Khemiri (Everything I Don’t Remember) repeats phrases, assembles lists, and stacks up a family’s disappointments in this surprisingly satisfying novel set over the course of a single week. A man, referred to as “a son who is a father,” threatens to revoke the Father Clause, a family agreement allowing his “father who is a grandfather” to stay in the small family-owned apartment in Stockholm whenever he is in town. The father is too critical of his son, too stingy, and too messy, and his overburdened son doesn’t want him there—he has bigger problems. His girlfriend, the mother of their children, has gone back to work as a lawyer, leaving him to care for their two needy children as his self-esteem dips into the red. The father is less demanding of his daughter, the man’s sister, but he doesn’t know about her personal struggles, such as the fact that she’s pregnant and her boyfriend disagrees with her decision to have an abortion. The novel’s wordiness and gymnastically vague details will likely wear on readers, but Khemiri succeeds at creating an infectious sense of melancholia as the poisonous patriarch is forced to reckon with the truth. In a slow build of quotidian moments, Khemiri constructs a familiarly flawed universe that lays bare what it means to be human. (June)
A patriarch’s visit to his adult children triggers some lingering stresses and pushes everyone to a breaking point.
Khemiri’s fifth novel and third to be translated into English tracks 10 emotionally stressful days in the life of one family in Stockholm. Twice a year the “grandfather” (characters are identified solely by their familial roles) comes to the city to visit his son and daughter, but his arrival is treated like that of a coming storm. He’s casually bigoted, critical of nearly everyone he interacts with, and his visits seem less loving than strategic: His son maintains a flat for him to stay in so he can claim Swedish residency and dodge taxes in his (unnamed) home country. The son is thinking of breaking this “father clause,” but he’s long been timid and indecisive and is now ground down as a stay-at-home dad to a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old. (There are multiple attenuated scenes of him stressfully prepping the tots for the day; true to Scandinavian literary fiction standards, bowel movements are prominent.) Nearby, the daughter, who’s pregnant, is having second thoughts about her boyfriend, a know-it-all film buff stuck in a job as a PE teacher. The son has spent years uncertain about his career direction (on this tumultuous week he’s giving stand-up comedy a try), and a prominent theme in the novel is men’s need for approval from their fathers and the various ways they suffer from that need. Khemiri’s shifting perspectives across characters (including, at one point, that of a ghost) effectively conjure up a mood of dread, which intensifies as we learn more about the grandfather’s third child and the circumstances of her death. But the novel’s climactic plot turns are mild in comparison to the foreboding tone that precedes them; the concluding feeling is less of things coming to a head than a general muddling through.
An original and psychologically rich tale in need of a bit of some drama to match.
From the Publisher
Shortlisted for the National Book Award in Translated Literature
Bloomberg, Best Books of 2020
“Exquisitely translated by Alice Menzies, this novel by a significant Swedish author and playwright is deceptively simple . . . What Khemiri achieves is not just an engrossing narrative but the complex portrait of a family that is both identifiable and distinctive, normal and strange . . . [The novel] ranges from the parodic to the sentimental to the tragic without ever hitting a false note.” Tabish Khair, The Times Literary Supplement
"Jonas has an incredible way of telling stories. His latest novel demonstrates the complexities of family dynamics and parenting. It’s deeply relatable and heartfelt." Marcus Samuelsson, Bloomberg
"Exceptionally well-constructed . . . The tedium of parenthoodas well as the awareness of how upbringing affects childrenis handled exceptionally well . . . Khemiri is kind to his characters and allows them the chance to learn from their mistakes and then, in all likelihood, repeat them." Declan O'Driscoll, Irish Times
"Strung together, engrossing, minute-by-minute passages become layered, and character arcs grows steeper by degrees . . . Depicting his characters’ perceptions of one another, and themselves, Khemiri (Everything I Don't Remember, 2016) points to universal truths: in this and any family, roles change over time, and, with any luck, so do the people in them." Annie Bostrom, Booklist
“Satisfying . . . Khemiri succeeds at creating an infectious sense of melancholia as the poisonous patriarch is forced to reckon with the truth. In a slow build of quotidian moments, Khemiri constructs a familiarly flawed universe that lays bare what it means to be human.” Publishers Weekly
“Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s The Family Clause is a bold and remarkable novela marvel of form and imagination that is also miraculously full of heart and compassion.” Dinaw Mengestu, author of All Our Names
"I was drawn into this fascinating story right from the beginning and couldn't let loose for days after I had put down The Family Clause. And now, some weeks later, I know I will never forget the grandfather, the son who is a father, the sister, or the girlfriend. They are here to stay in my mind, like those other fictional characters you never meet in real life, but who you would recognize on the street the minute you saw them. Their personalities are far from perfect, but because of that, you love them all the more for who they are." Herman Koch, author of The Dinner
"The Family Clause vibrates with rueful humor and quiet wisdom. The more you get to know the characters contained within it, the more you see how tremendously large Jonas Hassen Khemiri's heart must be. His redemptive vision is rare and needed in these dark times." Joshua Furst, author of Revolutionaries
"A beautiful study of familial need and mess, in which the universal and the particular play footsie with each other. Deft, artful, but above all insightful till it hurts, this is Khemiri’s best yet." Nikita Lalwani, author of The Village