Per Petterson, who is a former winner of the Independent prize, makes the line-up for his novel I Curse the River of Time (see review). The book is set in 1989. We meet Arvid Jansen seeks to make sense of his life while he struggles with a divorce and his mother’s cancer diagnosis.

Here is the full list:

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Susan Bernofsky from the German

Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras, translated by Frank Wynne from the Spanish

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Maureen Freely from the Turkish

I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson, translated by Charlotte Barslund with Per Petterson from the Norwegian

Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo, translated by Edith Grossman from the Spanish

The Sickness by Alberto Barrera Tyszka, translated by Margaret Jull Costa from the Spanish



Per Petterson has written a number of great books, not only Out Stealing Horses. His international breakthrough, however, came with Out Stealing Horses. It is a great novel, and excellently translated as well. The English translation was perhaps even better than the original Norwegian text.

I Curse the River of Time, titled I Curse the River of Time, by Per Petterson after a poem by Mao, has many of the same literary qualities. It tells a story of grief at lost opportunities in a melancholic, wise manner, full of quiet compassion and tenderness. It is written in much the same way – understated, a little distanced, and full of intriguing observations.

I Curse the River of Time has already received a number of prestigious awards and prizes. In Norway it won the 2008 Critics’ Prize and the 2008 Brage Prize. And in 2009 it won the Nordic Council’s Literary Prize. Deservedly so, in my opinion.

The book starts with the fall of Communism in Europe, in 1989. Arvid Jansen, a character who has also appeared in other of Per Petterson’s books – the first time in Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes – is now 37 years old. He is about to get divorced. At the same time, his mother is diagnosed with cancer. Arvid’s world is shaking in its foundations.

We follow Arvid as he struggles to find a new footing. It is not easy for him, as the changes occur in a seemingly furious pace. And as he attempts to negotiate and come to terms with the new present, his mind travel back and forth in time. There is much to reconcile. He remembers holidays on the beach with his brothers, courtship, and his early working life. He remembers when as a young Communist he abandoned his studies to work on a production line, and how his mother could not understand it.

Arvid’s relationship to his mother plays a prominent part in I Curse the River of Time, just as Trond’s relationship to his father was in focus in Out Stealing Horses. It is a complicated relationship. They love each other deeply and are very close. Yet time over and time again they reject one another, do the opposite of what the other expect and want. Act against their feelings. In a sense caught is a dialectic movement of opposites in a contradiction. And now his mother is dying, but is still every bit as independent as ever.

I Curse the River of Time is an honest, intelligent and very heartbreaking, yet also humorous portrayal of a complicated mother-son relationship. It is told in Petterson’s very enjoyable, artful and precise prose. Like Out Stealing Horses, this book too quietly grows on you while you read, and somehow takes a firm grip on you. It is a book that provides much food for thought and one that stayed with me for a long time. It flows smoothly down the river of time, in a very pleasing fashion!

Praise for Per Petterson:

“Rife with beautiful incantatory moments.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Petterson’s spare and deliberate prose has astonishing force.” —The New Yorker

“Reading a Petterson novel is like falling into a northern landscape painting—all shafts of light and clear palpable chill.” —Time

“Per Petterson’s novels are novels you wait for. Once again he has written a novel where the dark secrets of life are magically illuminated.” —Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Germany

“His best book so far. (…) I Curse the River of Time is the powerful story of a great sin of omission, so well made that it is even more captivating than other books by Petterson in German. (…) A wonderful, melancholic book” —Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany

“Petterson’s mother and son story, written in such a tender and accurate way, (…) is moving and agonizingly beautiful. … like any great piece of art, it shines in the dark like a distant and mysterious light.” —Die Welt, Germany


To Siberia is a beautifully written book about the life of a sixty year old Danish woman and her family. Per Petterson lets this woman – we don’t even learnTo Siberia, by Per Petterson who she is, only that she is referred to as “Sistermine”, my sister – tell us about her life. She tells, or thinks, about her childhood in a Danish port town on the Jutland peninsula, about her grandfather, a farmer who hangs himself in a cowshed, and of the rest of her family – her mother who is a devout Christian, and her father. But most of the book focuses on memories of her older brother Jesper, to whom she had a close and special relationship – their joint memories as well as her longing for him.

Sistermine and Jesper do not get much love or affection from their mother and often silent father. They grow up together, sharing late night adventures and experiences. They grow to learn that “the world was far bigger than the town I lived in,” and they look forward to “my own great journey.”  They dream and share dreams. Jesper yearns to move to the warm climate of Morocco while Sistermine has her sights set on Siberia.

However, the German occupation shatters the future they have drawn up for themselves. Jesper, who is interested in politics and has a leftist political orientation, gets involved in the German resistance movement in Denmark. Eventually he, as many other Danes and Norwegians during World War II, runs away from the Germans, to Sweden. Sistermine watches him depart in a boat.

After the war is over, she moves around in Scandinavia, seemingly looking for meaning in her life, and constantly longing for her older brother, who has gone to Morocco after the war. As he dreamed he would. But alone – without her!  Sistermine will never see him again, and she never gets to see Siberia either.

Like Out Stealing Horses, To Siberia is a sparely, beautifully written and at times poetic book. Per Petterson is an excellent writer and a pleasure to read.  The story is interesting and touching, and like a river, the tale sometimes moves slowly, sometimes leaps ahead. However, in my opinion, To Siberia is not quite as good as Out Stealing Horses (which was remarkable), but even so very good.

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Trond Sander from Oslo, a sixty-seven-year-old man, has recently lost his wife and sister. It has changed him. “I lost interest in talking to people.” He moves up to his cabin, high up in the mountains. He wants some solitude. He wants to live a different life. To ponder his life; bring his thoughts in order. The place he has moved to facilitates this process – it is a place where he has been before and full of memories.

Out Stealing Horses is a very special book, by a talented, prize-winning Norwegian author. It won the 2006 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and it really is a book to cherish and remember. It was also listed as one of the top 10 fiction books of 2007 by The New York Review of Books.

It is a book that it is very easy to fall in love with. I had not expected to, but I did after just a few pages. I suddenly noticed I was smiling and even laughing while reading. I read passages out load.

Out Stealing Horses is gripping. Out Stealing Horses, by Per PettersonViewed from the outside the book is relatively straight forward. Trond lives alone with his dog, and spends his time repairing the house and other small practical tasks. “All my life I have wanted to be alone in a place like this. Even when life was at its finest, as it has often been”.

But things change for Trond. Meetings with the neighbor living in the cabin a little further down the road evoke difficult memories for Trond. Memories about his father, about the summer of 1948 when he was 15 years old, and about events taking place that summer which were hard to understand for a fifteen year old boy. From the moment Trond sees a strange figure coming out of the dark behind his home, the reader is immersed in a decades-deep story of searching and loss, and in the precise, irresistible prose of a master of fiction writing.We move with Trond, back and forth in time, and we relive those events with Trond. Then we see and feel the their implications, how they have shaped and now reshape the mature Trond 52 years later.

The story in Out Stealing Horses is good, excellently translated by Anne Born (Per Petterson has stated that he thinks the English translation may be better than the original in Norwegian!), and it is told with great skill and compassion.

But it wasn’t only the story that made me love Out Stealing Horses. It was actually mostly the language – that beautiful, slightly remote, and very dense, moderate and crisp language that Per Petterson has chosen for his story. A form perfect for making those things that happen in the book – small and large – stand out on their own accord. A style of language that delivers joyful, happy, sad, tragic as well as beautiful events and scenes to me in such a raw, unprocessed form that it makes me need and want to reflect and ponder their implications and interrelations, and more or less forces me to relate to what I read.

Lots of joy, lots of food for thought. Out Stealing Horses is highly recommended!


“Petterson’s kinship with Knut Hamsun, which he has himself acknowledged, is palpable in Hamsun’s “Pan,” “Victoria” and even the lighthearted “Dreamers.” But nothing should suggest that his superb novel is so embedded in its sources as to be less than a gripping account of such originality as to expand the reader’s own experience of life. — Thomas McGuane, New York Times

“Read Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. From the first terse sentences of this mesmerizing Norwegian novel about youth, memory, and, yes, horse stealing, you know you’re in the hands of a master storyteller.”–Newsweek

“Petterson’s spare and deliberate prose has astonishing force. . . . Loss is conveyed with all the intensity of a boy’s perception but acquires new resonance in the brooding consciousness of the older man.”–The New Yorker

“ .. interesting, staggering and mind-blowing observations, thoughts and reflections about life, being, and nothingness made by Trond” —

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Per Petterson lost his cousin, his brother, and his parents the fire on the passenger ferry “Scandinavian Star” on April 7th, 1990. 159 people were killed. In the Wake is a powerful novel, presumably to a large extent autobiographical, that deals with the problems involved in coming to grips with terrible and In the Wake, by Per Petterson meaningless events like this one. The novel is excellently written and has won several literary prizes in Europe.

The novel charts interior landscape of a writer. He is Arvid Jansen, aged 43. He has been more or less unable recover after losing his parents and two younger brothers in a ferry accident six years earlier. Arvid should actually have been on the same trip. After the accident, his life has changed dramatically. His wife has divorced him. He is estranged from his two young daughters. He is more or less unable to write and he hardly speaks to anyone. He is afraid of ties to other people: “I do not know if I want family anymore. It is too risky.”

Per Petterson takes us into the mind of Arvid. Into its vast emptiness and the pain. We see him rambling through each day without purpose or direction. “I feel the sun on my neck, it is burning or something is burning, and maybe it is Sunday. I don’t remember. I see only my eyes in the glass and the books beyond, and I don’t know what day it is.”

One reason the loss feels so heavy, is Arvid’s unresolved relationship to his father. And much of Arvid’s pondering revolves around the character of his father. He is probably made into an ideal, and seems larger than life in Arvid’s recollections of him.
Over time Arvid develops relationships with two neighbors. One of them is a Kurdish man who knows only very little Norwegian. The other is an attractive woman, Mrs. Grinde, who lives across the road.

After an unsuccessful suicide attempt by his brother, Arvid begins to work his way out of his mourning state. He tries to reunite with his family. Small steps, but important ones.

The topic in the novel is relatively gloomy. And, indeed, so is the book. After all, it deals with grief. However, greief, like some other emotional responses, is a state of mind experienced by many of us. And In the Wake is also a book about the rays of hope, and a book that has more. At times it is humorous as well. As well, it is seemingly authentic – Arvid is a character who fought with his family while they were alive and now misses them terribly.

In the Wake is a sensitive book, skillfully translated by Born, which deals with problems of the soul in a fine and measured way. It is a deep character study that provides an insightful look at grief and that is very well worth reading, by one of Norway’s finest writers.


Per Petterson – biography

Background Per Petterson was born in 1952. He was raised in a “strictly working-class” household in Oslo, with his father’s Swedish relatives on one side and Danes on the other. His father, whom he describes as “an athlete, looking like Tarzan”, worked in a shoe factory. He worked for several years as an unskilled laborer,  […]

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Bibliography, Per Petterson

Per Petterson (b 1952), a Norwegian writer, worked for several years as an unskilled labourer, a bookseller, a writer and a translator until he made his literary debut in 1987 with the short story collection Aske i munnen, sand i skoa. This collection of stories was widely acclaimed by critics.   Per Petterson To Siberia […]

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