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Doghead: A Novel Hardcover – February 17, 2009

9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

*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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition edition (February 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312376545
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312376543
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.4 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,665,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By E.M. Bristol VINE VOICE on April 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Doghead" is the multigenerational saga of the Erickisson family, beginning with Grandpa Askild, a concentration camp survivor, architect with a fondness for cubism, and an alcoholic. His motto is that reality is not for children, but his descendants encounter plenty of reality through his often bizarre behavior. When one generation reaches adulthood and becomes (slightly) less interesting, the focus shifts to their children, who have their own quirks, colorful nicknames and dark secrets. The novel is narrated by Askild's grandson Asger (who gets the most nicknames if you check the family tree) and of course, has unresolved issues and must come to terms with his complicated history. Actually, the novel doesn't use psychobabble; that's just a lazy way to summarize things.

If I had to describe this book in three adjectives, they'd be "ambitious," "hilarious" and "messy." Every few pages, someone gets sprayed with bodily fluids, has a painful accident or dies in a most un-dignified fashion. Plus there's alcoholism, child abuse, incest and poverty, and other issues Plus oodles of family dysfunction. (If Oprah gets a hold of a copy, "Doghead" may become a bestseller in the U.S., as well as Europe.) It's like "Hotel New Hampshire" crossed with "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" with enough gross-out parts to fill a Farrelly brothers comedy. Still, it works. But I'm going to make a sexist generalization here and predict that whether or not you find the book "masterful" (as a copy review puts it) or merely good might depend on your gender.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By G. Messersmith VINE VOICE on August 15, 2010
Format: Paperback
This novel tells the story of three generations of the Eriksson family as narrated by the grandson, Asger. It begins with the grandfather, Askild, who was hailed as a hero after WWII, but later came to life as a fraud who was actually a shady war profiteer and that he betrayed his best friend in order to survive concentration camp. Askild is not a very likeable character as he is a drunk and blames everyone else for his problems. He marries the beautiful and sweet Bjork who for some reason stays with him throughout the years.

Then there is the father, Niels Junior, aka Jug Ears, who has enormous ears for most of his life and is constantly teased about them. He has to learn to live with his father, as his father steals his antique coins from him in order to buy drinks and is constantly moving the family because he cannot keep a job. Niels draws monsters on the walls and learns how to kick other boys in their privates in order to exact revenge for the name calling. Neils grows up to become a workacholic, anything to separate him from his father, and grows quite distant from his family.

Finally there is Asger who tapes his sister having sexual relations with her boyfriends and shares the cassettes with his friends. Before long word gets around town that his sister is a slut and Asger is sorry but it is too late. There are other eccentric characters in the book, i.e., Anne Katrine, Askild and Bjork's retarded daughter who grows up to be very obese and is obsessed with Asger. There's also Knut, the youngest son of Askild and Bjork, who broke his sister's heart when he ran off to sea and he is primarily absent except through stories throughout the novel.

None of these characters ever really straighten out and become overwhelmingly decent people.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By DST on July 30, 2010
Format: Paperback
I chose this book for the cover and it turned out to be great. It is about a dysfunctional family narrated from the point of view of Asger (Askild's grandson). I laughed a lot! I kept getting surprised as the story developed into more complex scenes. This novel would be great for a movie!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By S. A. Saghbini on August 9, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is a great story that deserves all the praise, especially after knowing that this was the first novel of a young author in Denmark!

This novel is written in a beautiful pros. It describes the story of a Danish dysfunctional family through three generations narrated by the youngest person in the family.
It travels through different times by different characters starting with the grandfather and a deceitful secret of his heroic action during the war .... This will go through other stories of his wife, kids, nephew, grandkids , friends and the image of doghead: each one has a separate life but all the threads are inseparable....
Highly recommended!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Fairlee E. Winfield VINE VOICE on November 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How did this book receive so many awards? This saga came straight out of old slapstick movies and pratfalls of the Three Stooges. The humor is "potty humor." Gee whiz, "nut kickers," "swilling down glasses of pee," and drunks pucking. Perhaps humor in Europe takes a different turn. Why did this Danish author portray the family as Norwegian? Is this as like an abusive old-fashioned Polish joke? To compare this with T.C. Boyle When the Killing's Done: A Novel [Hardcover] or "Angela's Ashes" Angela's Ashes: A Memoir is absurd.
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