Translated by Alice Menzies
Reviewed by Danielle
Katarina Bivald’s The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a ‘long cool sip of lemonade while lying in a hammock on a sunny day’ sort of book. It’s a story about books, book lovers, booksellers, bookstores and the transformative power of literature. Yes, it has charming written all over it, but Bivald puts her own spin on this book about book lovers. Do you think the saying, you can never step into the same river twice, applies to reading, too? Not every book has the potential to save or even change someone’s life, but for Sara Lindqvist books are lifesavers. And as a bookseller she truly believes there is a special book for every reader. As a matter of fact she has a knack for matching one with the other.
How is it that a young woman from Sweden can travel all the way to small town America and find her place in the world? It’s a love of books that brings her there, a love of books and a friendship between two unlikely women. Sara is a young woman ready to begin her life and Amy Harris, her penfriend from Iowa, happens to be at the end of hers. If only Sara had known that before she journeyed so far that Amy wouldn’t be there to greet her and act as hostess as she had planned, but sometimes things are just meant to be. The small town of Broken Wheel, Iowa, steps up to take care of Amy’s foreign friend, however.
Sara has lost her bookstore job in Sweden, and now without any plans and little direction in life she decides to take up Amy’s invitation to come and visit. Through their exchange of letters she feels she knows the town’s residents already, their histories and peculiarities. She knows Broken Wheel. But when she arrives, it is to a funeral that she is welcomed. Book in hand to keep her company she waits for Amy, only to be met by a group of sympathetic mourners who insist she stay on in Amy’s house. It’s what Amy would have wanted they assure her.
Broken Wheel, Iowa. A small town in the middle of America that few people outside the state have heard of. It’s a fitting name for such a sad community that has seen better days, and so have most of its residents. If you are looking for Main Street USA, you’ll find it here but most of the businesses are boarded up. Main Street has stop lights that only out-of-towners actually bother to stop for. Most young people here grow up and move away as quickly as they can.
But there is a diner run by a family of Graces. Grace being the name used by the proprietor whether it’s her real name or not. Every new generation of them. Strong women who can hold their own, have an opinion on every topic and are not afraid to share it, that’s each Grace for you. And there is John who runs the hardware store. He came to Broken Wheel as a young man during the Civil Rights era and stayed. George is an out of work, now reformed alcoholic whose wife and daughter have left him. Claire is a single mother who won’t say who the father of her child is. There’s Andy and Carl who live together and run the local bar. Caroline, single and high maintenence, is bossy and always right. Everyone is just a little afraid of Caroline. And then there is Tom. He may take things very seriously most of the time, but if you’re lucky he might still have a twinkle in his eye. He doesn’t quite understand Sara and her addiction to books, but every once in a while Sara catches him looking at her in ‘that way’. And then a moment later she is sure he only wants her to go back to Sweden.
Only Sara has decided she doesn’t want to go. And the town has decided they don’t want Sara to go either. In order to pay back everyone for their kindness, she decides to open a bookstore on Main Street using Amy’s vast collection of books. While the town doesn’t quite seem to believe they really need a bookstore, they pitch in and help her. Maybe it’s not just the books themselves but the obvious affection Sara feels for the stories in the books and the enthusiasm with which she presses the right book into the right reader’s hand that is just the spark Broken Wheel needs to come back to life.
Amy had no idea what she started when she invited Sara Lindqvist to visit. But visits are meant to end. And Sara must return home to Sweden unless something can be done to make her stay. And the town has the perfect solution. If only they can pull it off.
There is lots to love in Katarina Bivald’s The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend. It’s a story every book lover will relate to, but anyone who likes a story about overcoming adversity , about what it means to find your place in the world, about finding happiness and maybe even love will find this book every bit as charming a read as I did. More than once I wondered if she was secretly living next door to me (as a Midwesterner who can walk across a bridge to Iowa, I know those landscapes well), or could peek into my mind rather than living a whole ocean away from me. But maybe every booklover has a bit of Sara Lindqvist in them no matter which continent we stand on or which language we speak.
Danielle blogs at A Work In Progress.
Katarina Bivald has also written a piece about her book for our BookBuzz section here.
Katarina Bivald, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, (Chatto & Windus: London, 2015). 9780701189068, 384pp., hardback.