Beartown (Beartown #1), by Fredrik Backman

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger.

This is the story of how we got there.

I love reading and I love books. I rarely take them personally, though. Mostly, I forget their contents soon after having read the final page. This is part of why I’ve started writing reviews in 2019. A few rare and precious books, though, stay with me, unforgettable.

One of those is “Beartown” by Fredrik Backman. I read it in 2018 and while I’ve forgotten some details, I vividly remember the story which to this day, five years later, makes me tear up. There’s also a very personal aspect to this because I gave this novel as a present to my mother for her 81st birthday, joking that if she had time for one more book, she should read this one. She died three days later.

So, this review, which I felt unfit to write at the time, comes five year “late” but it will never be too late for “Beartown” because I still believe that this novel is such a unique* masterpiece that everyone should read it.

“Beartown” is a beautifully written novel that captivates the reader with its raw emotional depth and stunning prose. Backman has crafted a masterpiece that explores the complexities of human nature and the power of community, all within the context of a small, remote town where hockey reigns supreme. Don’t be discouraged, though: Yes, hockey plays a role in this but “Beartown” is very much not about hockey…

At the heart of the story is a group of young hockey players who dream of making it to the big leagues. Their passion for the game is palpable and contagious, and Backman expertly captures the intensity of their training and the thrill of their victories. But beneath the surface, there are darker currents at play, as the town’s obsession with hockey and its players leads to a culture of toxic masculinity and entitlement.

When one of the team’s star players is accused of a heinous crime, the town is torn apart by conflicting emotions and loyalties. Backman masterfully navigates the moral complexities of the situation, exploring themes of loyalty, justice, and forgiveness with nuance and sensitivity.

But what makes “Beartown” truly special is its portrayal of community: Backman has created a cast of characters that are richly drawn and deeply flawed, but ultimately bound together by their love for their town and each other. Through their interconnected stories, Backman illustrates the power of community to both heal and harm, and the importance of standing up for what is right, even when it is difficult.

One of the most important relationships in “Beartown” is the friendship between Maya and her best friend, Ana. Maya is a strong and determined young woman, with a fierce loyalty to her family and her town. Ana, on the other hand, is more reserved and introspective, but no less passionate about her beliefs.

Through Maya’s and Ana’s friendship, Backman illustrates the importance of empathy and compassion, and the power of human connection to bridge differences and create understanding. Their relationship is a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is always hope for healing and reconciliation through the strength of our bonds with one another.

Another character at the heart of this fantastic novel is Benji, a character who struggles with his identity and his place in the world. He is a talented hockey player but he is not a star on the team. Benji is also grappling with his sexuality and the fear of being rejected by his peers and the community at large. His journey in the novel is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, as he comes to terms with who he is and finds the courage to be true to himself.

One of the most touching aspects of the novel is the friendship between Benji and Maya. They have known each other since childhood and have a bond that is deep and unbreakable. Maya accepts Benji for who he is, and their friendship becomes a source of strength and support for both of them. Benji’s loyalty to Maya is unwavering, even when he faces pressure from his teammates and others in the community to betray her.

Throughout the novel, Benji’s story is a reminder of the importance of acceptance and love in a world that can be harsh and unforgiving. Backman handles his character with utmost sensitivity and empathy, and the reader can’t help but root for him as Benji navigates his way through the challenges he faces. By the end of the novel, Benji’s journey is one of the most powerful and inspiring in the book, and his growth and transformation are a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

Another of the novel’s standout characters is Peter Andersson, the team’s general manager and a former hockey star himself. Peter is a complex and nuanced character, haunted by the mistakes of his past and struggling to balance his loyalty to his team with his responsibility to his family and the town. Backman’s portrayal of Peter is both heartbreaking and inspiring.

Another amazing character is Kira, Peter’s wife, Maya’s mother, who is fiercely protective but also a deeply compassionate and empathetic person. Backman’s depiction of her journey through grief, anger, and forgiveness is both moving and thought-provoking, challenging readers to examine their own beliefs about justice and mercy.

Not only these few characters are brilliantly, empathetically and masterfully portrayed, though, but actually every single character makes sense, is believable and plausible in their respective actions. Not just the “hotshots” matter but everyone, including the local hooligans and the cleaner.

Overall, “Beartown” is a truly remarkable novel that deserves all the praise it has received and now I finally added my voice to it to go with the five out of five stars it easily deserves.

*: I’m well aware and have read its two sequels (and liked them) but despite their respective successes, personally, I believe “Beartown” should have remained the solitary triumph of literature it is.

Ceterum censeo Putin esse delendam

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