The lasting power of kindness and compassion in Fredrik Backman’s “Anxious People”

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BOOK REVIEW

by Susan Mae Loseo

              It all started with a bad idea that led to a hostage situation in an apartment open house by a failed bank robber.

              Eight anxious strangers who seem to have nothing in common find themselves in a complicated string of events—disclosing unspoken truths, expressing deep grievances, and extending genuine kindness.

              Putting together a rookie real estate broker, a retired couple, a nosy elderly woman, a condescending banker, a pregnant lesbian couple, and a peculiar man dressed in a rabbit suit makes the most bizarre group of hostages in addition to a comical record of witness accounts taken by a father-and-son police duo.

              This latest novel by Swedish author Fredrik Backman is supposedly just a story about a bank robber, an apartment viewing, and a hostage drama or in his words, a story about “idiots.” Little do readers know that it is a humorous but riveting tale about kindness and compassion. Particularly, the extent to which it can change lives—one bit at a time.

              This book chronicles the nature of humans being themselves, reconciling with the past, and refusing the possibilities of the future. Backman articulates some painful truths in such a way that gradually tears your heart open but warms it over. He does this so effectively by purposely steering readers to think that it is simply a story about anxious people who are idiots for making really bad decisions. Yet, he weaves in bits of reality behind each character’s story while highlighting their idiosyncratic tendencies, giving them depth, and allowing readers the grace of empathy between hilarious exchanges.

              This novel then becomes a tale about consequences. How one bad idea can spiral into the best or worst choice you have ever made. How sometimes, all it takes is a conversation with a stranger to snap you back into reality, to take a step back and breathe for a moment. Most of the time, we are the “idiots” expected to know what we are doing, figure out how to untangle messy webs that we spun ourselves, set some goals or find a purpose or a spark that serves our will to live. But Backman tells us it is okay to be “idiots” simply because being human is “idiotically difficult.”

              For adults who deal with anxiety and stress that come with everyday life, this book will serve as a reminder that you count for something. You are louder than the voices that live inside your head. People are more than who they were yesterday. Our anxiety does not have to shape a future that is ours to take. A single act of kindness affects a lifetime.

              Backman conveys an exceptional understanding of the human condition in his character-driven narratives and plot. He describes the interconnectedness of life with exquisite ease by tying the characters together with their backstories that prompt an insightful observation about friendship, parenthood, marriage, love, life, and social and economic pressures.

* Highly recommended. Get a copy of this book online or at Fully Booked bookstore branches nationwide.

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