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Out Stealing Horses: A Novel Paperback – April 29, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Award-winning Norwegian novelist Petterson renders the meditations of Trond Sander, a man nearing 70, dwelling in self-imposed exile at the eastern edge of Norway in a primitive cabin. Trond's peaceful existence is interrupted by a meeting with his only neighbor, who seems familiar. The meeting pries loose a memory from a summer day in 1948 when Trond's friend Jon suggests they go out and steal horses. That distant summer is transformative for Trond as he reflects on the fragility of life while discovering secrets about his father's wartime activities. The past also looms in the present: Trond realizes that his neighbor, Lars, is Jon's younger brother, who "pulls aside the fifty years with a lightness that seems almost indecent." Trond becomes immersed in his memory, recalling that summer that shaped the course of his life while, in the present, Trond and Lars prepare for the winter, allowing Petterson to dabble in parallels both bold and subtle. Petterson coaxes out of Trond's reticent, deliberate narration a story as vast as the Norwegian tundra. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From The New Yorker
In this quiet but compelling novel, Trond Sander, a widower nearing seventy, moves to a bare house in remote eastern Norway, seeking the life of quiet contemplation that he has always longed for. A chance encounter with a neighborthe brother, as it happens, of his childhood friend Joncauses him to ruminate on the summer of 1948, the last he spent with his adored father, who abandoned the family soon afterward. Tronds recollections center on a single afternoon, when he and Jon set out to take some horses from a nearby farm; what began as an exhilarating adventure ended abruptly and traumatically in an act of unexpected cruelty. Pettersons spare and deliberate prose has astonishing force, and the narrative gains further power from the artful interplay of Tronds childhood and adult perspectives. Loss is conveyed with all the intensity of a boys perception, but acquires new resonance in the brooding consciousness of the older man.
Copyright © 2007 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Alternating between the summer of 1948 and the present, Per Petterson writes of Trond Sanders, who is essentially trying to disappear from the world after three years of mourning for his wife. He has moved to the country, and obsesses over tiny details of his new existence. At the same time, he examines the events from 60 years earier, when he spent a season with his father, a former member of the underground during the Nazi occupation.
It's surprising how big this story is, considering the fragmentary approach Petterson uses. Big in the sense that every page seems loaded with meaning, as if even Trond's stumbling around his run-down cabin hides a secret parallel with an earlier part of his life, or else foreshadows things to come. This sort of storytelling almost promises a compelling denouement, though if that is what the reader is lookng for, he may feel cheated. Instead, Petterson hews closer to reality, shunning the contrived shortcuts fiction is capable of and portrays a complex man who has no more answers to his life's meaning than any of the rest of us.
I found Petterson's style very rustic and refreshing - like a drink of water from a clear stream, or a walk through an untended, leafy wood. Though this may not be entirely apt, he seemed to strip his narrative of any modernity, or at least seperate it from a materialistic point of view. There is nothing concrete in the story to support that feeling, it is more of a general sense I had from his crafting of the novel. Unfortunately, I also found it almost too tenuous in its connections, and some events at the beginning a little too coincidental. Petterson even addresses that, saying (as Trond) after one such event that if he'd read it in a book, he would have disliked it.
In one sense, 'Out Stealing Horses' could be considered a coming of age story - a genre I usually am not interested in - but in another, deeper sense, I believe Trond revisits this critical summer in his youth subconciously looking for connections to the life that followed from it. Not so much a 'coming of age' story then, but an examination of the past to determine personal meaning. If there are any clues, he knows that they lie in this remote part of his life, but as I mentioned before, Petterson arrives at the same answers we all do when embarking on such a errand. Because he does so with such a poetic pace and with calmly quiet observations though, it is a sublime task for us to follow along.
'Out Stealing Horses' is not liable to become a classic in and of itself - I do not think it has quite that much staying power - but as a meditation on the intertwining of past and present, it is powerful without plucking at the reader's emotions, or sliding into melancholy. Simple and intelligent, there is room for different interpretations, and at the same time, it is a relief from the frenetic page turners churned out by publishers today. Petterson has created a calm and quiet place, one perfectly suited for the tale he has to tell.
The book takes place in 1999 with frequent flashbacks to 1948. The story concerns Trond Sander, a 67-year-old man coming to terms with his aging body and still grieving three years after the deaths of his wife and sister. Telling no one, not even his two grown daughters, Trond takes his pension and moves to an isolated lakeside cabin in the wilds of northern Norway. There he plans to live out the rest of his life in quiet solitude. He spends his days repairing his ideally situated but ramshackle cabin, taking walks with his beloved dog, absorbing the beauty of nature that fill his senses with pleasure at every turn, and dealing with the mundane necessities of everyday life. He has an acute desire to be alone, and is, in every way, perfectly content with this isolation.
Circumstances bring Trond together with one of his neighbors, Lars Haug, another solitary man. It doesn't take both men very long to realize that they share a mysterious common heritage of heartache some fifty years earlier when Trond was 15 and Lars was a 10-year-old neighbor boy, the little brother of his close friend Jon. Long dormant memories are awakened, old wounds opened; yet both men avoid discussing their common history of emotional pain.
It is this mystery of what really happened between their two families in the summer of 1948 that holds the book together. Slowly, over the course of the novel, bits and pieces of their shared history become known. Petterson artfully chooses to reveal mere tidbits of facts, barely hinting at any deeper emotional impact, always leaving questions unanswered. The author leaves it up to the reader to put the pieces together, and add meaning to the whole. In order to do this, readers must use their own experience to help them supply feelings, opinions and assumptions about each character's motivations. This technique is certainly the genius behind this novel: it makes the reader an active participant in the figuring out all the "what," "how," and "why" of events. Among any group of readers discussing this book, there will be significant differences in how the events are interpreted and found meaningful. That is why this book has such a profound emotional impact: readers must take it into their hearts and make it meaningful in terms of their own life experiences.
There is a lovely passage early in the book when Trond is thinking about his quiet, arms-length assimilation into the village community near his cabin. This passage is noteworthy because it reveals not only a great deal about the main character's personality and mature understanding of life, but also lets readers in on how the author plans to reveal Trond's story over the course of the novel. In this passage, Trond thinks about his basic interactions with village people and reasons:
"People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are. What they do is they fill in with their own feelings and opinions and assumptions, and they compose a new life which has precious little to do with yours, and that lets you off the hook" (page 73).
So, don't be surprised at the end of this book when you find the author doesn't put himself on a hook and reveal every crucial detail about how the events actually play out. Enjoy finding your own meaning, and trusting your own interpretation. If you do, you'll join legions of readers around the world who hold this book close to their hearts.
This book gets my unqualified highest recommendation.