69 pages • 2 hours readFredrik Backman
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The Winners by Fredrik Backman is the third and final installation of the Beartown trilogy. Preceded by Beartown and Us Against You, the novel focuses on the intertwining lives of an ensemble of characters who live in the Swedish towns of Beartown and Hed. Following a colossal storm, tensions rise as resources dwindle and must be shared. The characters grapple with past traumas that will shape their futures, and the novel ends with a shocking act of violence. Published in 2022, it is Backman’s seventh novel. His books have been translated into more than forty languages and he has twice been a #1 New York Times bestselling author. The first book of the trilogy, Beartown, was adapted into a Swedish television series. Backman is also a columnist and blogger for the Helsingborgs Dagblad.
This guide uses the 2022 First Atria Books hardcover edition translated by Neil Smith.
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Content Warnings: This book contains references to and depictions of sexual assault, sexual coercion, drug abuse, suicidal ideation, animal cruelty, and gun violence. There is also disparaging language directed by some characters toward women and the LGBTQ+ community.
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A catastrophic storm reaches the neighboring towns of Beartown and Hed, two hockey towns in a historic rivalry, and impacts the lives of the townsfolk. Local Hed midwife Hannah argues with her firefighter husband Johnny before going out into the storm with Ana to help a trapped woman deliver her baby. A young man named Matteo, who is riding his bike around town when the storm comes, breaks into his neighbor’s basement for shelter. Peter Andersson stays at home with his son, Leo, while lawyer Kira Andersson spends the night in her office. In the city where she attends university, Maya Andersson, daughter of Peter and Kira, spends the night sending panicked text messages back home after she learns of the storm. The roof of the Hed hockey rink collapses, and Beartown bar owner and matriarch Ramona dies of old age.
Fatima, the mother of Beartown hockey star Amat, gets lost while she is walking home from her cleaning job at the ice rink, and Amat risks the storm to find her. It is the first time he has left the apartment since his failure to get drafted into the American NHL that spring. Teemu, the leader of the Beartown gang the Pack, finds Ramona dead, and he calls Peter to tell him. The news of her death spreads, and Benji Ovich, who left Beartown long before after facing discrimination for his sexual orientation, is called home from southeast Asia to attend Ramona’s funeral. Maya similarly travels home, taking a train where she meets a kindly old man. This man turns out to be a journalist who is working with his daughter, editor of the local newspaper, to reveal the fraudulent activities of the Beartown hockey club.
Amat starts exercising for the first time in months. Following a wrist injury, he had turned to pills and alcohol to cope with the pain. He had allowed a local man named Lev to advocate for him during the NHL draft, but the man Lev employed was looking for bribes. Amat drank heavily when he learned this information; he wasn’t drafted as a result. Matteo waits for his parents to return home from their trip abroad, where they have gone to collect his sister Ruth’s ashes.
Politicians decide that Hed and Beartown hockey will share the Beartown rink. This decision ignites tensions between the two feuding towns. The first day of sharing the rink, a fight breaks out between Hed and Beartown men. Bobo, friend of Amat, saves the children of Hannah and Johnny—Tess, Tobias, Ted, and Ture—who are caught in the fight. In response to the fight, politicians suggest merging the two teams into one. Bobo and Tess begin a secret relationship.
Tails drives the Beartown goalie, Mumble, to his home in Hed. Mumble was transferred to Beartown the season before and has become a star under Coach Zackell’s tutelage. Tails uses the trip to vandalize his own car, filing a police report to pretend that the act was committed by people in Hed. The newspaper editor uses this as an excuse to call Tails and ask him about fraudulent activity in the hockey club, rattling him. Matteo’s parents return home with Ruth’s ashes, and it is revealed that Ruth—Matteo’s sister—fled Beartown after being sexually assaulted.
At Ramona’s funeral, Benji reconnects with Maya and Ana, who are close friends. Coach Zackell invites Peter to look at a new player with her, and Tails arranges a private meeting with Kira. An accident occurs at the Beartown factory in which a Hed woman is injured and miscarries her baby, heightening tensions between the two towns. Bobo takes Amat, Mumble, and Benji with him to Hed, where the boys entertain Tess’s brothers and give the two of them some time alone. Hannah finds out about this when she returns from work and argues with Tess, leading the girl to leave home for Bobo’s house. The next day, Zackell makes Peter play hockey against a young man named Aleksandr and successfully recruits him after speaking with his mother. Tails shows Kira files that prove Beartown hockey is guilty of embezzling and asks Kira to help him, because if they are discovered Peter will go to jail. Kira agrees.
Tess takes Bobo to her house, where Bobo cooks the family dinner. Tails asks both Teemu and local politician Richard Theo to help him prevent the two hockey clubs from merging; Tails also confesses the fraud to Richard. Amat goes to Coach Zackell and apologizes for missing practice; she makes him play on the junior team against the A-team. Impressed by his change in attitude, she accepts him back onto the A-team. After the practice game, others take to the ice in a pick-up game. Benji, Aleksandr, Ana, and Maya then go camping. Meanwhile, Mumble goes to Ruth’s grave and breaks down crying; Matteo watches him and is filled with rage.
At ex-A-team-coach Sune’s house, a young girl named Alicia has found refuge from her abusive home and fires pucks at the garage. Matteo, wishing to lash out at hockey boys, poison’s Sune’s dog. Everyone assumes it was someone from Hed. At the 13-year-old hockey game that Thursday, a fight breaks out between the Pack and men from Hed. Several people go to the hospital, including Peter. Afterward, Peter and Kira have a candid conversation about the hockey club fraud; Peter did not understand what he was signing. Kira promises to save their family.
Richard gives the editor and her father evidence of more widespread political corruption in exchange for them not publishing the story about Beartown. Richard also has Tails make Kira and Hannah arrange a torchlit procession to protest the merging of the hockey clubs, to be performed at a time when he is the only politician available to provide a comment. This places him at the forefront of the movement and makes him an attractive candidate for upcoming elections.
During the vigil, Matteo breaks into his neighbors’ house and steals three hunting rifles while thinking about his sister, Ruth. She had rebelled against their mother’s strict religiosity, and she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a Hed boy named Rodri. Rodri took suggestive pictures of Ruth, and he used them to blackmail her. When Ruth went to the police, they did not believe her because she had a history of partying. As a result, Ruth left Beartown. She died of an accidental overdose two and a half years later. Mumble, who was once Rodri’s friend, knew of Rodri’s crimes, but he was threatened into silence. Matteo trades the hunting rifles for a pistol from one of Lev’s employees. He steals a moped and uses it to hunt down Rodri. When he finds him, Matteo murders Rodri.
In the novel’s climax, the first A-team game of the year is between Beartown and Hed. Benji takes Alicia down to the locker room to meet the A-team players while all the other characters converge at the rink. Ana’s father, who goes outside to make sure his truck is locked, sees Matteo entering the rink with a pistol. He chases after Matteo with a rifle. Matteo enters the locker room and starts firing, aiming at Mumble. Benji tackles Matteo but is killed in the process. Ana’s father shoots Matteo from the hockey rink entrance. Lev helps Ana and her father dispose of the hunting rifle and develop an alibi. At Benji’s funeral, local children plant trees around his headstone.
The last chapter describes both near and distant outcomes: Tails takes culpability for the Beartown hockey fraud and spends a short time in jail. The newspaper editor takes down Richard for blackmail. Zackell becomes a legendary coach. Ana becomes an emergency helicopter pilot, and Maya gains renown as a singer. Alicia becomes the best hockey player Beartown has ever seen; one day she will wear the name Ovich on her jersey.
By Fredrik Backman