45 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stark and poetic
This is a poignant, almost desperate story of a young girl and her brother growing up in northern Denmark during World War II and the life-altering ramifications following the Nazi invasion of Denmark.
The sparse, almost poetically written story is recounted by a 60 year-old woman looking back on her childhood and her special closeness to her older brother...
Published on October 4, 2008 by M. Jacobsen
2.0 out of 5 stars Sorry, no.
I read this book because I really loved Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses. But this one is some five light years away from the other one. Has Petterson written only one really good book?
Published 10 months ago by TamaraBosnic
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45 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stark and poetic,
The sparse, almost poetically written story is recounted by a 60 year-old woman looking back on her childhood and her special closeness to her older brother. Growing up in hard economic times in a remote part of Denmark with a family focused on survival left little room for love and nurture. The siblings learn to rely on each other instead and like all children growing up in small towns, they dream of the day they will leave: our narrator dreams of taking the Trans-Siberian railroad, while her brother longs for the day he can head off to Morocco.
Family tragedy forces the narrator to rely even more on her brother and later, as he becomes more involved in the Nazi resistance, his actions will lead to events that will change not only the directions their lives take, but also their perceptions of the world and the people in it. This is as much a tale of how events shape the person we become as it is a stark coming-of-age story.
Concentration on the part of the reader is mandatory: time and place will change quickly, often within a single sentence. You will not find a comprehensive history of the Nazi invasion of Denmark here. The novel is more like a series of snapshots which, when pieced together, reveal the personal consequences of an historical event.
If you are looking for a quick, easily digestible read this is not the book you are looking for. But if you are willing to put in the effort, you will be rewarded with beautifully written passages that will stay with you for a lifetime.
Perhaps a good comparison is Cormac McCarthy's The Road...if you enjoyed that, I'd be willing to bet you'll love To Siberia.
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A life that is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish" (if not short),
The narrator of TO SIBERIA is a sixty-year-old Danish Woman. TO SIBERIA is her account of the major events in her life -- and the lives of her grandfather, her father, and especially her brother -- from the time she was six or seven (about 1932) until she was an unwed mother in her early twenties (about 1948). Her life in a coastal village in Jutland, northern Denmark, was harsh and lacking in excitement, and as a girl she vowed one day to go to Siberia (for reasons that really don't make sense). She never makes it, physically at least. (It might be said that existentially she spends her entire life in Siberia.) Her brother Jesper, her one true friend and soulmate in life, wanted to go to Morocco. He ended up achieving that goal, but in the end that hardly represented a "dream come true" story. Looking back, the narrator sums up the years covered by her account thus: "I was so young then, and I remember thinking: I'm twenty-three years old, there is nothing left in life. Only the rest."
Thus, the novel is one of ruefulness, melancholy, and even quiet desperation, set in an appropriately grim, bleak, and cold Scandinavia, the harshness of which is intensified over the four years of the Nazi occupation. I see that several reviewers, both here on the Amazon site and elsewhere, refer to the book as a "coming-of-age" novel, but I don't find that characterization to be apt. To me "coming-of-age" novels are success stories, but there is no success in TO SIBERIA other than survival. It brings to mind the language of Thomas Hobbes that the life of man is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Of course, Hobbes was referring to life in "the state of nature," before and without government. For our anonymous narrator (and Petterson as well?) Hobbes's phrase would appear to apply also to civilized modern life.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written...,
Sistermine and Jesper do not get much love or affection from their pious Mother and often silent hunchback Father. So, they grow up together unsupervised sharing late night adventures and experiences. They grow to learn that "the world was far bigger than the town I lived in," and they look forward to "my own great journey." Jesper yearns to move to the warm climate of Morocco while Sistermine has her sights set on Siberia. The German occupation shatters the idyllic setting and future they have drawn up for themselves. Jesper gets involved in the German resistance movement and eventually has to run to Sweden - and Sistermine watches him depart on a boat. She eventually wanders through Scandinavia trying to find meaning and purpose in life - fighting constant loneliness, missing her brother and struggling to connect in her relationships with others - and waiting to reconnect with Jesper.
"I'm twenty-three years old, there is nothing left in life. Only the rest."
"The days go by, and I go with them," she says, "but I do not count them."
This story is somber, solemn, sorrowful, desolate and lonely.
Petterson works magic with beautiful haunting prose of people and place.
"My mother is velvet, my mother is iron. My father often stays silent and sometimes over dinner he picks up the burning hot pan by its iron handle and holds it until I have filled my plate, and when he puts it back I can see the red marks on his hand."
He uses simple, spare, stark language not unlike Cormac McCarthy ("The Road" / "All The Pretty Horses") where you get to share in the simplest delights in life.
"I have to stand on the pedals (of my bicyle) so as not to get a pain in the bum, and then I look out over mustard fields growing a meter high on each side. A puff of wind and everything moves."
If there is one criticism of this work - he doesn't close many open loops. The memories recalled by Sistermine are shared in a dream-like state and often with deep sorrow and loss. Dark family tensions and tragic family events occur and yet you never gain much of an understanding of why. For example, a family member commits suicide. "The paper was folded twice without a speck on it and bore a note in his handwriting: I cannot go on any longer." Why? - - Mother and Family rarely show any affection to each or to their children. "I don't understand it, they never touch each other." Why? - - Sistermine's school friend dies. Why? - - Significant tensions exist between Sistermine's parents and grandparents yet you don't get a peak into Why? Perhaps I was looking for a nice red ribbon to tie it all together for a Disney finish - and life isn't so tidy - yet I found as beautiful as this book was written - it often left me unsatisfied with not knowing.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure Magic,
This is not your ordinary "coming of age" novel, but pure poetry in the way the author can put words to paper to make the reader actually feel like you're right there with that cold Scandinavian wind blowing in your face. Like another reviewer stated, there are some loose ends in the story but it's my feeling that Mr. Petterson intends to leave those ends hanging in order to let the reader put their own personal feelings into play as to the how's and why's of what he's trying to tell us.
I highly recommend this book and although it sometimes seems to drag at the beginning, stick with it, savor every word because you will not be disappointed when you finish this gem.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Poignant and poetic,
The two are drawn closer to each other because their own parents seem unable to provide emotionally - and each dream of escape - Sistermine wishes to go to Siberia, and Jesper to Morocco. The Nazi invasion throws their lives into further turmoil - Jesper works for the resistance and Sistermine faces a harsh life under the Nazi occupiers.
The story goes on to tell what happens to both siblings and Per Petterson deftly portrays the complex lives of his characters, both within and without. Highly recommended.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gem,
By A Customer
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crystalline prose that reflects coming of age,
This review is from: To Siberia (Paperback)Reading a Petterson novel is like watching a master craftsman shape his art; not a word is out of place. In this, his predecessor to the Top 10 NYT bestseller Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson depicts a desperately devoted sister and a brother growing up in a provincial Denmark town on the cusp of the German invasion. Abandoned emotionally by their pious mother and distant father, the two weave a web of fantasy: she dreams of Siberia (refusing to accept the existence of the prison camps) and he yearns for the warmth of Morocco.
"My mother is velvet, my mother is iron. My father often stays silent and sometimes over dinner he picks up the burning hot pan by its iron handle and holds it until I have filled my plate, and when he puts it back I can see the red marks on his hand." That is how the female protagonist -- never identified and only referred to by her brother Jesper as "Sistermine" describes her home life. It becomes evident early on that she belongs to Jesper -- she comes fully alive only in his presence and through his adventurous spirit.
There are searing images and rich characterizations that burn a place in the reader's psyche like the hot iron in Jesper's father's hands. One of the first is the drunken grandfather, hanging himself in the heavy darkness of the cowshed, while the cows slowly shift in their stalls. There are the twin rescues performed by Sistermine: first, the rescue of Jesper, who nearly drowns in a freak accident when his boot gets stuck in a lump of tar while diving between two boulders, and later, the reluctant rescue of a young German soldier, who is showing off and nearly dies as he makes the leap into unfamiliar waters. Then there is the cold gaze of Gestapo Jorgensen -- a local Nazi sympathizer -- who malevolently slaps Sistermine as she seeks to protect the whereabouts of Jesper who works with the resistance movement. Each of these images interweave until the reader is snared into Petterson's emotionally desolate northern landscape.
The last third of the book (it is divided into three parts) introduces a grown Sistermine and to this reader, does not have the powerful resonance of the first two-thirds. Sistermine without Jesper seems curiously flat. But this exquisite book, wondrously translated by Ann Born, who also deserves much credit, is definitely a 5-star read. In its own way, it's nearly as beautifully written as Out Stealing Horses.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "We had been Hitler's little pet, but now it was WAR, and things would no longer be as they were.",
To Siberia, the latest of Petterson's novels to be translated into English (though it was written in 1996), continues these themes. Set in Skagen, at the tip of Jutland, it features an unnamed speaker, who is age five when the novel opens. Her father is a carpenter/joiner, one of the best; her extremely religious mother creates and sings hymns. Neither pays much attention to her. Almost anonymous, the little girl comes closest to having a name when her devoted brother Jesper refers to her as "Sistermine." Though Jesper is three years older, the two spend much time together, sharing their dreams--Jesper planning to become a Socialist and going to Morocco, while Sistermine intends to travel from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Though she knows that Siberia is cold, she also believes that the Siberians have furs to keep them warm, and that's all that is important to her at this stage of her life.
Time moves back and forth here, and we know from the beginning that the novel consists of reminiscences by a sixty-year-old speaker whose brother died thirty years before. We meet her childhood friends, watch Sistermine and Jesper grow through their teen years, begin to have feelings for the opposite sex, and, more importantly, learn about why their parents have remained in a place which enslaves them. When the Germans overrun Denmark, in 1940, life does not change very much for the child, but two years later, she is told that she will have to leave school because of lack of money and the war. "What War?" she cries. "No one dares to fight in this country." Only Jesper has become involved, helping to ferry Jews out of Denmark to other countries.
Dark and often bleak, To Siberia uses its title as a symbol of the yearnings of the main character, and the reader recognizes almost from the outset that she is already in Siberia, emotionally. The overwhelming feeling for the reader is a kind of claustrophobia---a feeling of characters being hemmed in, frozen alive, with no escape from the serious business of living, despite the fact that the gray oceans they see all around them appear endless, and the snow-covered fields go on forever. Though the characters remain too distant and private to evoke much empathy, the author's elegant, spare writing is magnificent, a foretaste of the style and themes of Out Stealing Horses, which followed this novel seven years later. n Mary Whipple
Out Stealing Horses: A Novel
In the Wake: A Novel
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Siberia of the soul,
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To Siberia by Per Petterson,
This review is from: To Siberia (Paperback)Against the backdrop of the coming war, "To Siberia" begins in 1932 Denmark, and the story is narrated by the sister of Jesper, her older brother, but the sister's name we never learn. The two are very close and look out for one another day after day, coming from a household with a strict religious mother who writes and sings hymns for hours and a father who is bent over like a hunchback from a life of hard work. The children are not necessarily the first priority in the home.
The sister's dream is to go to Siberia when she is old enough, because she has read about it and her goal upon getting there is to travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway, from Moscow to Vladivostok where she can see forever across the flat land. Jesper's dream is to go to Morocco where the sun shines and there are mountains. When the war years arrive along with the Germans, Jesper takes part in the Resistance against the Nazis, and he and his sister are painfully separated for the first time in their lives, but Jesper achieves his goal of going to Morocco. His sister wanders from place to place, never really settling down anywhere permanently.
I loved this book. I loved "Out Stealing Horses" too, but in this book the prose is so lyrical and so full of imagery that it appears simply written. During the first half of the book, shadows are mentioned many times and how the shadows change direction. The movement of shadows in different directions compared to harnessed horses pulling in different directions reminded me that people in that time period were experiencing the same thing, accusing each other of being Communist, Socialist, Nazi, Jew. The imagery of the shadows seemed to symbolize the great shadow that was making its way across Europe and Scandinavia from the 1930s to the invasion of Denmark in 1940. Against the bleakness of these years, there are also several references to golden light, but Jesper and his sister always seem to be on the outside looking in someplace at a warm, golden light.
Jesper and his sister ride their bikes for miles through the villages where they live as children and also walk long distances and play in the seaside town that is home to them. The bond between these two is wonderful to read about. War changes lives forever, and these two are no exception.
"To Siberia" is a wonderfully written book that despite the subject of a sister and brother struggling during wartime, conveys some sense of serenity and brings back childhood memories of the years when the most we had to do was play all day, come in for dinner and go to bed, except that these two had to grow up in the middle of a world war.
Highly recommended for readers of literary fiction and readers who like Scandinavian writers.
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To Siberia by Per Petterson (Paperback - September 1, 2009)