Katarina Bivald explains why her ‘Broken Wheel’ isn’t as gritty as the original

katarina bivald interview

A few weeks ago, I posted my review of Katarina Bivald’s The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend—and concluded that, while sweet, it didn’t quite capture the power of the novel that inspired it: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. I wasn’t sure that its portrayal of racism and homophobia did justice to how real those issues are. But I then had the privilege of speaking with the author herself, and hearing her explanation.

“I make it a point never to be realistic. I get enough of that from real life or just watching the news.” – Katarina Bivald

katarina bivald interviewI really liked this response. Broken Wheel may not present a hard-hitting exposé of discrimination in small-town America—but what’s wrong with a little escapism now and then?

The other disappointment I had felt with the novel was that I didn’t get to see the townspeople really fall in love with reading after all—but Bivald had an interesting reason for that too.

“[The book is] partly based on my experiences from working in a bookshop. I used to think it was all about the books. In fact, I used to consider customers as a rude interruption of my reading. But when I looked back on all those years in the bookshop, it was the people I remembered mostly. A lot of them slightly strange, a little bit worn down by life; many profoundly uninterested in books.” – Katarina Bivald

I actually think the novel would have benefitted from a different name. It’s centred around a bookshop, and the characters you meet there, but it’s not about a town falling in love with reading—and the fact it was marketed as one made it feel like a let-down.

katarina bivald interviewHowever, somebody with a much more valuable opinion than mine gave the book a big seal of approval: Fried Green Tomatoes author Fannie Flagg herself!

“Katarina Bivald has written an absolutely delightful, charming book that celebrates the healing power of friendship and love often found in small towns. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, and I could not recommend it more highly.” – Fannie Flagg

You can’t get much higher praise than that—and unsurprisingly, Bivald was pretty excited.

“[When I saw Fannie Flagg had reviewed my book] it was one of the greatest moments of my life. We share the same publisher in the UK, and she sent her a copy of it. Apparently it had managed to cheer her up—imagine that! My book, cheering her up. I wrote her a thank you-letter, of course. It took me days to write it. I said to myself firmly: only one page. Short and to the point. And then: two pages, but that’s an absolute maximum. And then: well, two sheets, and four pages, but no more.” – Katarina Bivald

Read the rest of our interview here:

What made you decide to set your novel in the US? 

KB: I wanted to write the kind of book that I, myself, love to read. And I love books about small American towns, quirky characters, unexpected friendships, love—and books, of course. So Broken Wheel is definitely based on all those books I’ve read and loved, including and especially books by Fannie Flagg.

Do you think US readers would have responded to the book had it been set in Sweden?

KB: It’s an interesting question. It’s always interesting to see your own country and culture through the eyes of someone else, I feel, so I’m sure that contributed. But then again, one of the best things about books is that they allow you to travel to places and countries you’ve never been, so maybe a book set in Sweden would have been seen as exotic and interesting. And of course—truly great stories transcend the setting of it. As A Man Called Ove is a great example of; set in Sweden, loved in the US. 

Do you have any tips for book-lovers in a relationship with someone who doesn’t like reading?

KB: For the non-reader: find something fast-paced and exciting, like fantasy or a good crime novel, or light and fun.  Make sure the author has written more than one book. Stop reading it if you don’t like it. And then try something else until you find a book you simply can’t put down.

Professional ReaderDo you prefer books to people, like Sara?

KB: I like people too. It’s just that they’re better in books.