ONE TO WATCH OUT FOR: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Article published on January 28, 2015.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald, to be published June 2015 by Chatto & Windus.

This is a conundrum. Not the book, the book’s great and I’ll get back to that in a minute. It’s the author, Katarina Bivald. Foreign, possibly Scandinavian, yes? Obviously, you can’t judge a person’s nationality by a name these days (could you ever?) but Katarina does indeed live in Sweden and her Website – is available in both Swedish and English. So far so good except there’s no back history about her.

“KATARINA BIVALD grew up working part-time in a bookshop. Today she lives in Älta, Sweden, with her sister and as many bookshelves as she can squeeze in. She has still not decided whether she prefers books or people. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is her first novel.”

And that’s it, which is where I’m floundering because Broken Wheel is – supposedly – in Iowa (not according to google maps). Anyway, this book is definitely in the tradition of heartwarming reads about middle America. If you’ve read an Adriana Trigiani you’re in the right neck of the woods but Bivald is better, considerably, emphatically better. On her website, Katarina has referenced 84 Charing Cross Road, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Chocolat as comparators but with ‘an off-beat originality and intelligence all its own’. I’m not quibbling with any of those, my point is, when did she live in Iowa (or anywhere else in middle America)? Because if this is purely a work of imagination then it is truly remarkable. No doubt the truth will emerge in due course when this book climbs the charts.

So, Sara – from Sweden – travels to Broken Wheel to meet a pen friend who shares her love of books. The long and the short is Sara starts a bookshop – so far, so idyllic, we share her dream. However, there is a healthy dose of realism involved, “If she was honest, she had never been able to watch You’ve Got Mail without secretly thinking that Fox & Sons latte and book emporium was more attractive than Meg Ryan’s claustrophobic little shop.” Hear, hear!

And she calls it the Oak Tree Bookstore, not because of the local trees of note but because “in an obscure book about . . . computer science . . . the authors wrote that many people, not just the author, contribute to the making of a book, from the person who had the bright idea of alphabetic writing through the inventor of movable type to the lumberjacks who felled the trees . . . It wasn’t customary to acknowledge the trees themselves . . even though their commitment was total.” Nicely put, yes?

Obviously, books and authors are flung about with gay abandon (yes, there’s gay erotica for the local gay couple, too) and you have probably read more of them than I have. However, it warmed my heart when The Little World of Don Camillo merited a mention. (If you haven’t, you should.)

So, yes, I’m smitten and I can’t put it down but I wanted to tell you now because I’ll tell you again when I finish it. Both reading groups disagreed with me about The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and for the life of me I still don’t understand why that book did so well. But if you enjoyed Harold then you should make a reservation for Broken Wheel now.

Guy Pringle
Personal 4*
Group 4

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