graves’ involvement;
threatening an alibi defense witness with prosecution for the same murders, when he had no evidence to support her involvement, apparently causing her to decide not to testify on Graves’ behalf;
failing to disclose that a prosecution witness was under felony indictment by Sebesta’s office at the time of his testimony.
That's simply as it should be. Stevenson's blistering memoir makes me cringe.
Bryant Stevenson attributes many of the problems he confronted to the lingering affects of slavery. Statistics do not lie. That racism exists is undeniable. Stating racism is the primary cause for the manner of imposition of Capital Punishment doesn't work for me. I initially intended to be a Defense Attorney. I cut my chops on the cases of Sacco and Vanzetti, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. My legal literary mentors were Clarence Darrow, Louis Nizer, Melvin Belli and allen dershowitz.
My take on McMillian's case hinges on the base instinct to win at all costs. The very instinct to which law students are subjected throughout their education, whether that is the intent of Law Schools or not. It is a weakness of human nature to submit to the will to win whatever the cost.
Just Mercy isn't perfect. Following is an excerpt from the Sunday Review of Just Mercy, Ted Conover, The New York Times, October 17, 2014.
“Just Mercy” has its quirks, though. Many stories it recounts are more than 30 years old but are retold as though they happened yesterday. Dialogue is reconstituted; scenes are conjured from memory; characters’ thoughts are channeled à la true crime writers: McMillian, being driven back to death row, 'was feeling something that could only be described as rage ... "Loose these chains. Loose these chains." He couldn’t remember when he’d last lost control, but he felt himself falling apart.' Stevenson leaves out identifying years, perhaps to avoid the impression that some of this happened long ago. He also has the defense lawyer’s reflex of refusing to acknowledge his clients’ darker motives. A teenager convicted of a double murder by arson is relieved of agency; a man who placed a bomb on his estranged girlfriend’s porch, inadvertently killing her niece, “had a big heart.”
“Some things you must always be unable to bear. Some things you must never stop refusing to bear. Injustice and outrage and dishonor and shame. No matter how young you are or how old you have got. Not for kudos and not for cash: your picture in the paper nor money in the back either. Just refuse to bear them.”-Gavin Stevens, Intruder in the Dust, 1948.
Walsh's debut novel is a bravura performance. This is an upcoming author to watch.
In brief, Walsh chronicles what appears the perfect world of a Baton Rouge privileged neighborhood. The adults belong to the country club. Husbands play golf. Wives play tennis. Their children attend an exclusive private school.
But a beautiful veneer covers many a fault that hides in a furniture piece beneath it. Many secrets hide behind the doors of the homes on Piney Road.
The polished luster that shines on the surface of this Louisiana lagniappe of infidelity and violence is shattered by the brutal rape of Lindy Simpson, a beautiful golden teen track star at the Perkins Private school.
Four suspects emerge, including the nameless narrator, a unique voice, that Walsh created, leaving the reader to wonder whether the key relayer of information has a shred of reliability.
This is a masterful story of family, love, loss, and the nature of friendsip. It is equally a wondrous tale of the pain of growing up and mistakes made for lack of knowledge for not having lived long enough.
For a writer so young, M.O. Walsh displays a knowledge of life and how people live it beyond his years. Read it....more
David Joy has written a compelling debut novel in Where All Light Tends to Go. A student of Ron Rash, Joy obviously listened closely to his gifted mentor. Daniel Woodrell praises the novel as, "Lyrical, propulsive, dark, and compelling. Joy knows well the grit and gravel of his world, the soul and blemishes of the place." No faint praise from the widely recognized author of "Country Noir."
Where does all light tend to go? Perhaps the answer lies in the Psalms.
 I will love thee, O LORD, my strength.  The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.  I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.  The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.  The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me...  In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.  Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth.  There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it.  He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet.  And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.  He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.  At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire.  The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hail stones and coals of fire.  Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them.  Then the channels of waters were seen, and the foundations of the world were discovered at thy rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of thy nostrils.  He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.  He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me.  They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the LORD was my stay.  He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.  The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.  For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.  For all his judgments were before me, and I did not put away his statutes from me.  I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity.  Therefore hath the LORD recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight.  With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright;  With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward.  For thou wilt save the afflicted people; but wilt bring down high looks.  For thou wilt light my candle: the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.  For by thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall.  As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him.  For who is God save the LORD? or who is a rock save our God?  It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect.  He maketh my feet like hinds' feet, and setteth me upon my high places.  He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms.  Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.  Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip.  I have pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them: neither did I turn again till they were consumed.  I have wounded them that they were not able to rise: they are fallen under my feet.  For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle: thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me.  Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that I might destroy them that hate me.  They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the LORD, but he answered them not.  Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind: I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets.  Thou hast delivered me from the strivings of the people; and thou hast made me the head of the heathen: a people whom I have not known shall serve me.  As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto me.  The strangers shall fade away, and be afraid out of their close places.  The LORD liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted.  It is God that avengeth me, and subdueth the people under me.  He delivereth me from mine enemies: yea, thou liftest me up above those that rise up against me: thou hast delivered me from the violent man.  Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name.  Great deliverance giveth he to his king; and sheweth mercy to his anointed, to David, and to his seed for evermore.
Or, perhaps all light just fades to black.
Jacob McNeely has been raised in the hills of Western North Carolina by a Meth kingpin, protected by cops on the take. Charlie McNeely has used his son in the family business since Jacob was a youngster, promising him a payday in the long run. But Charlie keeps the money put away "safe," as he drags Jacob deeper into the dirtier bits of the drug trade. Bits like taking care of snitches who blab to the law not on the family payroll.
Charlie may be a stone killer, but Jacob isn't. Nor can Jacob put aside his mmother, turned into a Meth addict by his oown father, who has simply called her "the Bitch" so long, it takes a law man to iinform the reader she once was called Laura.
David Joy deftly paints Jacob as a young man conscious of living in a world so evil he believes it impossible to escape from it.
Jacob will sacrifice his own happiness by breaking up with his love Maggie to keep her from becoming entangled in the world in which he is trapped. And Jacob will descend into a maelstrom of ever increasing violence ordered by his father.
Joy plots his novel at fever pitch. The ending stuns, startles, and reveals where all light tends to go. Is it in the Psalms, or does it simply fade to black? This is a must read. The answer to where the light tends to go is not an easy one.
David Joy is an author to be watched. Highly recommended, especially to admirers of authors such as Ron Rash and Daniel Woodrell.
**spoiler alert** A Man Called Ove: This Thing Called Love
Fredrik Backman, only thirty-three years old. You'll be surprised at his wisdom.
Love. I b**spoiler alert** A Man Called Ove: This Thing Called Love
Fredrik Backman, only thirty-three years old. You'll be surprised at his wisdom.
Love. I believe in it. In all it's forms. Pure, impure, fleeting, found, lost, unrequited. I am a master of love unrequited.
But I am absolutely stunned by A Man Called Ove written by Fredrik Backman. Only thirty-three years old. A former forklift driver. Read it. Perhaps you will love it (as in the impersonal sense, see below) as I did.)
Love. We yearn for it. Crave it. Give much for it. Think we have found it. Are often wrong that we have. It is one of life's great mysteries. Subject of the great works of literature, art, film.
Romeo & Juliet, Dicksee
Subject of very poor literature, art, film.
WHAT? You've NEVER had to say you were SORRY????
Just what is it, after all?
An Exercise in Cynicism
Flipping through the dictionary. AH! Yes! Very simple...See?
love ləv/Submit noun 1. an intense feeling of deep affection. "babies fill parents with intense feelings of love" synonyms: deep affection, fondness, tenderness, warmth, intimacy, attachment, endearment; More antonyms: hatred a deep romantic or sexual attachment to someone. "it was love at first sight" synonyms: become infatuated with, give/lose one's heart to; More a personified figure of love, often represented as Cupid. noun: Love a great interest and pleasure in something. "his love for football" synonyms: liking of/for, enjoyment of, appreciation of/for, taste for, delight for/in, relish of, passion for, zeal for, appetite for, zest for, enthusiasm for, keenness for, fondness for, soft spot for, weakness for, bent for, proclivity for, inclination for, disposition for, partiality for, predilection for, penchant for "her love for fashion" affectionate greetings conveyed to someone on one's behalf. synonyms: best wishes, regards, good wishes, greetings, kind/kindest regards "my mother sends her love" a formula for ending an affectionate letter. "take care, lots of love, Judy" 2. a person or thing that one loves. "she was the love of his life" synonyms: beloved, loved one, love of one's life, dear, dearest, dear one, darling, sweetheart, sweet, angel, honey
BRITISH informal a friendly form of address. "it's all right, love" BRITISH informal used to express affectionate approval for someone. noun: a love "don't fret, there's a love" 3. (in tennis, squash, and some other sports) a score of zero; nil. "love fifteen" verb verb: love; 3rd person present: loves; past tense: loved; past participle: loved; gerund or present participle: loving 1. feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone). "do you love me?" synonyms: care very much for, feel deep affection for, hold very dear, adore, think the world of, be devoted to, dote on, idolize, worship
Well. Quite simple. I've experienced love in all those forms...but it all seems rather...unsatisfactory.
Let's take a more scientific approach! Clearly, a more thorough answer to be found. Much to choose from...biology, chemistry, neurology....
The inimitable Dr. Fisher, also known as the "Love Doc." *ahem*
There, now. I have your attention, I think? Good. It's quite simple. Love is a very mammalian instinct, a veritable hunger, a thirst. Basically three stages. Lust! The interplay of testosterone and estrogen.
Also known as the "Big Bang," "The Earth Moved," "La Petite Morte," INDEED.
Which leads to Attraction! Oh, the increased production of dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, which makes the heart beat faster, leads to loss of appetite,sleep, and an intense feeling of excitement. It's almost like the effect of amphetamine on the body!
Which leads to more...
Birds do it, bees do it, even Albert Einstein did it...
Hmmm...meth addicts have told me that meth gave them the best sex they ever had in their lives. Of course, that is why they continued to use it, in the elusive attempt to achieve that same experience. But back to the illuminating work of Dr. Fisher.
Unfortunately, the attraction phase only lasts for one to three years. Bummer. Which may account for the phrase, "The honeymoon is over." Or, "The bloom is off the rose." Or, "The new has worn off."
So we come to phase THREE...Attachment! *ahem* Here's the kicker. Now you're dependent on the chemicals oxytocin and vasopressin. Uhm...believed to be important in pair bonding, maternal behavior, and some initial research indicating that oxytocin may be helpful in producing orgasm in women. Men are still reliant on pills, etc.,etc.,etc. In other words, either you go the long road through parenting or mutual interests. Good luck.
Thus spake, not Zarathustra, but Robert Browning
An Exercise of the Heart, Cynics May Exit Now.
Ove, pronounced "Oveeh" is a most unlikely object of love. To the outside world he is a curmudgeonly man, unlikable, grumpy to the core, a stickler for rules and regulations which he will call anyone on at any opportunity. A stingy man who will argue over the cost of every item down to the bottom Kronor. He will park his Saab at a distance to save on the cost of parking. His home is a cold place, the radiators knobs turned down tight, again, a matter of thrift. He once had a good friend, Rune. However, they fell out. He really can't remember the source of it all now. But, he sees Rune responsible for the coup de'tat that removed him as president of the Home Owner's Association of their neighborhood, with Rune taking his place. He has not seen his old friend for years. Ove has no friends. He has no job. He has been forced into early retirement.
Ove sees little point in living. Once he had loved. He had been married. Sonja. Sonja to whom he was married for forty years. She died. No one sees Ove when he walks to the cemetery to speak to her, caressing the stone that marks her grave.
These two were really nothing alike. He was not a reader. She was. She loved Shakespeare. All books. She was a teacher. When they met he was only a night cleaner on the rail line. However he wanted to build houses. She told him he could be anything he wanted. He got his engineer's certificate. He became a builder of houses. He did not become a reader. But he built her beautiful bookshelves.
"People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had."
My God. To love that way.
And, as Ove would survey his empty house, still filled with all Sonja's things, he would think.
"You miss the strangest things when you lose someone. Little things. Smiles. The way she turned over in her sleep. Even repainting a room for her."
The love Ove had for Sonja was not a one directional thing. It flowed equally from her. Her girl friends did not understand it. No one who knew her understood it. Everyone told her she could do better for herself. This is what Sonja thought.
"But to Sonja, Ove was never dour and awkward and sharp-edged... He believed so strongly in things: justice, fair play and hard work and a world where right just had to be right...Not many men of his kind were made anymore...So she was holding on to this one."
Love transforms us. It is a wondrous thing. Love makes all things possible. The loss of it can make life meaningless. So it was for Ove. Is it any surprise that Ove would take his life to be reunited with Sonja? Not for me.
Of course, Ove must make all things right. Leave no mess. All things in order. Proper instructions regarding all the property. A hole drilled precisely in the center of the living room ceiling. The proper hook to hold the rope. The proper noose. Kick the stool over. It's done. But the damned rope breaks. Ove lives in a world of incompetents. Idiots. You can't even depend on someone to make a decent rope anymore!
And slowly something begins to happen. Pushy neighbors insist on violating his privacy. Borrowing tools. Good God. They have children. The woman is a foreigner. And pregnant as a goose! Her husband cannot even back a trailer! Her name is Parvaneh. From Iran? And her husband this IT consultant. He doesn't get up till 9, 10? What is the world coming to?
Each day there is some reason that Ove cannot kill himself. He must save some idiot from himself. It is not a good day to die. Sonja. I am sorry. I know I am late.
And on Ove's story goes. An insistent cat. A boy alienated from his father. A child who wants to be read a story. An old friend whom social services wants to take from his home and put into a "facility." A beautiful story of love that exceeds the personal to a much deeper level the Greeks would have called Agape. Outside one's self.
This is a remarkable odyssey of one man's life and his experience of love. Do not be surprised if you shed a few tears, or more than a few. It is not surprising this novel has sold a half million copies in Sweden. Nor that it is selling so well in America. And the good news? Backman's second novel will be published this year. Watch for it. Get it. Read it. There is nothing wrong with a writer insisting that life is beautiful when he does so as eloquently as Backman.