I Curse the River of Time: A Novel

I Curse the River of Time: A Novel

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An enthralling novel of a mother and son's turbulent relationship from the author of Out Stealing Horses

Norway, 1989: Communism is unraveling all over Europe. Arvid Jansen, thirty-seven, is trying to bridge the yawning gulf that opened up years earlier between himself and his mother. He is in the throes of a divorce, and she has just been diagnosed with cancer.

Over a few intense autumn days, Arvid struggles to find a new footing in his life. As he attempts to negotiate the present changes around him, he casts his mind back to holidays on the beach with his brothers, and to the early days of his courtship. Most importantly, he revisits the idealism of his communist youth, when he chose the factory floor over the college education his mother had struggled so hard to provide. Back then, Arvid's loyalty to his working-class background outweighed his mother's wish for him to escape it.

As Petterson's masterful narrative shifts effortlessly through the years, we see Arvid tentatively circling his mother, unable to tell her what she already knows he is thinking. In its piercing portrait of their layered relationship, I Curse the River of Time bears all the hallmarks of Petterson's compassion for humanity that has won him readers the world over.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555970093
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication date: 08/03/2010
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 340,563
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Per Petterson is the author of books including In the Wake, To Siberia, and Out Stealing Horses, which won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the Norwegian Booksellers' Prize. The New York Times Book Review named it one of the 10 best books of the year. A former bookseller, Petterson lives in Oslo, Norway.

Per Petterson is the author of books including In the Wake, To Siberia, and I Curse the River of Time. Out Stealing Horses has won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the Norwegian Booksellers' Prize. The New York Times Book Review named it one of the 10 best books of the year. A former bookseller, Petterson lives in Oslo, Norway.

Read an Excerpt

I Curse the River of Time

By Per Petterson, Charlotte Barslund with Per Petterson

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2008 Forlaget Oktober A.S., Oslo
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55597-009-3


All this happened quite a few years ago. My mother had been unwell for some time. To put a stop to my brothers' nagging and my father's especially, she finally went to see the doctor she always saw, the doctor my family had used since the dawn of time. He must have been ancient at that point for I cannot recall ever not visiting him, nor can I recall him ever being young. I used him myself even though I now lived a good distance away.

After a brief check-up, this old family doctor swiftly referred her to Aker Hospital for further examination. Having been for several, no doubt painful, tests in rooms painted white, painted apple green, at the big hospital near the Sinsen junction on the side of Oslo I always like to think of as our side, the east side that is, she was told to go home and wait two weeks for the results. When they finally arrived, three weeks later rather than two, it turned out that she had stomach cancer. Her first reaction was as follows: Good Lord, here I've been lying awake night after night, year after year, especially when the children were small, terrified of dying from lung cancer, and then I get cancer of the stomach. What a waste of time!

My mother was like that. And she was a smoker, just as I have been my entire adult life. I know well those night-time moments when you lie in bed staring into the dark, with dry, aching eyes feeling life like ashes in your mouth, even though I have probably worried more about my own life than leaving my children fatherless.

For a while she just sat at the kitchen table with the envelope in her hand, staring out of the window at the same lawn, the same white painted fence, the same clothes lines and the same row of identical grey houses she had been looking at for so many years, and she realised she did not like it here at all. She did not like all the rock in this country, did not like the spruce forests or the high plains, did not like the mountains. She could not see the mountains, but she knew they were everywhere out there leaving their mark, every single day, on the people who lived in Norway.

She stood up, went out into the hallway, made a call, replaced the receiver after a brief conversation and returned to the kitchen table to wait for my father. My father was retired and had been for some years, but she was fourteen years younger than him and still working; though today was her day off.

My father was out, he always had something he needed to see to, errands to run my mother was rarely told about, the results of which she never saw, but whatever conflicts there had been between them were settled long ago. There was a truce now. As long as he did not try to run her life, he was left in peace to run his own. She had even started to defend and protect him. If I uttered a word of criticism or took her side in a misguided attempt to support the women's liberation, I was told to mind my own business. It is easy for you to criticise, she would say, who have had it all handed to you on a silver plate. You squirt.

As if my own life were plain sailing. I was heading full speed for a divorce. It was my first; I thought it was the end of the world. There were days I could not move from the kitchen to the bathroom without falling to my knees at least once before I could pull myself together and walk on.

When finally my father returned from whatever project he thought was the most urgent, something at Vålerenga no doubt, which was the place he was born, where I too had been born seven years after the end of the war, a place he often returned to, to meet up with men his own age and background, to see the old boys, as they called themselves, my mother was still sitting at the kitchen table. She was smoking a cigarette, a Salem, I guess, or perhaps a Cooly. If you were scared of lung cancer you ended up smoking menthols.

My father stood in the doorway with a well-worn bag in his hand, not unlike the one I used in years six and seven at school, we all carried a bag like that then, and for all I know it was the same one. In that case the bag was more than twenty-five years old.

'I'm leaving today,' my mother said.

'Where to?' my father said.


'Home,' he said. 'Today? Shouldn't we talk about it first? Don't I get a chance to think about it?'

'There's nothing to discuss,' my mother said. 'I've booked my ticket. I've just had a letter from Aker Hospital. I've got cancer.'

'You have cancer?'

'Yes. I've got stomach cancer. So now I have to go home for a bit.'

She still referred to Denmark as home when she spoke about the town she came from, in the far north of that small country, even though she had lived in Norway, in Oslo, for forty years exactly.

'But, do you want to go alone?' he said.

'Yes,' my mother said. 'That's what I want.'

And when she said it like this she knew my father would be hurt and upset, and that gave her no pleasure at all, on the contrary, he deserves better, she thought, after so much life, but she did not feel she had a choice. She had to go on her own.

'I probably won't stay very long,' she said. 'Just a few days, and then I'll be back. I have to go into hospital. I may need an operation. At least I hope so. In any case I'm catching the evening ferry.'

She looked at her watch.

'And that's in three hours. I'd best go upstairs and pack my things.'

They lived in a terraced house with a kitchen and a living room on the ground floor and three small bedrooms and a tiny bathroom on the first. I grew up in that house. I knew every crinkle in the wallpaper, every crack in the floorboards, every terrifying corner in the cellar. It was cheap housing. If you kicked the wall hard enough, your foot would crash into your neighbour's living room.

She stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray and stood up. My father had not moved, he was still standing in the doorway with the bag in one hand, the other insecurely raised in her direction. He had never been a champ when it came to physical contact, not outside the boxing ring, and frankly, it was not her strong point either, but now she pushed my father aside, carefully, almost lovingly so that she could get past. And he let her do it, but with so much reluctance, both firm and slow, it was enough for her to understand he wanted to give her something tangible, a sign, without putting it into words. But it's too late for that, she told herself, far too late, she said, but he could not hear her. Yet she allowed my father to hold her up long enough for him to understand there was enough between them after forty years together and four sons, even though one of them had already died, for them to live in the same house still, in the same flat, and wait for each other and not just run off when something important had happened.

The ferry she was travelling on, which we all travelled on when we headed south, was called the Holger Danske. Later she was docked and turned into a shelter for refugees, in Stockholm first, I've found out, and then in Malmö, and was now stripped down to scrap metal on some beach in Asia, in India or Bangladesh, but in the days I am talking about here, she still sailed between Oslo and this town in the far north of Jutland, the very town my mother grew up in.

She liked that boat and thought its poor reputation was unfair; Not a Chanske, as she was popularly known, but it was a much better ship, she thought, than the floating casinos which sail the route today, where the opportunities for drinking yourself senseless have become senselessly many and even though the Holger Danske might have rolled a bit from side to side when the weather was bad, that did not mean she was about to go down the great drain. I have thrown up on board the Holger Danske myself and never gave it a thought.

My mother was fond of the crew. With time she had made friends with many of them, for it was a small ship, and they knew who she was and greeted her as one of their own when she came up the gangway.

Perhaps on this occasion they noticed a new gravity in her manner, in her walk, in the way she looked around her, as she often would with a smile on her lips that was not a smile as there was nothing to smile about that anyone could see, but it was how she looked when her mind was somewhere else and definitely not in a place that those around her could have guessed. I thought she looked especially pretty then. Her skin was smooth and her eyes took on a strange, clear shine. As a small boy I often sat watching her when she was not aware I was in the room or perhaps had forgotten I was there, and that could make me feel lonely and abandoned. But it was exciting, too, for she looked like a woman in a film on TV, like Greta Garbo in Queen Christina lost in thought at the ship's bow close to the end of the film on her way to some other more spiritual place, and yet somehow she had managed to enter our kitchen and stop there for a while to sit on one of the red kitchen chairs with a smoking cigarette between her fingers and a so far untouched and unsolved crossword open in front of her on the table. Or she might look like Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca as she had the same hairstyle and the same curve along her cheek, but my mother would never have said: You have to think for both of us to Humphrey Bogart. Not to anyone.

If the crew of the Holger Danske had picked up on this or any other change in her way of greeting them when she crossed the gangway with her small brown suitcase of imitation leather, which is mine now and I still use wherever I go, there was no remark to that effect and I think she was grateful for that.

When she had found her cabin, she placed the suitcase on a chair, took a glass from the shelf above the sink, cleaned it carefully before she opened the suitcase and pulled out a half-bottle from underneath her clothes. It was Upper Ten, her favourite brand of whisky when she drank the hard liquor, which she did, I think, more often than we were aware of. Not that it was any of our business, but my brothers considered Upper Ten to be cheap shit, at least when you had access to duty free goods. They preferred malt whisky, Glenfiddich, or Chivas Regal which was sold on the ferry to Denmark, and they would hold forth at length about the distinctive caress of the single malt on your palate and other such nonsense, and we mocked my mother for her poor taste. Then she would give us an icy stare and say:

'And you are my sons? Snobs?'

And she would say: 'If you want to sin, it better sting.' And the truth is that I agreed with her, and to be honest I, too, bought the Norwegian label Upper Ten the few times I mustered the courage to go to the wine monopoly, and Upper Ten was neither single malt nor mild on your palate; on the contrary, it made your throat burn and the tears well up in your eyes unless you were prepared for the first mouthful. This is not to say that it was bad whisky, only that it was cheap.

My mother twisted the top off the bottle with a sudden movement and she filled the glass roughly three-quarters full, drained it in two gulps, and it burned her mouth and her throat so badly she had to cough, and then she cried a little too as she was already in pain. Then she put the bottle back under the clothes in her suitcase as if it were contraband she was carrying and the customs officers were at the door with their crowbars and handcuffs, and she washed her tears away in front of the mirror above the tap and dried her face and tugged at her clothes the way plump women nearly always do, before she went upstairs to the cafeteria which was a modest cafeteria in every sense of the word, and the menu was modest and manageable the way she liked it, and that made the Holger Danske the perfect boat.

She brought with her the book she was reading, and she was always reading, always had a book tucked into her bag, and if Günter Grass had published a novel recently, it was very likely the one she was carrying, in German. When I stopped reading books in German shortly after I left school for the simple reason I no longer had to, she dressed me down and told me I was intellectually lazy, and I defended myself and said I was not; it was a matter of principle, I said, because I hated the Nazis. That enraged her. She pointed a trembling index finger at my nose and said, what do you know about Germany and German history and what happened there? You squirt. She would often call me that. You squirt, she said, and it is true that I was not tall of stature, but then neither was she. But I was fit, I always have been, and the nickname 'squirt' implied both meanings: that I was fairly short of stature, like she was, and at the same time fit, like my father was, and that perhaps she liked me that way. At least I hoped she did. So when she dressed me down and called me a squirt, I was never in serious trouble. And I did not know that much about Germany at the time of this conversation. She had a point.

I cannot imagine she craved company in the cafeteria on board the Holger Danske and approached a table to engage someone in conversation, to find out what their thoughts were and what their dreams, for they were of her kind and had the same background, or the opposite, because they were different too, and it is in the way we differ that you find what is interesting, what is possible, she believed, and she searched for those differences and got a great deal out of them. On this occasion she sat down, alone, at a table for two and ate in silence and concentrated on her book over coffee after her meal, and when her cup was empty she tucked the book under her arm and stood up. The very moment her body left the chair, she felt so exhausted she thought she would collapse there and then and never stand up again. She clung to the edge of the table, the world drifted like the ferry did, and she had no idea how she would manage to get through the cafeteria, past the reception and down the stairs. And yet she did. She took a deep breath and walked with quiet determination between the tables, down the stairs to the cabins, and she had the expression on her face which I have already described, and only a few times did she lean against the wall for support before she found her cabin door, pulled the key from her coat pocket, and locked the door behind her. The minute she sat down on her bed, she poured a large measure of Upper Ten into her glass and downed it in three quick gulps, and she cried when it hurt.


After my mother had crossed the gangway of the Holger Danske and stepped on to the quay in the North Jutland town which was the town she grew up in and still referred to as home after forty years of fixed abode in Oslo, she walked along the harbourfront with the small brown suitcase in her hand and onwards past the shipyard which, in fact, had not been shut down, back then in the Eighties, when almost all other shipyards in Denmark collapsed like houses of cards. She walked past the old whitewashed gunpowder tower of Admiral Tordenskjold, which the town council had moved to the spot where it now stood from where it stood before, one hundred and fifty metres closer to the water. They had dug under the tower and laid down well worn railway sleepers, a giant winch was installed, and more than one thousand litres of soft soap were used to make the whole thing glide. And they did it. They dragged tons and tons of stone tower, centimetre by centimetre to its new location, which had been prepared in every possible way, so they could build a new dry dock for the shipyard without sacrificing one of the town's very few attractions. But it was a long time now since that operation had been carried out and she was really not quite sure if the story about the soft soap and the railway sleepers was entirely true; it did sound a bit odd, and she was not there when it happened. She was in Norway at the time, kidnapped by fate, like a hostage almost, but they did succeed. The tower had definitely been moved.

Three years earlier her father had been buried (irritable and impatient as he always had been) in the Fladstrand Church cemetery that bordered the lovely park, Plantagen, which shared with the cemetery its trees, shared its beech and ash and maple, in the same plot where her mother, wide eyed and confused, had lain down almost willingly two years before, where her brother had lain for thirty-five years, dazed and unwillingly after too short a life.


Excerpted from I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson, Charlotte Barslund with Per Petterson. Copyright © 2008 Forlaget Oktober A.S., Oslo. Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about I Curse the River of Time are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach I Curse the River of Time.

1. Why does Arvid's mother want to go back to Denmark alone?

2. The novel makes many references to American popular culture (Marlon Brando) and classic literature (Maugham's The Razor's Edge); how do these references illuminate the feelings and personalities of the characters? What makes the Calvados liquor so special to Arvid and his mother?

3. Arvid states near the beginning of the novel that he is helpless in his fight against depression. Does Arvid suffer from a clinical condition? Is he blameless, or do you think he might be in some way responsible for his state?

4. What is the significance of the supposedly hostile man on the boat, who later turns out to be Arvid's old friend Mogens? Does their encounter shed light on Arvid's powers of perception and his state of mind? Can he be trusted? Also, how does this scene relate to Arvid's altercation with the man on the train in his younger years?

5. What attracts Arvid to Communism? How deeply felt are his beliefs, and how do they change?

6. What would you say is the primary wedge between Arvid and his mother? Could it be his decision to go to the factories instead of college? What does Arvid believe? Why does his mother tell her friend Ingrid at the end, "I wouldn't call him a grown-up"?

7. The title of the novel comes from a poem by Mao. What draws Arvid to such a tragic verse so early in his life? How does it become a haunting prediction?

8. What does the act of chopping down the tree mean to Arvid? How does his mother react?

9. Arvid muses that he wishes his parents had not told him that he was the "wanted" child of his family. How does this pronouncement stigmatize him throughout his life, and why is he so fixated on feeling wanted throughout the novel?

10. Since it is not explicitly stated, do you think the young girl with whom Arvid has a relationship in his youth is the wife who is now divorcing him? Are there any early signs of fissures in their union?

11. Why are so few of the primary characters, including his mother and wife, referred to by name?

12. In the last sentence, Arvid is still despairing, waiting for his mother to come to him. Who do you think is in the wrong? What do you think must happen for a peaceful resolution between them?

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I Curse the River of Time 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
eembooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of Arvid who at age 37 realizes life is not going to be perfect. He¿s on verge of divorce, his mother probably dying from stomach cancer and he no longer has the political ideals of his youth. At times the narrative a challenge to follow sometimes Arvid is an idealistic 20 year old befriending a female student, turning to Communism instead of education and then the story switches back to the present interaction with his stoic mother. In the background a younger brother who dies years earlier probably from a disability. Some references I found difficult to understand ¿ descriptions of coats, his mother¿s return to a cottage and her friendship with Hansen. Overall really like Petterson¿s almost poetic reflective, introspective writing style but preferred his earlier work ¿Out Stealing Horses¿January 2011
kishields on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Moody, with a beautiful style. Wanders around Scandinavia and back and forth in time as the narrator's mind jumps forward and backward on a final visit to his dying mother. He seems to be looking for comfort from her, as he is going through a divorce, forgetting that her problem is in fact larger than his. A wonderful, subtle character study of these two people, vividly created. Sad, moving and evocative.
oldblack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really "liked" reading this book. That is to say, I looked forward to reading it - but I believe it contributed significantly to a depressive feeling I developed while reading it. Of course, there were lots of other depressing things happening to me at the time which were much more significant. It's not a depressing book per se, but it has a reflective introspective mood, and introspection for me equals depression. I liked its contemplative observant characteristic, and I related closely to the protagonist who is around my age (as is the author!). It certainly doesn't have a lot of action or even much plot, but I don't need those things, I just like getting to know the narrator of the story.
BlackSheepDances on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I Curse the River of Time is Per Petterson¿s newest title, and it feels different from his previous novels. For one thing, there is a different feel to the words, almost a jagged and sharp edge to the prose. While Out Stealing Horses was almost dreamlike in its beauty and simplicity, this has more of an abrupt edge to it. That became apparent to me in reading portions of it aloud (a cranky baby was resisting sleep) and the words felt chunky and awkward, the sentences long and meandering. Given the subject matter, the complicated relationship of a son with his mother, I think this simply underlines just how talented a writer Petterson is. The style fits the story.The novel begins with the illness of Arvid Jansen¿s mother, and her quick journey away from home to absorb her news. Arvid quickly follows. The telling is interspersed with flashbacks of Arvid¿s life, from incidents in childhood to more recent times with his impending divorce. His mother is portrayed as a distant but loving individual, with a strong personality and an aloofness towards Arvid that is never formally explained. It is very much centered on Arvid and his inner feelings as he perceives her, rather than her personal motivations.Much of what makes this novel fascinating is by what isn¿t said: several significant events happen (a family death, her illness itself) that are not explored at all. Rather Petterson focuses on how those events affect Arvid and his mother. If he were to have explained every detail of those events a reader would likely be struck more by the tragedy and its details rather than by what Petterson is getting at, the more subtle change in relationships. It¿s really very clever to read it that way. It¿s almost as if those very dramatic events are secondary to who these people really are. As a child, Arvid didn¿t fit in with his family, despite his parent¿s assurances of how much he was `wanted¿ by them, and valued. On a dismal occasion when a stranger took him to be an outsider from his family, ¿But what I found out that summer¿was that I could swallow whatever hit me and let it sink as if nothing had happened. So I pretended to play a game that meant nothing to me now, I made all the right movements, and then it looked as if what I was doing had a purpose, but it did not.¿ There are allusions made to what might cause him to feel this way, and Petterson lets us wonder. As in life, he seems to want to tell us, there are no easy answers. I have some personal suspicions why this may be, but I don't want to spoil the mystery for anyone else (and I could easily be wrong).Arvid¿s life is more complicated than most, especially in his relationships with women. Three significant relationships are explored, and all of them seem to have him positioned still in the childish role of needing affirmation. In considering his divorce, he thinks ¿¿there is just you and me, we said to each other, just you and me, we said. But something had happened, nothing hung together any more, all things had spaces, had distances between them, like satellites, attracted to and pushed away at the same instant, and it would take immense willpower to cross those spaces, those distances, much more than I had available, much more than I had the courage to use.¿One of Arvid¿s great desires is to be a good Communist, to help the `proletariat¿ and his usage of that word rather than the more common `working class¿ used by his Communist friends, infers he deems his calling in a more elevated sense than a true Communist might normally feel. While his parents had been in the working class themselves, his choosing it rather than pursuing college is his means to be different from them. A confusing choice for a man completely confused about who he is.His feelings towards his mother are obsessive. He thinks of her often yet tries to appear distant and wants her to know he's separate: ¿There was a before and after now, a border which I had crossed, or a river perhaps, like the Rio Grande,
andafiro on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just love Per Petterson. This isn't quite as good as Out Stealing Horses, but it would be good enough as a first read for this author if he's new to you. He understands solitude, and that it doesn't necessarily mean loneliness.
txwildflower on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I gave this latest book by Per Petterson three stars only because I love his work and his prior novels have all been so good....however, this one just doesn't measure up. The story of a 37 year old man who follows his mother to her homeland after she receives the news she is dying of cancer. The story just never did come together and one was left to wonder of the ending. The same unique style is there but "Out Stealing Horses" was a really great book.
dawnlovesbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
there's just something about Petterson's writing. He is superb. I wasn't as crazy about the book as i hoped to be and i didn't like it as much as i did 'out stealing horses', still there were moments in the book where you just couldn't help but be awed at Petterson's talent.
norinrad10 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Over the past couple of years I've read a fair amount of Scandinavian fiction and this book reinforces the suspicion that I've begun to gather. These people are a little odd. This a very lyrical book and at times very beautiful. It concerns a mother dying of cancer and her 37 year old son going through a divorce. They travel back from Sweden to her home in Norway where they reflect back on their lives. Nobody in this book is particularly sympathetic and theirs is a life not overly filled with accomplishment. The man reflect back on his time as a Maoist, which the affection for Maoism among Swedes is confusing to me. A good but puzzling read.
emcelroy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great book. It is the first book in a long time that compelled me to make notes in the margins. Now I really want to read some of his other works.
khager on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Arvid is about to get a divorce so he decides the time's right to go see his mother--who's just been diagnosed with cancer. They haven't been close in years, ever since he told her that he dropped out of college to work at a factory. (Arvid's a Communist and is all, `Yay! Working class! Factories!' and his mom, who works in a factory already is beyond upset that her son's throwing away his future to prove a point.)This book jumps back and forth in time, and so it was hard for me to keep up. I think part of the problem is that I'm in summer reading mode (thrillers! chick lit! paranormal YA!) and this is definitely a winter book. This is definitely well written and interesting and if you're in the mood for something heavy, I think you'd like this. But ultimately, it didn't grab me at all.
writestuff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Avrid Jansen is thirty-seven years old and has spent nearly twenty years searching for the truth through Communism. But now the year is 1989 and Communism is unraveling. Avrid is faced with a crisis of identity when his marriage fails and he learns that his mother has cancer, and everything he has believed in seems to be crumbling. When Avrid discovers his mother has left Norway to return to Denmark where she was born and raised, he boards a ferry to join her at their summer house.Per Petterson¿s novel I Curse The River of Time is the story of a man and his mother ¿ two people who have drifted apart and are now brought back together. The story is non linear and told almost entirely from Avrid¿s limited point of view. Avrid remembers moments from his childhood and the early days of his marriage. Gradually, the fault lines in his relationships and his insecurities are revealed. The reader discovers that Avrid has rejected his parents¿ wish that he be educated and leave behind his working class roots. Instead, in alignment with his Communist leanings, Avrid chooses to leave college and go to work in the factory where his father once toiled.[...] I wanted to be part of the working class, which, for Christ¿s sake I already was, and always had been. The whole point, for them, was that I should stop being working class so they could all be proud of me, because I had been allowed to go farther. - from I Curse the River of Time, page 145 -There is much in the novel that remains ambiguous and unnamed. Avrid¿s mother seems to have a history which is largely secret, or at least Avrid remains ignorant of it. Because of this, the novel takes on a drifting, dreamlike atmosphere which I found bleak. Avrid fumbles and struggles with his identity as son, husband and Maoist. At times he seems to lack any insight into who he is and who he wishes to be, and he sees his life as something which he has little control over.I have never really been able to see enormous changes coming until the last minute, never see how one trend conceals another, as Mao used to say, how the one flowing right below the surface can move in a whole different direction than the one you thought everyone had agreed on, and if you did not pay attention when everything was shifting, you would be left behind alone. ¿ from I Curse the River of Time, page 67 -Petterson¿s prose is spare and reflective, and he provides little hope in a novel about loss, isolation, regret, and confused identity. The landscape of a wintry Norway and Denmark are a perfect backdrop to the story. In fact, the descriptions of scene were some of my favorites in the book.I Curse the River of Time revisits some of the themes from Petterson¿s award winning book Out Stealing Horses ¿ those of identity, a boy¿s ambivalence with a parent, grief and loss ¿ but it is a much bleaker book. I can¿t say I enjoyed the novel as it is a sad meditation on aging, marriage and the child/parent relationship, but I did respect the writing which allows the reader to fully realize the character development.Readers who enjoy literary fiction in translation and who have appreciated Petterson¿s previous work might want to give this one a try.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Like his earlier novel, Out Stealing Horses, this too is a novel as book of memories. In I Curse the River of Time the story is narrated by Arvid Jansen who is faced with the end of his marriage and a mother with cancer both set against the background of the fall of the wall in Berlin. The action of the story moves back and forth between Norway and Denmark as Arvid relates the events of his life which roll forward with the impetus of a river. The river motif appears several times, but seldom is the metaphor made as explicit as when Arvid, while reading a book by Jan Myrdal, comments about the prose:"There was a wide open sky over Jan Myrdal's sentences. The world unfolded in all its majesty, back in time, forward in time, history was one long river and we were all borne along by that river." (p 65)Just as this is true of the history of the world as Arvid sees it, it is also true of Arvid's personal history. However, Arvid's river does not seem that long, and I would not have minded a bit more of his personal story as this short book seemed to end all to soon. It is a story that moves backward and forward with the current story interrupted, oh so gently, by retrospective moments -- a before and after that Arvid was crossing much like a river. (p 92)The most interesting aspect of the novel for me was the literary life of Arvid and his mother. They were both great readers, constantly reading some book, usually a substantial one. And how do I know this? Because Arvid is always reminding the reader what book he is reading and, when he is visiting his mother, what she is reading. The authors range from European greats like Hugo, Grass and Remarque to authors from Britain and America like Maugham, Hemingway, and Faulkner. Commenting on Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom his mother said to Arvid, "It's hard going that book," to which Arvid replied, "I agree, but it's a fine book all the same." (p 93) Petterson's narrative, while beautiful, is never hard going.Arvid's brother had died several years before the story began; he noted that he was so different than his brother while they were growing up together that:"it did not even occur to me to try and emulate him. Instead I read books. Many books, and I guess to him it looked so intriguing and intense, the way I lost myself in those books, that sometimes he tried to copy me, and that made me happy." (p 39)Ultimately Arvid's story is one he describes as, "where the action was bound to a time that was long gone, and yet here I came walking, right there and then, adrift in time and space." (p 35) Like Petterson's earlier novel it is the story of a life pieced together from moments of action and surprise, meditation and love, but unlike the earlier novel the personal history is entwined with the impact of an external event -- the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the end, all the reading, the changing personal relationships, especially with his mother, and the vicissitudes of time itself combine to make this an thoughtful and emotional read
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