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My Struggle: Book 1 Paperback – May 28, 2013
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“Powerfully alive . . . Knausgaard is intense and utterly honest, unafraid to voice universal anxieties . . . He wants us to inhabit the ordinariness of life, which is sometimes visionary, sometimes banal, and sometimes momentous, but all of it perforce ordinary because it happens in the course of a life, and happens, in different forms, to everyone . . . There is something ceaselessly compelling about Knausgaard's book.” ―James Wood, The New Yorker (selected as one of the Books of the Year)
“A fantastic novel . . . I cannot say anything other than that I am looking forward desperately to the rest of it.” ―Dagsavisen (Norway)
“Knausgaard's thinking is magnificently unbridled.” ―Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (germany)
“Between Proust and the woods . . . Like granite, precise and forceful. More real than reality.” ―La Repubblica (Italy)
“I can't stop, I want to stop, I can't stop, just one more page, then I will cook dinner, just one more page . . .” ―Västerbottens-kuriren (Sweden)
About the Author
Karl Ove Knausgaard was born in Norway in 1968. My Struggle has won countless international literary awards and has been translated into more than fifteen languages. Knausgaard lives in Sweden with his wife and three children.
Don Bartlett has translated dozens of books of various genres, including several novels and short story collections by Jo Nesbø and It's Fine by Me by Per Petterson. He lives in Norfolk, England.
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The series itself is a strange venture. On one level it is simply a memoir by a 40 year old writer who has achieved great acclaim in Norway (but is almost unknown outside the Scandinavian countries). On a more lurid level, it is a "reality show" in book form, its essence being a brutally honest intrusion into the author's life, and more notably, the lives of everyone around him. But the value and genius of this book is that Knausgård has an extraordinary ability to articulate the feelings and perceptions of ordinary people as they live their ordinary lives, make choices, and deal with the consequences of those choices. His self-awareness is refreshing and hilarious. Poetry in prose.
The book was released this morning. I intended to read a few pages this morning, but was unable to put it down. It is that good.
I read a lot of Norwegian literature in translation and Don Bartlett, the translator, is one of the best. He has always impressed me with his focus on retaining the feel of the original language and did a great job with My Struggle.
Here's hoping Book Two is published soon.
Why should readers care about the story of Karl Ove's life? It's not that it's in any way remarkable, though it certainly has its personal dramas. No, it's the almost guileless realism that drew me in--all the small details that make up our everyday lives that rarely get acknowledged in books, but which completely resonates at some deep inner level. And while there are passages where the writing is plain--no other word for it--often Knausgaard is employing the careful wordcraft of a skilled writer more concerned with telling his story than showing off his chops. In doing so, he gets to the heart of being in all its everyday ordinariness.
Knausgaard spares no one in his family in this portrayal, least of all himself. We see family scenes from his childhood, a long section from his teenage years that's blissfully free of moralizing or wallowing in self pity: it's simply life itself.
But ultimately the book is about death, and what that means for the living. My Struggle opens with a meditation on life's end, and the heart of the book recounts Karl Ove's week after learning of his father's death, most of it spent at his grandmother's fetid home in Kristiansand, a town on the southern coast of Norway. It was here that his father spent the last years of his life, slowly drinking himself to death. Karl Ove and his brother Yngve slowly clean out the stinking house, tossing reeking clothes and furniture, scrubbing for hours on end, and trying to understand their grandmother, who found their dead father, her dead son.
It doesn't sound like promising material, and should by rights be downright depressing, but it's not. Every detail is described with care; the story is more like a painting of an old Dutch master, rich in intricate and mundane detail, sparing nothing, engrossing us, leaving us wanting more.
Why does this book work so well? Why did I look forward to reading another 20 pages every evening? I think somehow Knausgaard has managed to make his struggle universal through all the small details that accumulate into the larger whole. That includes his own follies and failures, his self doubt and fears, and yet also a confidence that he will make it through to the next day, the ultimate struggle for all of us.
Each little moment he describes is a moment of awareness of the present. Perhaps that's why it captivated me: all too often, we go through our days unaware of the moments that make up our lives, lost in thought, focused on the future or the past. Knausgaard describes a relentless present, something that we mostly forget in our own daily struggles.
This definitely isn't a book for everyone; if you want plot development and action, look elsewhere. But for me it was rich, rewarding, thought-provoking, and ultimately moving.
It's ironic that Knausgaard begins his tome on life with a digression on death; he muses about how the most profoundly mysterious of human experiences is one that is never consciously experienced at all. In Part 1 of 2 (in the overall Part 1) amidst seemingly endless wanderings and musings, anecdotes and semi-pleasurable yarns on living in Norway in the 80's, Knausgaard grounds the novel between two overarching narratives: that which represents youth--his outing as an adolescent on New Years Eve (the banal), and adulthood--his coming to terms with his father's death (the powerfully radiant) amidst the debris-ridden remnants left behind by a staunch alcoholic.
Alternating between adolescence and adulthood, Knausgaard covers events sprawling in topic and impression. From the teenage troubles of trying to sneak drinks on New Years Eve, or desperately vying for the hand of a seemingly bottomless crush, to sifting through the remains, bottles, decay, and debris left behind by his alcoholic father, Kausgaard sporadically covers ideas as they strike him, giving the piece an organic, naturally harmonious cadence. Beneath it all, however, is the fact that despite past misgivings and lingering compunction, death unites us all under the banner of speciel communion--that we are all one in the same and thus will meet the same fate--a fact that is simultaneously beautiful and discomforting.
Proust minus the poetry, a meandering chronicler, Knausgaard sets down his life without remorse. He communicates the brutal truth behind past apprehensions and present day aberrations. Successful in its verbosity and marathon scope--prescient in its truthfulness and honesty, My Struggle is unrelentingly digressive and candid.
Although the book has glimmers of what I'm going to dub "insouciant prescience," the difficulty behind this text lies in it's inability to linger in any one singular moment. Rather, Knausgaard jet sets between events with little regard for cohesion. But the lack of cohesion is perplexingly beautiful in it's frankness. Knausgaard reminds us throughout that life is not cohesive. More so, it is fragmented and far less linear than we believe--and so, too, is this strangely intriguing novel.
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