Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson, Graywolf Press, 2005, 258 pp
This is the sort of book I love the most. I like to read widely and enjoy many types of stories: mystery, thrillers, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction. But there is a special satisfaction that certain novels bring when I am drawn into what almost feels like a dream state, full of wonder and emotion and an explication of the state called human being.
Trond Sander came of age just following World War II. His country of Norway was occupied by Germans during the war bringing hardships, but he was only a child then. The hardship for his family was that the father was often gone and his activities had a mysterious air.
In 1948, the war was over, Trond was 15 and spending the summer with his father in the country, living in a cabin by a river. He makes a friend from a neighboring farm, as one does when one is away from home and living mostly outdoors. It is an idyllic time for Trond, especially because he is so happy to be alone with his father.
Tragedy strikes. Trond gradually realizes that there is more going on in the small village and surrounding farms, between his father and the people there, than he had been aware of at the beginning of the summer. The mystery of his father is revealed.
The structure of the novel has Trond as a 67 year old man looking back to what became the most fateful season of his life. When I read about this structure on the cover flap, I felt instantly bored. This novel is not boring for one single sentence.
Petterson creates the world of an old lonely man in equal power to the world of an adolescent boy. Norwegians are characterized in part by their love of the natural world, which is evident in writing that put me there in the woods and fields, on the riverbank, in summer and winter, as though I could feel, smell and taste.
Petterson's calm, quiet prose, exquisitely translated, pulled me through heart wrenching emotions of love, desire, abandonment and fear. In spite of a great deal of emotional and physical violence, I came to the end feeling at peace and grateful for the moments of grace in Trond's life as well as my own. The story said to me that we are defined more by the grace than the violence and sorrow.
I am so glad I read this book. I feel enriched by it.
(Out Stealing Horses is available in paperback by special order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)