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I Curse the River of Time: A Novel (Lannan Translation Selection (Graywolf Hardcover)) Hardcover – August 3, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Bookmarks Magazine

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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Product Details

  • Series: Lannan Translation Selection (Graywolf Hardcover)
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; First Edition edition (August 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555975569
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555975562
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #505,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

PER PETTERSON won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for the novel Out Stealing Horses, which has been translated into more than thirty languages and was named a Best Book of 2007 by The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly. Before publishing his first book, Petterson worked as a bookseller in Norway.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Jack Tierney on August 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm a big fan of spare, economical fiction. So, when I heard that Graywolf Press had just released an English translation (by Charlotte Barslund) of Per Petterson's latest novel, I CURSE THE RIVER OF TIME, I settled in to read it with the high expectation that it would deliver the same moving experience as his best-selling novel OUT STEALING HORSES. No such luck. If spare and economical fiction is a good thing, there may be too much of a good thing, and I think I encountered it in this book. As I will note below, there is much in this novel that is wonderful, but too much of the remainder feels empty, like the bleak landscapes he describes.

Petterson's novel is a portrait of the layered relationship between a 37-year-old man and his mother; he is on the verge of divorce, she has just discovered that she has cancer. The story swings between the present and the past as it dissects the nature of their relationship, particularly the way he disappointed her by leaving college (and the life she believed it augured for him) to pursue industrial labor in solidarity with the communist movement that held him in its sway.

Petterson is a fine writer and a brilliant, compassionate observer. There is an incredibly moving passage where the main character, Arvid, remembers a scene at Ullevål Hospital, where one of his brothers was dying, hooked up to a ventilator. the main character, Arvid, Consider this, the main character's memory of events surrounding the death of one of his brothers. He walks into the brother's hospital room, and his parents are both there with his brother. He thinks: "... I could not recall a single thing we had shared. No confidences exchanged between us, not in recent years certainly, and not when we were children either. And that could not be right.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on August 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Arvid, the protagonist of this Norwegian novel, is fifty now, and he has witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, the massacre at Tiananmen Square, and the demise of Communism, along with major changes in his own life and in the lives of his family members. This character novel opens in the middle of a swirl of Arvid's memories: time has flashed back to 1989, and Arvid is thirty-seven, at a major crossroads in his life, the details of which evolve slowly. Taking an oblique approach, author Per Petterson embeds Arvid's story within these memories, conveying them in language which twists and turns in upon itself while slowly moving forward in strong, musical cadences. Vibrant imagery, some of it symbolic, connects past, distant past, and present, as Arvid's story, propelled by his recollections of family relationships and his own life choices, evolves to show how he became the person he is.

As the novel begins, Arvid's mother has just discovered that she has a recurrence of cancer, and she has decided to take the ferry from Norway back to her "home," on Jutland. Arvid has had a testy relationship with his mother over the years and has not talked with her in a while, trying to avoid telling her that he and his wife are getting a divorce, but when he gets a message that his mother has left home, he, too, takes the ferry to Jutland to see her. During this time, he is inundated with memories, which come, seemingly at random, from different times in his life.

Throughout, however, Arvid returns to stories of his mother, who, though hard pressed for cash herself, still gave him money when he was in college, but who, when he decided to leave college and give up his chance to escape the kind of life she and her husband had been living, smacked him, hard, across his face.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By saintmaur on March 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a tough novel to write about; other reviewers have noted its melancholy and lack of `story'. These are fair complaints; rather than echo them or retell the plot yet again, let me just share a few reactions that might veer off a bit from the other reviewers, with whom I tend to agree overall.

First, it is no small feat to fashion a moving novel using a narrator who is deeply flawed and perhaps even one might say, a perennial child. Arvid has, perhaps as a small recompense, the clarity of a child, allowing Petterson to employ his astonishing ability to make us see through Arvid's (usually) clear eyes. My favorite of many descriptive jewels "the peculiar thunk of a monkey wrench on the bench". Arvid's Scandinavia both within and without may be dark but Peterson lets us see every shade of grey and feel every fleeting glint of sunshine on the sea. I don't think I know of another author who can make me `see' so clearly and so often the world in which his characters swim (or sink). I would guess that most of this novel's words are devoted to describing the physical surroundings of a scene, usually as a character sees them. This creates an illusion of a world into which the reader can convincingly enter (and cannot easily escape)..sort of like `real life'.

And how many of us have lived in such families as his, where emotion, especially love, is so submerged beneath shyness and forgotten wounds and a northern reserve? I cringed in recognition more often than I would like to admit. Petterson somehow uses these failures to let the reader in fact see deeply into family dynamics (or at least intuit them) even though the characters often speak little more than a sentence or two at a time, and often don't even finish a thought.
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