red address book

THE RED ADDRESS BOOK


Meet Doris, a 96-year-old woman living alone in her Stockholm apartment. She has few visitors, but her weekly Skype calls with Jenny—her American grandniece, and her only relative—give her great joy and remind her of her own youth.

When Doris was a girl, she was given an address book by her father, and ever since she has carefully documented everyone she met and loved throughout the years. Looking through the little book now, Doris sees the many crossed-out names of people long gone and is struck by the urge to put pen to paper. In writing down the stories of her colorful past—working as a maid in Sweden,

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Meet Doris, a 96-year-old woman living alone in her Stockholm apartment. She has few visitors, but her weekly Skype calls with Jenny—her American grandniece, and her only relative—give her great joy and remind her of her own youth.

When Doris was a girl, she was given an address book by her father, and ever since she has carefully documented everyone she met and loved throughout the years. Looking through the little book now, Doris sees the many crossed-out names of people long gone and is struck by the urge to put pen to paper. In writing down the stories of her colorful past—working as a maid in Sweden, modelling in Paris during the 30s, fleeing to Manhattan at the dawn of the Second World War—can she help Jenny, haunted by a difficult childhood, unlock the secrets of their family and finally look to the future? And whatever became of Allan, the love of Doris’s life?

A charming novel that prompts reflection on the stories we all should carry to the next generation, and the surprises in life that can await even the oldest among us, The Red Address Book introduces Sofia Lundberg as a wise—and irresistible—storyteller.

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  • Houghton Mifflin Hardcourt
  • Hardcover
  • January 2019
  • 304 Pages
  • 9781328473011

Buy the Book

$25.00

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About Sofia Lundberg

sofia lundbergSofia Lundberg is a journalist and former magazine editor. Her debut novel, The Red Address Book, will be published in 32 territories worldwide. She lives in Stockholm with her son.

Praise

A Publishers Lunch Buzz Book 
A Library Reads Pick 

“Written with love, told with joy. Very easy to enjoy.” —Fredrik Backman, author of A Man Called Ove

“In a reader’s lifetime, there are a few books that will be companions forever. For me, The Red Address Book is one of them. It will comfort you, and remind you of all the moments when you grabbed life with both hands. It is also an homage to the wisdom of women who have lived longer than most of us. One is never too old to learn that love is the only meaning of life—let’s listen to these women.” —Nina George, author of The Little Paris Bookshop

The Red Address Book is a love letter to the human heart.  Full of tenderness and empathy, Lundberg has created more than just a novel—she has created a window into the soul.” —Alyson Richman, internationally bestselling author of The Lost Wife and The Velvet Hours

“A warm and tender story about life, memories, and the power of love and friendship. A novel with heart and humor!” —Katarina Bivald, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

“Sofia Lundberg has written a wonderful debut. The story of the life of Doris is told with a whole lot of love. It is full of warmth and compassion.” —Jan-Philipp Sendker, author of The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

“You’ll be hearing a lot about Sofia in the new year if you’re in the UK, but if you’re in Sweden, France, Spain, Germany, etc, etc, you’ll already know how romantic and fabulous her novel, The Red Address Book is.” —Lucy Dillon, author of Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts

“Like a cozy conversation with your grandma, The Red Address Book warms your heart and soul.” BookPage

“Doris’s life story is magnetic, and it’s her strong personality and pearls of wisdom … that drive the book….Fans of Fredrik Backman will find much to like here.” Publishers Weekly

“A charming, fragile romance.” Kirkus Reviews

“Readers who enjoyed Eleanor Brown’s The Light of Paris or Nina George’s The Little French Bistro will delight in seeing Doris’s life unfold in this charming, tender tale.” —Library Journal

“Relationships…are beautifully brought to life in this sweetly elegiac novel.” Bridget Thoreson, Booklist

Discussion Questions

1. Why do you think Doris calls her red address book “a map of [her] life” (7)? Why does she want to tell her grandniece Jenny about it?

2. Look at Doris’s childhood. Why does Doris’s mother send her away as a child? What is Doris exposed to during this time that she had not previously known about or experienced before? What surprised you, or what did you learn, about this time period in Sweden?

3. Who is Gösta Nilsson and how does Doris meet him? Why do you think that Gösta and Doris are able to form such a close and enduring relationship?

4. Who stops Doris on the street on her way to the butcher and how does this encounter change her life? Is the encounter a lucky one or an unfortunate one? What does Doris say “might be one of the most degrading things you can subject someone to” (50)? Why does she put up with this degradation herself?

5. What does the book reveal about the subject of beauty? What does Doris learn about beauty during her time as a live mannequin? Why does she say that beauty is “the most manipulative force of all” (78)? Do you agree with her? Do Doris’s ideas about beauty evolve as she ages?

6. Why does Doris say that separation is “the worst thing on earth” (98)? How is Doris’s life shaped by the separations that occur? What other separations occur throughout the book and how do the characters cope with them?

7. What does the book seem to suggest about how well we can truly know others? How well did Jenny know her great aunt Doris? Were you surprised by any of the details from Doris’s life? What secrets do she and other characters keep?

8. When Doris begins to write for a living, what does she instinctively know that people will want in their stories? Why do she and Gösta laugh at the stories she writes for women’s magazines? What do you think the author is trying to convey about storytelling and its role in our lives?

9. Both Doris and Jenny are described as beautiful and had professions in modeling, yet they admittedly lack self-confidence. What do you think has contributed to their poor self-image and their inability to see themselves as beautiful? What might have changed or prevented this? How does this compare to how the women in your own life view themselves?

10. According to Doris, what happens to people who experience intense longing? Discuss the relationship between longing and memory and nostalgia.

11. Over the course of their friendship, what does Gösta teach Doris about love and attraction? Where does “the greatest comfort in life come from” (263)? Are they able to provide this comfort for one another?

12. Who do Jenny and Willie set out to find at the end of Doris’s life? Do you agree with their choice to locate this person? Why or why not?

13. What does Jenny learn about her own life and family from Doris’s writings? Who does Doris feel is responsible for Elise’s abandonment of Jenny? What does Doris ask Jenny to do now that she has this new knowledge?

14. How has Doris and Jenny’s relationship evolved over the course of the novel? In what ways have Doris and Jenny each changed or grown by the final pages?

15. What does Doris’s confrontation with old age and her own mortality reveal about what really matters in life? Does the book ultimately suggest what one should value most or prioritize?

Excerpt

The saltshaker. The pillbox. The bowl of lozenges. The blood-pressure monitor in its oval plastic case.

The magnifying glass and its red-bobbin-lace strap, taken from a Christmas curtain, tied in three fat knots. The phone with the extra-large numbers. The old red-leather address book, its bent corners revealing the yellowed paper within. She arranges everything carefully, in the middle of the kitchen table. They have to be lined up just so. No creases on the neatly ironed baby-blue linen tablecloth.

A moment of calm as she looks out at the street and the dreary weather. People rushing by, with and without umbrellas. The bare trees. The gravelly slush on the asphalt, water trickling through it.

A squirrel darts along a branch, and a flash of happiness twinkles in her eyes. She leans forward, following the blurry little creature’s movements carefully. Its bushy tail swings from side to side as it moves lithely between branches. Then it jumps down to the road and quickly disappears, heading off to new adventures.

It must almost be time to eat, she thinks, stroking her stomach. She picks up the magnifying glass and with a shaking hand raises it to her gold wristwatch. The numbers are still too small, and she has no choice but to give up. She clasps her hands calmly in her lap and closes her eyes for a moment, awaiting the familiar sound at the front door.

“Did you nod off, Doris?”

An excessively loud voice abruptly wakes her. She feels a hand on her shoulder, and sleepily tries to smile and nod at the young caregiver who is bending over her.

“I must have.” The words stick, and she clears her throat.

“Here, have some water.” The caregiver is quick to hold out a glass, and Doris takes a few sips.

“Thank you… Sorry, but I’ve forgotten your name.” It’s a new girl again. The old one left; she was going back to her studies.

“It’s me, Doris. Ulrika. How are you today?” she asks, but she doesn’t stop to listen to the answer.

Not that Doris gives one.

She quietly watches Ulrika’s hurried movements in the kitchen. Sees her take out the pepper and put the saltshaker back in the pantry. In her wake she leaves creases in the tablecloth.

“No extra salt, I’ve told you,” Ulrika says, with the tub of food in her hand. She gives Doris a stern look. Doris nods and sighs as Ulrika peels back the plastic wrap. Sauce, potatoes, fish, and peas, all mixed together, are tipped out onto a brown ceramic plate. Ulrika puts the plate in the microwave and turns the dial to two minutes. The machine starts up with a faint whirr, and the scent of fish slowly begins to drift through the apartment. While she waits, Ulrika starts to move Doris’s things: she stacks the newspapers and mail in a messy pile, takes the dishes out of the dishwasher.

“Is it cold out?” Doris turns back to the heavy drizzle. She can’t remember when she last set foot outside her door. It was summer. Or maybe spring.

“Yeah, ugh, winter’ll soon be here. The raindrops almost felt like tiny lumps of ice today. I’m glad I’ve got the car so I don’t have to walk. I found a space on your street, right outside the door. The parking’s actually much better in the suburbs, where I live. It’s hopeless here in town, but sometimes you get lucky.” The words stream from Ulrika’s mouth, then her voice becomes a faint hum. A pop song; Doris recognizes it from the radio. Ulrika whirls away. Dusts the bedroom. Doris can hear her clattering around and hopes she doesn’t knock over the vase, the hand-painted one she’s so fond of.

When Ulrika returns, she is carrying a dress over one arm. It’s burgundy, wool, the one with bobbled arms and a thread hanging from the hem. Doris had tried to pull it loose the last time she wore the dress, but the pain in her back made it impossible to reach below her knees. She holds out a hand to catch it now, but grasps at thin air when Ulrika suddenly turns and drapes the dress over a chair. The caregiver comes back and starts to loosen Doris’s dressing gown. She gently pulls the arms free and Doris whimpers quietly, her bad back sending a wave of pain into her shoulders. It’s always there, day and night. A reminder of her age.

“I need you to stand up now. I’ll lift you on the count of three, OK?” Ulrika places an arm around her, helps her to her feet, and pulls the dressing gown away.

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