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Trond Sander is 67, a recent widower, with a bad back and a desire for solitude. In November 1999, he moves back to the chilly wooded border of Norway and Sweden where he and his father spent time in his childhood. One night he helps one of his few neighbors look for a lost dog and realizes they knew each other those 50 years ago. Over the next few days he reminisces about his relationship with the neighbor's family and with his own father. A sense of dread permeates the tale he tells, brought on not by the pending millennium but by the way he keeps assuring us he has always been "lucky" even as he reveals a series of catastrophes that bind the two families.

The first comes quickly, as Trond tells us of his friend Jon, a wild younger boy who used to come and get him from his father's cabin to go hunting mischief. On one particular morning, in 1948, the two went "out stealing horses"--actually just riding the penned horses of another neighbor. Then, finding a bird nest, Jon shocked Trond by crumbling it to dust.

Unbeknownst to Trond, Jon had suffered a tragedy the day before. Upon returning home from another adventure, Jon realized he was supposed to be watching his younger twin brothers. He set down the rifle that was his constant companions and raced out to look for the missing boys. But they'd been hiding in the house and Lars, the current neighbor, accidentally shot his twin dead.

While Jon then disappears from the story, Trond's father becomes its center. Apparently, he'd begun coming to the cabin a few years earlier because it provided cover for his work against the Nazis in the Norwegian underground, work that he had recruited Jon's mother to assist in. But whatever his ulterior motives had been, he and Trond took great pleasure in working the land, harvesting timber and floating it downriver to the mills. But these simple joys were not to last. Trond's emerging manhood found him attracted to Jon's mother, but she and his father had a relationship themselves.

Eventually, Trond's father sent him home to the city with a promise to follow as soon as some business could be wrapped up. But he then disappeared, leaving behind only a terse letter to the family; a miniscule bank deposit for the proceeds from the timber; and an increasingly embittered wife.

As he shares these stories, we see why this lucky man might choose to return to somewhere that not only offers solitude but represents a place where he had been happy. Not that he's morose now. He enjoys walking his own dog and when a tree nearly falls on his house, he and Lars clearly take pleasure in the work of clearing it. Even a bit of a stroke doesn't dim his spirit and a surprise visit from his daughter is cordial enough. He has not become his father--abandoning family--but he does seem to be seeking some kind of reconciliation with his past.

The story is heart-wrenching and Trond is a companionable narrator. But the strength of the story lies in the beauty of its telling and author Petterson's obvious love of the Norwegian countryside where most of the action occurs. It is no surprise to learn that he both lost his own family--mother, father, brother and nephew--in a ferry accident and that he lives in a farmhouse with his wife : "I say I live in the woods, near the Swedish border."


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A+)

  

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Per Petterson Links:

    -AUTHOR PAGE: Per Petterson (Graywolf Press)
    -WIKIPEDIA : Per Petterson
    -ESSAY: THE MOON OVER THE GATE: HOW CAN SUCH A WELL-TRAVELED, WISE, AND WELL-READ MAN AS SVEN LINDQVIST LONG FOR “NOTHING”? (Per Petterson, The Believer)
    -EXCERPT: Chapter One of Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
Early November. It's nine o'clock. The titmice are banging against the window. Sometimes they fly dizzily off after the impact, other times they fall and lie struggling in the new snow until they can take off again. I don't know what they want that I have. I look out the window at the forest. There is a reddish light over the trees by the lake. It is starting to blow. I can see the shape of the wind on the water.
,br> I live here now, in a small house in the far east of Norway. A river flows into the lake. It is not much of a river, and it gets shallow in the summer, but in the spring and autumn it runs briskly, and there are trout in it. I have caught some myself. The mouth of the river is only a hundred metres from here. I can just see it from my kitchen window once the birch leaves have fallen. As now in November. There is a cottage down by the river that I can see when its lights are on if I go out onto my doorstep. A man lives there. He is older than I am, I think. Or he seems to be. But perhaps that's because I do not realise what I look like myself, or life has been tougher for him than it has been for me. I cannot rule that out. He has a dog, a border collie.

I have a bird table on a pole a little way out in my yard. When it is getting light in the morning I sit at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and watch them come fluttering in. I have seen eight different species so far, which is more than anywhere else I have lived, but only the titmice fly into the window. I have lived in many places. Now I am here. When the light comes I have been awake for several hours. Stoked the fire. Walked around, read yesterday's paper, washed yesterday's dishes, there were not many. Listened to the B.B.C. I keep the radio on most of the day. I listen to the news, cannot break that habit, but I do not know what to make of it any more. They say sixty-seven is no age, not nowadays, and it does not feel it either, I feel pretty spry. But when I listen to the news it no longer has the same place in my life. It does not affect my view of the world as once it did. Maybe there is something wrong with the news, the way it is reported, maybe there's too much of it. The good thing about the B.B.C.'s World Service, which is broadcast early in the morning, is that everything sounds foreign, that nothing is said about Norway, and that I can get updated on the position of countries like Jamaica, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka in a sport such as cricket; a game I have never seen played and never will see, if I have a say in the matter. But what I have noticed is that 'The Motherland', England, is constantly being beaten. That's always something.

I too have a dog. Her name is Lyra. What breed she is would not be easy to say. It's not that important. We have been out already, with a torch, on the path we usually take, along the lake with its few millimetres of ice up against the bank where the dead rushes are yellow with autumn, and the snow fell silently, heavily out of the dark sky above, making Lyra sneeze with delight. Now she lies there close to the stove, asleep. It has stopped snowing. As the day wears on it will all melt. I can tell that from the thermometer. The red column is rising with the sun.

All my life I have longed to be alone in a place like this. Even when everything was going well, as it often did. I can say that much. That it often did. I have been lucky. But even then, for instance in the middle of an embrace and someone whispering words in my ear I wanted to hear, I could suddenly get a longing to be in a place where there was only silence. Years might go by and I did not think about it, but that does not mean that I did not long to be there. And now I am here, and it is almost exactly as I had imagined it.

    -AWARD: Biggest literary prize goes to little-known Norwegian (Michelle Pauli, 14 June 2007, The Guardian)
    -BOOK LIST: Dea Brøvig's top 10 Norwegian novels (The Guardian, 5/21/14)
    -PROFILE : Per Petterson: A Family Approach To Fiction (Lynn Neary, September 23, 2010, NPR)
    -INTERVIEW: A life in writing: Per Petterson (Interview by James Campbell, 2 January 2009, The Guardian)
Per Petterson remembers the last thing his mother said to him. It was in April 1990. She had just finished reading his first novel, Echoland, which had been published in Norway the previous year. "She said: 'Well, I hope the next one won't be that childish.' Which was a blow. And the next weekend she was dead."

Petterson's father, brother and nephew died with her, when a ferry caught fire on the overnight sailing from Oslo to Frederikshavn in northern Denmark (159 people lost their lives). "I've thought a lot about what she said. I've tried to figure out what she meant. She was a little harsh, because she herself had survived so many things. She probably meant that I hadn't been ambitious enough in that novel, that I should go further. OK, you want to be a writer - be a writer then! But she shouldn't really have said that." [...]

The farmstead where Petterson and his wife Pia live with their sheep and chickens is reached by driving through a whitened landscape, across the Glomma river which, he tells visitors, separates the urban sphere from the "back bush". Asked the name of the area, he replies: "I say I live in the woods, near the Swedish border."

    -INTERVIEW: PEN WORLD VOICES - INTERVIEW - PER PETTERSON: Language Within Silence (Joy Stocke, Wild River Review)
    -INTERVIEW: Novelist Per Petterson on Voice, Landscape and His "New" Novel, To Siberia (Tom Christie, December 10, 2008, LA Weekly)
    -PROFILE: A Northern Light (Bob Thompson, December 26, 2007 Washington Post)
    -PROFILE: All in the Family: Per Petterson Brings Steinbeck to Norway in His Latest Novel (Joseph Peschel, 8/20/15, Daily Beast)
    -INTERVIEW: The Q&A: Per Petterson : We cannot know each other (Prospero, Jan 11th 2012, The Economist)
    -INTERVIEW: Per Petterson, Ethan Nosowsky and Geir Berdahl on Publishing (Bookworm, May 21, 2015, KCRW)
    -INTERVIEW: LIVE from the NYPL: Per Petterson (NYPL, April 24, 2015)
    -PROFILE: Soul food from a writer's farm: Per Petterson returns to his working-class roots: With Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson captured the hearts of readers around the world. His new novel returns to his working-class roots. (Boyd Tonkin , 8 July 2010, The Independent)
    -INTERVIEW: Novelist Per Petterson's latest take on time and friendship (Tracy Mumford · Apr 21, 2015, MPR)
    -INTERVIEW: Per Petterson on writing, translating, and his reluctance to revise (laurie hertzel, April 25, 2015, Minneapolis Star Tribune)
    -INTERVIEW: A Northern Light in the Literary World: Per Petterson (Claire Kirch, Feb 27, 2015, Publishers Weekly)
    -PROFILE: Per Petterson (BBC3)
    -INTERVIEW: PEN Atlas Q&A: Per Petterson, author of ‘I Refuse’ (Tasja Dorkofikis, 10/23/14, PEN Atlas)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Conversation: Per Petterson & Marilynne Robinson, with Radhika Jones (PEN America)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Per Petterson’s I Curse the River of Time (The Leonard Lopate Show)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Per Petterson: “I Curse the River of Time” (Diane Rehm Show, 9/13/10)
    -INTERVIEW: Novels from Norway : Out Stealing Horses (The Leonard Lopate Show)
    -ARCHIVES: "per petterson" (WNYC)
    -REVIEW ESSAY : Late And Soon : The novels of Per Petterson (James Wood, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Cloud Formations (Heller McAlpin, B&N Review)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Soul on Ice (Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn, n+1)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Per Petterson and The Masculine Question (Adam Gallari, March 1, 2010, Quarterly Conversation)
    -REVIEW: of Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Out Stealing Horses (Ted Gioia, New Canon)
    -REVIEW: of Out Stealing Horses (Thomas McGuane, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Out Stealing Horses (Ian Thomson, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Out Stealing Horses (Patrick Ness, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Out Stealing Horses (Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Out Stealing Horses (Benjamin Lytall, NY Sun)
    -REVIEW: of Out Stealing Horses (Jonathan Keates, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Out Stealing Horses (Peter Martin, Esquire)
    -REVIEW: of Out Stealing Horses (Ray Taras, Campaign for the American Reader)
    -REVIEW: of Out Stealing Horses (Yiyun Lin, The Millions)
    -REVIEW: of Out Stealing Horses (Charles Obendorf, Cleveland Plain-Dealer)
    -REVIEW: of To Siberia by Per Petterson (Johnathon Miles, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of To Siberia (Jeffrey Frank, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of To Siberia (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of To Siberia (Ron Charles, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of To Siberia (Ray Taras, Campaign for the American Reader)
    -REVIEW: of To Siberia (Tom Cunliffe, A Common Reader)
    -REVIEW: of To Siberia (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of To Siberia (Alex Young, Words without Borders)
    -REVIEW: of In the Wake by Per Petterson (S. Kirk Walsh, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of In the Wake (Kate Kellaway, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of In the Wake (Rachel Cusk, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of In the Wake (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of In the Wake (Adam Gallari , Quarterly Conversation)
    -REVIEW: of In the Wake (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of It's Fine By Me by Per Petterson (Kristen Treen, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of It's Fine by Me (Tim Parks, The Guardian)
Just a few lines of Per Petterson and you can't help but be anxious. Something awful is about to happen. The most ordinary circumstances – a day at work, a drive in the country – are charged with danger. Accidents abound; fights likewise. Drunkenness and passion are rarely far away and never benign. There is a great deal of wind and weather, most of it cold, when not actually freezing. Exposed and vulnerable, the body is braced to recoil. The skin cracks, chaps and bruises; the inner organs churn in response to unwanted emotion. The past is too perilous to explore and always likely to detonate in the minefield of the present. The future is uninsurable.

Petterson's heroes respond to this hostile world with craft and expertise: driving expertly, making a good coffee, lighting a fire, working a complicated machine. They are meticulous and skilled, but with the skill of patience and hyper-alertness, not natural genius. How else protect yourself against life's vicissitudes, how else win the respect of others? Other people offer shelter and love; but they can betray you too. Brothers and sisters, friends and lovers, fathers and mothers are prominent in his books; it is always a mistake to rely on them.

    -REVIEW: of It's Fine by Me (Catherine Taylor, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of It's Fine by Me (Joseph Holt, Harvard Review)
    -REVIEW: of I Refuse by Per Petterson (Neel Mukherjee, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of I Refuse (Harriet Lane, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of I Refuse (Catherine Taylor, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of I Refuse (James Campbell, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of I Refuse (Jon Michaud, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of I Refuse (Steve Donoghue, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of I Refuse (S. Kirk Walsh, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of I Refuse (Nicole Lee, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of I Refuse (Jared Catchpoole, Writers Edit)
    -REVIEW: of I Refuse (Kirkus Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of I Refuse (Jon Morris, Pop Matters)
    -REVIEW: of I Refuse (Harvill Secker, Scotland Herald)
    -REVIEW: of I Refuse (Tayla Burney, Washington Independent Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of I Refuse (Claire Rudy Foster, Cleaver)
    -REVIEW: of I Refuse (Harvey Freedenberg , BookPage)
    -REVIEW: of I Refuse (Edward T. Wheeler, Commonweal)
    -REVIEW: of I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson (Charles McGrath, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of I Curse the River of Time (STACEY D’ERASMO, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of I Curse the River of Time (Rachel Cusk, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of I Curse the River of Time (Heller McAlpin, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of I Curse the River of Time (Bob Thompson, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of I Curse the River of Time (Susan Salter Reynolds, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of I Curse the River of Time (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of I Curse the River of Time (Paul Binding, Financial Times)
    -REVIEW: of I Curse the River of Time (Eileen Battersby, Irish Times)
    -REVIEW: of I Curse the River of Time (Cressida Connoly, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of I Curse the River of Time (Janet Potter, Open Letters Monthly)
    -REVIEW: of I Curse the River of Time (Peter Keough, The Phoenix)
    -REVIEW: of I Curse the River of Time (Andre Alexis, Globe & Mail)
    -REVIEW: of Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes by Per Petterson (CARMELA CIURARU, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Ashes in My Mouth and I Refuse (Nick Romeo, Chicago Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of Ashes in My Mouth and I Refuse (Claire Mesud, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Ashes in My Mouth (Imogen Russell Williams, Metro)

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