I Curse the River of Time

Per Petterson, Author, Charlotte Barslund, Translator, Per Petterson, With
Per Petterson, trans. from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund, Graywolf, $23 (224p) ISBN 978-1-55597-556-2
Reviewed on: 06/14/2010
Release date: 08/01/2010
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Like an emotional sucker punch, the latest novel from the much-acclaimed Petterson (a prequel to 2006's In the Wake) examines lives half-lived, ending, and perhaps beginning anew. In 1989, 37-year-old Arvid Jansen's marriage is ending and his mother is dying of cancer. Hoping to leave his marital woes behind in Oslo, Jansen follows his Danish-born mother to her home country, to the beach house where the family spent summers. During the ferry ride and the following days in Denmark, Jansen recalls his childhood bond with his mother and his decision, after two years of college, to leave school and join his fellow Communists in the factories. He struggles with his commitment to communism—the title is a line from a poem by Mao—and with his place in his family and in the larger world. Thankfully, there is neither overt sentimentalism nor a deathbed declaration of love between mother and son, but Petterson blends enough hope with the gorgeously evoked melancholy to come up with a heartbreaking and cautiously optimistic work. (Aug.)
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