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Läsarna i Broken Wheel rekommenderar Katarina Bivald, Läsarna i Broken Wheel rekommenderar (Readers in Broken Wheel Recommend)

Forum,  2013.

Reviewed by Anna Paterson in SBR 2014:1

Review Section: Fiction, Light-Hearted and More Serious

‘The world is simply overflowing with  Happy Endings, Sara thought [...] She  would marry Broken Wheel. And they  would live happily ever after.’ These final  sentences in Katarina Bivald’s clever first  novel also just about sum it up. 

Mystified? It will begin to make sense  if you know that Broken Wheel is a small  town and that a significant proportion of  the townspeople has been made more  thoughtful and even happier than they  were because Sara has persuaded them  to read books. And you will have grasped  the essentials of the plot if you know that  the Broken Wheelers learnt to care very  much for the quiet, bookish girl from  Sweden, who arrived among them alone  – though invited by a favourite fellow  citizen and accompanied by a suitcase full  of books – and that they finally united to  bully Tom, the taciturn man Sara loves, to  see sense by involving him in a collective  proposal to Sara.

Läsarna... is a book with a message, but  its romance is feather-light. Amy, Sara’s  prospective host and a book-lover, too,  dies but Sara agrees to stay for the three  months her visa allows. Broken Wheel  is a recession-struck place in Iowa with  little to be proud of until Sara stirs up  mild notoriety by opening its first ever  bookshop. Her mission, pursued with  persistence and ingenuity, is to convert  the locals to the pleasures and rewards  of reading. Sara is a believer: she believes  passionately in the power of books.

The author escapes becoming too  serious by writing up Broken Wheel’s  eccentricities and strange love affairs, but  Sara is clearly Bivald’s spokesperson: ‘She  had always hoped that at least someone  like Jane [Austen] could have looked at  life going on around her and told herself:  “I can create a better world than this”  or, anyway “You, dear Sir, are a complete  bore, but you will do very nicely for my  next book.”’

And what the writer creates, the  attentive reader adds to his or her life in  some form or another. It doesn’t have to  be high literature. A young girl reunites  with her father once she has found that  the adventures in Eragon are also about  the young and troubled. A lonely woman  finds that reading gay erotica makes it  easier for her to accept being in love  with a bisexual man. Books teach you  about real things, even if obliquely.

Katarina Bivald knows exactly what  she is doing: the lightness of touch helps  the thoughtful passages go down and the  message is driven home with references  to other books about reading. Including  some of Amy’s letters to Sara allows  references to 84, Charing Cross Road –  ‘one of the most charming books ever  published since Guernsey’s Literary and  Potato Peel Pie Society’ – and Sara’s habit  of making lists of titles and ordering  them on her shelves is very educational.

Readable, witty, earnest and  endearingly silly at times, and all about  books: no wonder publishers have fallen  in love with Läsarna... By the way, Sara  and Tom do get it together, even though  Tom prefers country & western music to  books. 

Other reviews by Anna Paterson

Other reviews in SBR 2014:1

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