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To Siberia Hardcover – September 30, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This 1996 novel predates Pettersen's acclaimed Out Stealing Horses (first published in 2003), and has all of Pettersen's haunted charms. As an unnamed young girl and her big brother, Jesper (who calls her Sistermine), grow up in rural WWII-era Denmark, the two cope with distant parents, an eccentric extended family and the cold wind. Jesper longs to go south to Morocco; Sistermine yearns for the plains of Siberia, foreshadowing lives that will diverge. Their grandfather's suicide, the arrival of puberty and most tragically, the German invasion change their idyllic childhood relationship; as each sibling fights back against the occupation in his or her own way, their inevitable separation looms. The second half of the novel, in which Sistermine struggles to make sense of her life in various Scandinavian cities and towns, awaiting a hoped-for reunion with Jesper, is less breathtaking and mesmerizing than the first, but the contrast makes her numb loneliness and inability to connect all the more poignant. The book builds up slowly, casting a spell of beauty and devastation that matches the bleak but dazzling climate that enshrouds Sistermine's young life. (Oct.)
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From Library Journal

The realization of life's unfulfilled dreams is the theme of this beautifully written novel, which recounts the unnamed narrator's childhood and adolescence in a small Danish town. She dearly loves her brother, Jesper, the only person in her family she cares about. Her rigid, intolerant parents are unresponsive to her need for affection, scarred by the suicide of her grandfather and her mother's Christianity. Then the Germans bring World War II to their quiet world, and life changes. [...] The author of a story collection and an earlier novel, Norwegian writer Petterson is an outstanding talent. Highly recommended.ALisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 245 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; 1st edition (September 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555975062
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555975067
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,408,030 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M.Jacobsen TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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. 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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having been bowled over by Petterson's "Out Stealing Horses" (OSH) and impressed by his "In the Wake" (ITW) I was eager to read TO SIBERIA, the third of his novels to be released in translation in the United States (although it predates both OSH and ITW). It too is powerful, and beautifully written. It may not be great literature, as I believe OSH to be, but it probably is slightly finer than ITW (although it may be unfair to compare that novel to any other, given the acute cathartic nature it must represent for Petterson).

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.
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The story is set in a rural, poor fishing village in North Jutland, Denmark in WWII-era. It is told in three sections by an unnamed sixty-year old woman who recalls her life growing up and - specifically, her bond with her brother Jesper (who calls her "Sistermine"). The first section is about her childhood and her family - - the second takes place in her teen years in the days of German occupation - - and finally, the last section takes place in her 20's when she travels through Sweden, Denmark and Norway and eventually returns home.

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.
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