Book Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

readers of broken wheelThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Katarina Bivald
9781492623441, $16.99, Pub. Date: January 2016

Finally, something other than rape, murder, and mayhem to come out of Sweden! This translation is absolutely delightful, bringing to mind favorites such as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer, 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, and Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman. The story is sweet without being saccharine, the writing is breezy and easy to devour, and overall the story is a book lover’s dream as it is chock full of literary references and life-as-related-to-books observations.

The basic premise is that Sara, from Sweden, began corresponding with Amy, from Broken Wheel, Iowa, when Sara bought a book from Amy online. They’ve been writing letters back and forth for a while when Amy invites Sara to visit her. As the bookstore where Sara works is getting ready to permanently close, she decides to go to Broken Wheel on a two-month tourist visa to meet her friend in person for the first time ever. Alas, she arrives too late. Sara enters Broken Wheel just as Sara’s funeral is ending.

The residents of Broken Wheel – a dying farm community a few short miles down the road from a larger, more successful city, Hope, Iowa – do their best to make Sara welcome. They put her up in Amy’s house, they feed her burgers from Amazing Grace (the one diner in town), and they assign newly-sober George to be her chauffeur when it becomes clear that Sara does not have a license. But Sara came to Broken Wheel to meet Amy, and isn’t sure what to do with herself without Amy there to anchor her. As usual, Sara finds comfort in books, and they spark an idea as Sara grows to know the town and its inhabitants: Sara will open a bookstore on Broken Wheel’s mostly-empty Main Street strip. Not that Sara has a work visa; she’ll just be minding Amy’s storefront, using Amy’s books, in Amy’s town.

As you might expect, the good people of Broken Wheel are both supportive and suspicious of their new resident. Sara’s arrival is a catalyst for many individuals and the town itself, and soon her quiet yet infectious energy spreads far and wide. As the circle of influence grows, the more inter-connected the stories of the residents become, so that by the end, people as far away as Hope and beyond are brought to Broken Wheel while the residents band together to hold on to their dreams – and the one person responsible for influencing them. After all, Sara’s tourist visa is only good for a couple of months. If only there was a way to get her to stay…like, say, a marriage, perhaps?

Reading this book was like talking with an old friend. The pace was measured, unhurried; the topics were life and love and loss and finding yourself; the books and authors and characters mentioned were familiar and comforting. Any and all book lovers should do themselves a favor by picking up this charming book.

This is the author’s first novel. Hopefully, she’ll continue writing, they’ll also be translated into English, and we can all rejoice at a lovely new voice.

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