From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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.
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Described as "a master at writing the spaces between people" (Los Angeles Times), Petterson skillfully entwines past and present to create a vivid, heartrending portrait of a son's bungling, but sincere, love for his cold, unresponsive mother. Critics roundly praised Petterson's poetic language and unwavering rejection of sentimentality. Instead, he evokes a lovely sense of melancholy, movingly echoed in stark descriptions of the lonely Scandinavian landscape. Not all critics agreed, however, that I Curse the River of Time is a worthy successor to the best-selling Out Stealing Horses. The Oregonian deemed Arvid too unlikable, and the Dallas Morning News bemoaned his unreliability as a narrator. Nevertheless, quiet and character-driven, I Curse the River of Time is a novel to be savored, one which invites readers "to breathe deeply and slow down" (Kansas City Star).
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