The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend - Katrina Bivald (Translated from Swedish by Alice Menzies
The book has been on my radar for quite some time now. It is a book on books written by an author who herself works in a bookshop! A bibliophile who writes for bibliophiles, can’t get better than that right?
In this, her first novel, Katarina Bivald, takes us along on a journey of a young Swedish woman who comes to a small town called Broken Wheel in Iowa in the United States to meet her long time pen pal and dear friend Amy. But when she gets there she is told that Amy has passed away (which turns out to be due to a long suffering illness). Even though her friend is gone, she is welcomed into their midst. The town hardly has any shops, a handful of eccentric residents, a traffic light that is perpetually stuck at red and surrounded mostly with endless stretches of corn fields.
Through the many well-detailed and descriptive letters exchanged over the years between her and
Amy, Sara almost seems to know everyone from the small town. They in turn know her as Amy’s friend from Sweden and want to do the very best they can to make her feel at home. After a while Sara decides to start a bookshop in Broken Wheel using an old disused shop once owned by Amy as well as Amy’s collection of books to start with. Though skeptical at first, all the residents pool in to help her start on this bookshop in the middle of nowhere.
Slowly but surely, small things lead on to bigger changes in each of their lives and turns out the bookshop is just what a ‘dying’ town needed after all! It is a light-hearted read but still manages to touch upon several issues relating to relationships, duty and responsibility, purpose of life, loneliness, sexuality, death and of course the power of a community that can stand together.
The highlight would have to be the many references to books and the joy of reading that the characters experience themselves. Though most of the books and authors may be familiar titles, it did feel as if one was having a conversation with a dear friend over a shared love of books.
Though none of the characters are completely developed, nor are their motives, desires laid open to our scrutiny, they will remain one of the oddest bunch of people I may have ever come across. But their warmth, sincerity and love resonate in their actions and helpful deeds they constantly practice.
I did feel the book stretched for a bit too long, and certain aspects of the romantic tale between the protagonist and Tom (Amy’s nephew) seemed a bit melodramatic. But, in the end we are left with a wonderful little tale about a bookshop in the middle of nowhere that changed the lives of all who entered it and read the books loving displayed in it. That is a pure unadulterated joy as no other!