I was at school revising for the national exams when my grandmother died. She had been in an hospital for three days. I came home in the evening and our usually crowded home was empty. No one except my sleeping brother who was 4 years old then. The lights were switched off that I thought that maybe we had a shortage of power. I called our house help boy to know why he left my brother alone at home to only be told that grandmother died and everyone is at the hospital. I couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t be dead. I called my father to ask if it was true. He couldn’t talk much. He only said “humura Annie. Turaza mu kanya ub’ureba umwana”

There’s something about having a grandmother. You have a friend who stands by you no matter what. It’s an assurance that every kid needs. And when she’s dead, there’s a feeling that she’s still around. Her smell never fades away and every time you see someone wearing a similar kitenge to the one she had, it exposes an inner weakness- a vulnerability. Reading My grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry I was reminded of my own and could see some similarities between Elsa’s life and mine.

Book summary

Seven-year-old Elsa was wild, naive, and philosophical. Precocious, brattish and different. Elsa knew very well what grown-ups meant when they described her as ‘very grown-up for her age’. What they actually meant was ‘she is massively annoying for her age’, which they directed at her parents with strained smiles spread all over their faces. They treated her as though she was mentally impaired. All she did was correct their spelling, or something similar. What was so wrong with that, I beg you? She was not as thick as other seven-year-olds. Her extraordinary intelligence counted against her.

Her parents were divorced. They were both living in new blended families. Her mother was pregnant again with Halfie (half-sister or brother); George, the step-dad, could prepare eggs and jog, and loved wearing his jogging shorts over his leggings; Her dad lost touch with reality along time ago when he fell in love with fonts. The chances of him delivering any graphic designs on time is zero. The choice of fonts prevented him from finishing anything. Otherwise, he found happiness with Lizette and her two young children. Elsa felt threatened by the new baby, and lost in her dad’s new life.

Her grandmother was a dysfunctional superhero in Elsa’s world. A retired, 77-year-old doctor, who triggered the smoke-alarms at the airports with her smoking in the ladies room with an open door; was asked to retire after refusing to stop smoking in the operating theater; spilled Fanta on Elsa’s iPhone and tried to dry it out in the toaster; climb fences at the zoo in the middle of the night; threw policemen with turds; traveled all over the world to save lives when everyone else was rushing to get out and away from dire war situations.

Creating fairy tale-metaphors for little Elsa, was her grandmother’s way of teaching the hard realities of life in story form to the little girl without friends. Nobody understood this bright child, not even the teachers and headmaster at school, where she was constantly bullied. Her busy parents did not know what was happening to her.

Granny knew, and taught Elsa how to handle it through the fairy tales. Elsa learnt to run. Run very fast. She learnt to observe everything. She learnt to read and write properly. Grandma expected of her to read books to her while grandma drove her ancient rusting Renault around town, without a driver’s license. Grandma could not spell. Almost-eight-year-old Elsa constantly had to correct granny’s writing for her! Elsa started correcting everyone’s writing. Even the notices at restaurants. She had Granny, Harry Potter, Wikipedia and Google at her disposal to get what she wanted. The words she did not understand, was added to her dad’s word jar.

Elsa was born on boxing day. Her story was a Christmas Story. And this tale, “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry”, was also going to be one.

… ‘Storytelling is the noblest profession of all. The currency there is imagination; instead of buying something with coins you buy it with a good story. Libraries aren’t known as libraries but as ‘banks’ and every fairy tale is worth a fortune.’

That was what grandma believed. Who was Elsa to disagree.

“A normal story can either be funny or sad or exciting or scary or dramatic or sentimental, but a Christmas tale has to be all those things.

“A Christmas tale has to be written with every pen you own,” Granny used to say. And they have to have happy endings, which is something that Elsa has decided completely on her own.”

Granny’s fairy tales from Miamas was fairly dramatic as a rule. Wars and storms an pursuits and intrigues and stuff, because that was the sort of action stories that Granny liked.

Grandma created different kingdoms in the Land-of-Almost-Awake:
Miploris. That’s where all the sorrow is stored. It means “I mourn.”
“And Mirevas?”
“I dream.”
“And Miaudacas?”
“I dare.”
“And Mimovas?”
“Dance. I dance.”
“Mibatalos—I fight.”

But the unimaginable happened just before Christmas. Grandma died of cancer. Elsa lost her only friend. What was it about death that was so devastating?

“The mightiest power of death is not that it can make people die, but that it can make the people left behind want to stop living”…

However, grandma taught Elsa that life does not really end with the passing of a beloved.

“You never say good-bye in the Land-of-Almost-Awake. You just say “See you later.” It’s important to people in the Land-of-Almost-Awake that it should be this way, because they believe that nothing really ever completely dies. It just turns into a story, undergoes a little shift in grammar, changes tense from “now” to “then.”

She left a set of letters behind which would merged Elsa’s two worlds. She would be introduced to the real people who were characters in the fairy tales, and who would open up a big world of possibilities to the seven-year-old heartbroken little girl.

All the people living in their big old building had a story to tell, relationships to explain, history to be completed, and a communal love for her grandma to be celebrated. The treasure hunt unleashed in the letters, would bring closure to everyone mentioned or addressed in the letters. They were cranky, quirky, mysterious, dysfunctional or simply strange. As each letter is delivered, more color, as well as a mysterious danger, is added to this Christmas tale.

Britt-Marie, one of the busybody neighbors who would have been a perfect murder victim in a Inspector Poirot murder mystery, had everyone up in arms with her nosy interference. But when she received her letter from grandma, she had an important lesson to teach to Elsa.
……We want to be loved,’ ” quotes Britt-Marie. “‘Failing that, admired; failing that, feared; failing that, hated and despised. At all costs we want to stir up some sort of feeling in others. The soul abhors a vacuum. At all costs it longs for contact.’ ” ….

“I want someone to remember I existed. I want someone to know I was here.”

Grandma’s letters turned the building and its inhabitants upside down. Life was changed for all of them.

Book review

I loved the way this book is written and like Elsa’s dad I’m attracted to fonts which was good in this book too. I was mesmerized by how Fredrick created the world of Miamas and illustrated so we’ll the world we live in today. I love how each character is brought to life and how, though fictional, the story is the same as ours and our neighbors.

One thing I loved about Elsa is the demonstration of how powerful knowledge is and how it can defend you in the most difficult times. Read and read so much. Use your phone/iPad to be informed, what you don’t know ask Google or visit the nearest library.

In this book you’ll meet feelings in a human form, chocolates, ice creams, coffee and cookies but mostly you’ll laugh out loud from page one to the last.

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