Tuesday, January 19, 2010


To Siberia, Per Petterson, Graywolf Press, 1998, 245 pp

This earlier book has similar themes to Out Stealing Horses but not quite the same degree of novelistic magic. It is a girl's story; her coming of age in Norway, her relationship to her father and brother, the effects of war on Scandinavian society.

It is written in first person and Petterson does well with a feminine perspective, though she is a tough, tomboy type of girl who always tries to keep pace with her older brother. She dreams of riding the Trans-Siberian Railway all across Russia, hence the title. Her brother dreams of going to Morocco, which he eventually does, but the girl only goes to Sweden, where she loses any final bits of remaining innocence after the war.

The cold, the seasons, the outdoor world, are Petterson's love and gift. He writes again of loss, separation and a sort of despair that I imagine goes with lands where summer is short and winter is mostly dark.

The last lines of the story are some of the most devastating I have ever read: "I was so young then, and I remember thinking: I'm twenty-three years old, there is nothing left in life. Only the rest." (Not a spoiler because you would need to read the story to see how she got to that point.)

(To Siberia is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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