To Siberia

To Siberia

3.4 11
by Per Petterson

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In the bitter cold of Danish Jutland, where the sea freezes over and the Nazis have yet to invade, a young girl dreams of going on a great journey to Siberia, while her brother Jesper yearns for the warmer climes of Morocco. Given a staunchly Christian mother who composes and sings hymns all day, a father who is too philanthropic a joiner to be successful, and a… See more details below


In the bitter cold of Danish Jutland, where the sea freezes over and the Nazis have yet to invade, a young girl dreams of going on a great journey to Siberia, while her brother Jesper yearns for the warmer climes of Morocco. Given a staunchly Christian mother who composes and sings hymns all day, a father who is too philanthropic a joiner to be successful, and a grandfather who takes his life in a cowshed, the relationship between brother and sister flourishes. Jesper has an originality that stands out in the small community, and his sister follows in his wake as they wend their way around the town in moonlit and daytime endeavours. As the narrator looks back she reflects on the harsh realities of their existence and the consequences of their choices. It is out of small and negligible things that a life may be composed, and the beauty of Petterson's narrative lies in the resonances of one which is outwardly barren but so sharply etched, so charged with meaning.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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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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. Jesper joins the underground and is forced to flee the Gestapo. Our narrator continues to dream of escape to Siberia, which in her imagination is an idyllic place where her wishes come true and she is happy. In the final pages, she comes to the realization that her parents are more intolerant than ever, her beloved brother is dead, and she will never be able to fulfill her dream. The author of a story collection and an earlier novel, Norwegian writer Petterson is an outstanding talent. Highly recommended.--Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The Danish response to Nazi Germany before and during World War II forms the backdrop for this coming-of-age novel-first published in 1996 in Norway-that covers 13 years in the life of a young girl. The unnamed narrator and her adored older brother Jesper grow up in a rural Danish village with their stern but deeply loving father Magnus, a struggling humpbacked carpenter, and their musical, fanatically religious mother Marie. In 1934 Magnus takes the family on a short beachside vacation that goes awry but that plants the idea of travel in the narrator's head. She begins to dream quixotically of escaping to Siberia, of all places; Jesper, more understandably, fantasizes about Morocco. Then the children's grandfather hangs himself. They are told that Magnus chose to leave their wealthy grandfather's farm for town life. In fact, Magnus was forced off the farm and now the old man has bequeathed him nothing. Magnus's carpentry shop fails, and Marie begins to run a dairy the family must live above, but in a case of poetic justice, hoof and mouth disease eventually makes the farm worthless. While in middle school, the narrator shares her first kiss with Ruben, a Jewish boy. Jesper, now a printer's apprentice with a wicked sense of humor, becomes a socialist. He dreams of fighting in Spain although he's still too young. When the Germans arrive in Denmark, most of the narrator's friends and family join the resistance. Ironically, Jesper fights a German soldier while the narrator saves one from drowning. The Gestapo takes control of the town. Jesper sneaks into Sweden with Ruben's family. By 1947, the narrator is pregnant and living in Norway. She has not seen Jesper, who somehow made it toMorocco, for four years. She returns home expecting a reunion that never happens. A spare, lyrical novel from Norwegian author Petterson (Out Stealing Horses, 2007, etc.) that possesses historical breadth and a remarkable sense of immediacy.
Los Angeles Times
Brilliant . . . a darkly beautiful story.
Time Magazine
Reading a Petterson novel is like falling into a northern landscape painting—all shafts of light and clear, palpable chill.
The Dallas Morning News
To Siberia succeeds in one of the greatest aims of fiction, to transport us to another time and place that makes us see our world with clearer vision, and to recognize the similarities and differences of human nature across time and distance.
Star-Tribune (Minneapolis)
Coaxes readers into a sphere of loneliness with the precise prose and keen intellect of a masterful writer.
The Seattle Times
Petterson's writing is so exact and piercing that, like poetry, it distills [the narrator's] experiences and feelings into imagery that is powerful beyond words. The effect is beautiful and moving, letting the reader connect with the character's vitality and reflect on life with the same fullness and serenity that she does.
The Boston Globe
Striking . . . Petterson creates a surprising range of effects, from the silvery surfaces of childhood memories to the twilight depths of shadows falling.

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Product Details

Random House Adult Trade Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.91(w) x 7.68(h) x 1.08(d)

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