by Rana Asfour
'The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend' is a novel about Sara Lindqvist from Sweden, pen pal to Amy, an American and resident of Broken Wheel in Iowa - 'a dilapidated town named after a mistake and intent on doing its best to live up to its name'. The two women had met online when Sara had bought a book from Amy through an online secondhand bookshop where private individuals could also sell books. When Amy had declined to take any payment for her book, Sara had plucked up the courage to send a book in thanks, and things had continued from there.
Soon, Amy and Sara are sending each other letters - although the novel is written in the time of email- in which they discuss books, and the people in the little town of Broken Wheel; Wonderful funny letters that are to Sara 'the lifeline in an existence that had otherwise started to seem overwhelmingly pointless'.
When, at Amy's insistence, Sara finally accepts an invitation to visit and stay with Amy both are excited that they will finally get to meet face to face.
Sara is a heroine who believes that 'as long as she has books and money, nothing could be a catastrophe' and so it is books - a bookshop to be precise- she naturally turns to for guidance when she gets to Broken Wheel and discovers that an unpredictable turn of events has managed to bring about the shattering of her well-laid plans - Amy has died. Finding herself utterly alone in a dead woman’s house in the middle of nowhere was not the holiday Sara had in mind.
However, in no time at all, Sara's life and passion for books are soon interlacing with the various lives of the town's peculiar residents (poor George, fierce Grace, buttoned-up Caroline and Amy’s guarded nephew Tom) who find themselves drawn to the Swedish girl and her impromptu bookshop. As Sara falls in love with the town and possibly one of its residents, she is unaware that her new 'friends' are collectively hatching an incredulous plan to keep her permanently in their midst.
I've loved maybe a handful of people in my entire life, compared with tens or maybe even hundreds of books - and here I'm counting only those books I've really loved, the kind that make you smile regardless of what else is happening in your life, that you always turn back to like an old friend and can remember exactly where you first 'met' them - I'm sure you know what I'm talking about' - Sara, 'The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend'.
'The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend' is one of the sweetest, funniest, touchingly sentimental reads this winter. Released this January, 'The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend' is a novel that weaves a captivating tale about the magical healing 'power of books' that exists even in today's digitally-charged age. This is a book lover's dream read with references galore to famous literary classics as well as contemporary favourites. There are enough titles packed into this short book to help a budding book club create a reading list for 2016 - if still struggling to make a list of their own that is. There's even a short - don't panic, it's not boring - mention regarding the history of Penguin - the publishers not the bird.
The characters that Katarina Bivald has created are believable, loveable, strong and easily identifiable far away from the fantasy of the book. This is a feel good book by all accounts - something that is welcome given the heightened sadness the world has experienced of late - and yet it is not free of sadness. As Sara explains in the novel, 'People often thought that feel-good novels were happy, banal stories, but a real feel-good tale wasn't worth the name unless it involved a couple of murders, accidents, catastrophes, or deaths'.
Whatever readers may decide that the book is about - love, family, loneliness, death, relationships, values and yes books - it is doubtful that any will argue that it is one written completely and utterly from the heart about the mystical charms of a bookshop!
A series or a sequel to follow? One can only hope!
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