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In the Wake: A Novel Paperback – April 17, 2007
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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IN THE WAKE is a rewarding novel, but not a great one, like OUT STEALING HORSES. Perhaps if I had read ITW first, I would give it 5 stars, but I didn't and I feel compelled to signal that it is a notch below OSH.
An interesting feature of ITW is the occasional reference to works of pop and middle-brow culture, both written and musical. Among those I noted are references to Rick Bass, Alice Munro, Billie Holliday (to whom reference also is made in OSH), Jan Garbarek, Jack London, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Waits, and Steve Earle. In fact, the line from Earle -- "I've been to hell, and now I'm back again, I feel all right." -- sums up the state of mind at the end of the novel of Arvid's brother (a failed suicide) and perhaps Arvid himself. Two other references with which I am not familiar -- Svante Foerster's "The Class Warrior" and Yasar Kemal's "Memed, My Hawk" -- might also be relevant to one's understanding of the book.
Another point of note: According to Amazon reviewer K. Gould, the April 7, 1990 ferry disaster in which Arvid's parents and two younger brothers died has a real world parallel -- a fire on the passenger ferry "Scandinavian Star" on April 7, 1990, in which 159 people died, including Per Petterson's parents, brother, and cousin. Further, Arvid, like Petterson, was born in 1952, and Petterson worked as a bookseller before becoming a successful novelist, while Arvid once worked in a bookstore and has aspirations to be a writer, something at which he works sporadically. All of which, of course, raises the question about whether, and the likelihood that, other aspects of IN THE WAKE are autobiographical.
This is a tragic novel, but not a morbid one. The central issue seems to be not loss alone but the loneliness that travels with it, and Arvid surprises the reader in those relationships to which, like debris, he is able to pick up and create a connection. Those are the relationships that that stay in the reader's mind at the novel's close - their awkwardness, unspoken intentions, and stunted growth create for the narrator not a surrogate but perhaps a new family that can carry loss toward a more landed identity in which hope can, if not exactly thrive, breathe, and flail, and mourn.