I Curse the River of Time: A Novel

by Per Petterson

Other authorsCharlotte Barslund (Translator)
Hardcover, 2010

Call number

FIC PET

Collection

Publication

Graywolf Press (2010), Edition: First Edition, 224 pages

Description

Anticipating a divorce against a backdrop of the fall of communism, Arvid Jansen is further dismayed by his mother's diagnosis with cancer, a situation that prompts his emotionally charged quest for understanding and balance.

Media reviews

Petterson håller sig, liksom sina karaktärer, på artigt avstånd och lämnar lite för mycket osagt. Jag får känslan av att den verkliga huvudpersonen här är Arvids mor, men eftersom Arvid inte känner henne får vi aldrig heller göra det
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Lågmäld i tonen förmår den ändå måla fram en nästan gastkramande bild av en människa som kämpar med sina oförlösta drömmar och sina föreställningar om livet och världen som inte alls blivit vad han hade tänkt sig.
Det är ordknappheten som gäller. Utan att för den skull vare sig naturimpressionerna eller alla de många spröda stämningarna behöver träda tillbaka i denna vemodsfyllda berättelse.
Med psykologisk blick och nedtonade stilmedel tecknar Petterson ett övertygande porträtt av en vilsegången ensamvarg i den lägre medelåldern.
Det är en vemodig och stillsam historia, men helt utan sentimentalitet, skriven på ett mycket vackert och poetiskt språk. Författaren har en enastående förmåga att realistiskt skildra vardagen med dess små detaljer och tidsmarkörer.
Romanen handlar om försoningen efter den konflikten, och den är på en gång sorgsen, tragikomisk och mycket, mycket varm.
Aldrig ett ord för mycket, ett absolut gehör för ton och rytm i språket, för vad som ska uttalas och för vad som ska antydas - så formar han återigen en stillsam men samtidigt mycket konkret berättelse om bortvända ansikten och stumhet, om liv som går, om sorg och otillräcklighet.
Petterson genomför denna djupdykning med stor precision men mig tröttar efter hand de tusen detaljerna. Den utförliga inventeringen drar också ner tempot och man får då och då en känsla av att berättelsen blir stående på olika stickspår.
Per Petterson har skrivit en bok som med knappa medel får en hel epok och en hel samhällsklass att träda fram livslevande
Med ett språk som är realistiskt och exakt utmejslat, samtidigt som det hela tiden låter läsaren ana andra dimensioner, skapar Per Pettersson en romanvärld som känns både oavlåtligt spännande och känsloframkallande.
Styrkan, och kanske också populariteten, i Per Pettersons författarskap ligger i detta att han undviker berättandets tillrättaläggande av skeendena, att han skriver fram människor som är som människor är mest och att han lämnar mycket outtalat, som till exempel Arvids yngre bror som dött
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några år tidigare.
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Petterson skriver en återhållsam men nyansrik norska som får sin nerv genom långa satslinjer och ett ymnigt bruk av samordnande konjunktioner.
Det är på gränsen att det saknas hopp när den mörka och osedvanligt välskurna språkdräkten krymper kring Arvid och hans omgivning men ett par blida ljusglimtar registreras ändå under berättelsens gång.
Det är alltså med en obönhörlig prosa Petterson formar sin roman. Han drar upp de grova linjerna, markerar avgörande punkter och ett fåtal karaktärsdrag. Hans sätt att låta struktur, språk och story stråla samman med denna avskalade gåtfullhet är ett kittlande genidrag.

User reviews

LibraryThing member writestuff
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member txwildflower
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member khager
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!'
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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.
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LibraryThing member dawnlovesbooks
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.
LibraryThing member andafiro
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.
LibraryThing member jahr
This book is the latest book of the author who won the Dublin Impac Award in 2007 for "Out stealing horses", one of the richest literary awards of the world. Today 20090403 he won the Nordic Council's Litterature Award for this book. Highly recommended. Petterson often writes about familiy
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relations and identity crises in an interesting way and in a simple language
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LibraryThing member emcelroy
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.
LibraryThing member kishields
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
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than his. A wonderful, subtle character study of these two people, vividly created. Sad, moving and evocative.
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LibraryThing member eembooks
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
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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
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LibraryThing member norinrad10
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member bettyandboo
I wasn't sure if I was going to write a review of this one, because ... well, it really wasn't the book for me.

I Curse the River of Time is the story of 37 year old Arvid Jansen, who is going through a divorce and whose mother has been diagnosed with cancer. After coming from the doctor and
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receiving her diagnosis, she abruptly leaves the family home in Oslo and boards a ferry for her native Denmark. She's headed for the family's summer house on the coast and Arvid decides to follow her.

Arvid and his mother have a bit of an estranged relationship. He left behind his college education (which his mother had worked hard to provide for him) in order to work in a factory and to uphold the principles of Communism, of which Arvid was a supporter. (Much of the story takes place in 1989.)

The story is told from Arvid's perspective. It's one where he is reflecting on his life and the decisions made, and in so doing, I Curse the River of Time becomes a rambling sort of story. (I seem to be in a pattern of choosing non-linear, reflecting on one's life types of books lately, which generally is fine with me ... when they work well.) But in this case, I just found myself bored and impatient. This came really close to being a DNF for me, but I was listening on audio and had gotten further in the story than I expected after one of my drives, so I decided to continue. Even though I felt a little sympathy for him (we can all relate to experiencing regret and wishing back time gone by), I didn't much like Arvid and I kind of wanted him out of my car sooner rather than later.

Ultimately, this book left me sad (and freezing, because Arvil seems to be constantly cold - and complaining about such - and there are lots of descriptions of the weather in Norway and Denmark being rather chilly too).

In perusing other reviews, I noticed that several people said this is a very different book than Petterson's Out Stealing Horses. Even though I was disappointed I Curse the River of Time, I'll probably give Petterson another chance with another one of his works.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
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
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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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LibraryThing member michaelbartley
The main character spends a weekend with his mother. She had just been told that she has cancer. The main character is her son and he has just been told that his wife wants a divorce. He reflects of his life and relationship with both his mother and wife. He is very lost
LibraryThing member rosies
my least favorite Per Petterson book. I like his stories, though.
LibraryThing member BlackSheepDances
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
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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, and suddenly I was in Mexico where things were different and a little frightening, and the crossing had left its mark on my face, which my mother would instantly see and realize that we were standing on opposite sides of the river, and the fact that I left her would hurt her, and she would no longer like me and not want me.”

Yet despite the chasm he imagines, he actually still seeks her out, chasing her even, not wanting to miss a moment of her attention and hoping for any kind of approval.

What I found especially signifcant was that while Arvid actively seeks his mother's blessing, he shows little concern for the rest of his family, to the point that his brothers and father remain on the periphery of his life (and this story).

The story is complex and requires a careful reading. Speeding through this one will offer no satisfaction, this one to relish and unravel. One thing that jumped out at me, and it had to be intentional, was that the character of Arvid Jansen is the same name as the main character in In the Wake by Petterson, where Arvid loses most of his family in a ferry accident (a horror suffered by Petterson himself). If that is indeed the case, then this book would serve as a prequel to In the Wake, and thus his story continues. This is the fourth of the Petterson books I have read and own, and he continues to be one of my favorite authors.
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LibraryThing member ElizabethAndrew
Disappointing. A self-absorbed main character who never gains an insights into himself.
LibraryThing member oldblack
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.
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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.
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LibraryThing member mabroms
Thank you Goodreads and Graywolf Press for the ARC.

It's been awhile since I read Per Petterson, and I had forgotten how long his sentences can be, and how many commas, and eliptical phrases there are, and how many times tenses can change before the next period, and, and, and.....

then..... I
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remember how to read his work - just (almost) close my eyes and let the prose flow, imagine the mood place and just enjoy.

This novel is not as dreamy as earlier efforts, more political (even autobiographical?). Fans of Scandinavian ennui will not be disappointed. Nor will urban geographers interested in knowing nearly every Oslo street and subway stop and all about a few Danish islands, too.

It is worth the effort for Per Petterson aficionados. First timers should best try Out Stealing Horses or To Siberia.

Note that Anne Born who did the superb translations of Out Stealing Horses and To Siberia is nowhere to be found. Instead, we have a collaborative translation effort between Per and Charlotte Barlund. It does not result in the same flow, in my view.
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LibraryThing member MSarki
There is plenty of compassion in a Per Petterson novel. Even with at least three difficult themes wrapped up into one package. Death, relationships, and the examination of a life too late in the game now to change. This novel was not "fun" to read, but I am glad I read it. Seems I end up liking
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pretty much everything the man writes. The end result for me was in a difficulty overcome, and that is saying something.
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LibraryThing member Mijk
The author apparently had a more direct hand in the translation (by Charlotte Barslund) for this latest novel of his. It is a different style to the earlier books, which may be in the writing itself, or in the translation. As a result, it took a liitle longer to hook me, but not much longer, and
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once I was there, the effect was to seem as though this narrator were actually speaking in front of me, right there, or even inside my head. The story was close anyway, and the narrator's choices and experiences not so unlike some of mine, and at the end I wept because it was the only thing left to do. I read this February 2011 and I think it is the best book I have ever read (yes, I know I have said that before and I hope I get to say it again).
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Pages

224

ISBN

1555975569 / 9781555975562
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