From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. For years, Asger Erikkson, the narrator of Ramsland's funny and touching novel, has struggled to keep his family history buried. But when Asger is called home to Denmark to the deathbed of his beloved Grandma Bjørk, the stories spill forth, out of order and out of control. First, they summon long-suppressed guilt (Asger caused his grandfather, who survived Buchenwald, to collapse by tricking him into drinking urine, for instance) and then spiral outward, filling in the many blanks from three generations of the Erikkson family. Nuttiness and depravity abound, as Asger's grandfather's many character flaws are revealed, a son is born in a filthy privy, cousins fall in love and an increasingly ill Bjørk begins to babble about a hidden fortune. In his first novel to be translated into English (it won the Danish Best Novel award), Ramsland masterfully captures a zigzagging litany of recollections across generations and the cold North Sea, revealing the family's true fortune: survival in the space between deep dysfunction and enduring love. (Feb.)
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*Starred Review* Already a huge success in Europe, Doghead is the bizarre saga of three generations of the spectacularly dysfunctional Eriksson family. Patriarch Askild is a naval architect who becomes so obsessed with cubist art that his ship designs become cubist, which gets him fired by one Norwegian shipyard after another until he’s forced to move to Denmark to find work. It’s also the story of Askild’s wife, Bjork; their sons, Knut and Jug Ears; their nephew, Applehead; and their grandchildren, Asger (who narrates much of the tale) and Stinna. Although the book is often mordantly funny, its dominant themes can have overtones of tragedy: World War II; marital, generational, and class conflict; superstition; cruelty; violence; the absence of love; lack of communication; Scandinavian reserve; and sheer loopiness. The children of each generation of Erikssons absorb the pain generated by these events and conditions; only in the final pages of the story does Ramsland offer any sense of affirmation and regeneration. Early chapters of the book can seem bewildering, as though Askild’s cubist aesthetic, mixed with a little magic realism, has somehow distorted the linear story. All that said, Doghead is brilliant, exhilarating, and haunting. The characters and their stories will stay with thoughtful readers, and many may even find resonances to their own lives. --Thomas Gaughan
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