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The Sorrows of an American: A Novel Paperback – Bargain Price, March 3, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In her fourth novel (following the acclaimed What I Loved), Hustvedt continues, with grace and aplomb, her exploration of family connectedness, loss, grief and art. Narrator and New York psychoanalyst Erik Davidsen returns to his Minnesota hometown to sort through his recently deceased father Lars's papers. Erik's writer sister, Inga, soon discovers a letter from someone named Lisa that hints at a death that their father was involved in. Over the course of the book, the siblings track down people who might be able to provide information on the letter writer's identity. The two also contend with other looming ghosts. Erik immerses himself in the text of his father's diary as he develops an infatuation with Miranda, a Jamaican artist who lives downstairs with her daughter. Meanwhile, Inga, herself recently widowed, is reeling from potentially damaging secrets being revealed about the personal life of her dead husband, a well-known novelist and screenplay writer. Hustvedt gives great breaths of authenticity to Erik's counseling practice, life in Minnesota and Miranda's Jamaican heritage, and the anticlimax she creates is calming and justified; there's a terrific real-world twist revealed in the acknowledgments. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

"I’m lost," a patient tells her psychiatrist in Hustvedt’s fourth novel. "I’m cold. I’m all alone." She might be speaking for all the characters in this sombre meditation on the isolation of urban professionals, in which daily routines are nothing but "pillars in an architecture of need," erotic love is ephemeral, and friendship is the only source of consolation in a post-9/11 New York where everyone is always having nightmares. Hustvedt’s interest in the ways in which language can form both a bridge and a barrier between individuals leads her into digressions on Plato, Kierkegaard, and theories of psychoanalysis. This didactic turn has the unfortunate effect of making her plot—stories of loss and disappointment connected only tenuously through the character of the psychiatrist—start to seem almost beside the point.
Copyright ©2008Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (March 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312428200
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312428204
  • ASIN: B0058M7VRK
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,604,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Siri Hustvedt is the author five novels, The Blindfold, The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, What I Loved,and The Summer Without Men, as well as three collections of essays, A Plea for Eros, Mysteries of the Rectangle: Essays on Painting, and Living, Thinking, Looking, as well as the nonfiction work: The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves. What I Loved and The Summer Without Men were international bestsellers. Her work has been shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Femina Etranger in France, and she is the recipient of the 2012 International Gabarron Prize for Thought and Humanities.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By C. Clark on May 4, 2009
Format: Paperback
Disappointing. I kept thinking to myself, How does a book like this even get published? I am an avid reader, and am not accustomed to disliking a book as much as I disliked this book.

First, Hustvedt fails to draw a believable male protagonist. The dialogue is also unbelievable, as it is convoluted and awkward. The characters in this book do not speak as real people do. Also, the plot is shaky-to-nonexistent. Most of the characters aren't particularly likable; they are over-privileged, self-involved, and depressing. I couldn't wait for this book to be over with. It was slow going without reward.

I wonder if the author writes essays. Her writing style seems better suited to that medium.

Based on other reviews here, it seems you either love this book, or hate it. If you have any doubts, think twice. You may just hate it.
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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Martin Nouvell on April 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I had never heard of this author until I heard her speak at the Key West Literary Seminar last then. Since then I have bought and read all of her books.

How can she do what she does on a page? How does she make the pages fall away and take me into a world that I never forget? I don't know the answer, but I do know as soon as I saw she had a new book out, The Sorrows Of An American I rushed right out to buy it -- and in the last two days have been transported, once again by a world I did not know I was missing.

Like her previous books, the characters (Erick, Miranda, Eggy, and Inga, and Max) in Sorrows of an American are now a part of my life. I shut the book last night and am still thinking of their world. Missing it, actually.

While following a mystery - edged with both agitated grief -- I learned about memory, light, darkness, and art.

No question about it -- this book will not disappoint you: the kind of reading experience that makes you re-remember the power that can be found in bound pages when created by a true artist. Plus, the story here is simply - INTERESTING.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Heather A. Conrad on August 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a complex novel that reads like a literary mystery and at other times like a psychological drama. Everyone in the book hovers at the edge of the abyss. Even the mild-mannered, kind psychoanalyst, Erik Davidsen, who narrates the story which takes place in the year following the death of his father, Lars. Excerpts from Lars memoir appear occasionally: descriptions of his service in World War II or at his Norwegian family's farm. Interestingly, Siri Hustvedt states in her acknowledgments that they are nearly verbatim quotes from a journal by her own father, who died in February, 2003.

There is an engaging plot and suspense, but what makes this novel stand out is its intellectual clarity and prowess. I find the word "American" in the title ironic as I felt throughout my reading that the book was written by a European and I kept picturing London instead of New York, where it is set. This was because the book totally lacks a certain cultural element that is typical of American fiction: a kind of sentiment, or faith or anti-intellectualism. This novel is very interior, clinical and mentally disciplined. At times it read like a Bergman film, full of secrets and repressed emotion, characters haunted by past experience, yet never sentimental or romantic. The book's European intellectualism and lack of American surface-as-story romanticism is articulated by one of the characters, Inga, Erik's sister. She is describing a former actress who had an affair with her husband. Inga tells Erik that the actress had been an alcoholic but recovered by getting involved in New Age ideas. "She touts that half-baked, naïve, shiny American brand of mysticism, you know, Far East via California and Hallmark..." But what, I wondered, is both "half-baked" and "shiny"?
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mike Donovan on May 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In a day when smart, thoughtful fiction seems few and far between, I have been impressed with the thoughtful work of Siri Hustvedt. However, her latest book, 'The Sorrows of an American' was a bit too labyrinthian for me. While still finding much to like about the book, I was too often trying to place who was who, what was reality and what was a dream, etc. and it all interrupted the fluidity of the novel, for me at least. While usually enjoying free-flowing novels of uncertain trajectory (I'm a fan of her husband's work), I felt frustrated with 'Sorrows of an American.' Maybe it was my own mind, in a state of being pulled in one direction and then another due to some complexities in my own personal life that didn't allow me to appreciate this as much as her last work, 'What I Loved.' I will definitely revisit this book when my own mind is cleared of cobwebs and give it another try. Too many good reviews from critics I respect that fly in the face of my initial thoughts as I worked my way through this book. At any rate, with Auster and Hustvedt writing under the same roof, there's some seriously strong work being turned out that deserves much praise at a time when there's such a dearth of intelligent fiction.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Rotondi on April 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
"Dream economies are frugal. The smoking sky on September eleventh, the television images from Iraq, the bombs that burst on the beach where my father had dug himself a trench in February 1945 burned in unison on the familiar ground of rural Minnesota. Three detonations. Three men of three generations together in a house that was going to pieces, a house I had inherited, a house that shuddered and shook like my sobbing niece and my own besieged body, inner cataclysms I associated with two men who were no longer alive. My grandfather shouts in his sleep. My father shoves his fist through the ceiling. I quake."

Siri Hustvedt's The Sorrows of an American explores generations of memory overlapping in the present. At its simplest, the novel is about three watershed events burned into the memory of many American families: the Great Depression, World War II, and September 11th, 2001. But to say this is to over-simplify a rich book with incredibly present, whole characters, made real for the layers of memory wound within each of them.

One has the sense that Hustvedt's characters have always existed, that she did not create something new but captured all the lovely loneliness, all the complexity of baggage-heavy humanity. This sense of realism can be attributed to the backwards and forwards chronology of the text (a pre-existing history that informs the present), the exploration of dreams that make the "reality" of the text seem more real in contrast, and references to real events (September 11th, World War II) and fictional creations (poems, films) that impact the lives of the characters.

The novel opens in media res: the narrator's father is dead, and he has to wait until spring to bury his father on the farmstead of his youth.
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