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To Siberia by Per Petterson
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To Siberia (1996)

by Per Petterson

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Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
The writing was very pretty but I pretty much failed to understand what was happening most of the time. It made me think of The Stone Virgins, though there was a more cohesive plot but the whole thing meandered so much and were some of the episodes dreams or imagined? I finished it but I still hadn't a clue what was going on.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
Petterson is a maestro of mood & the landscape of the north (Denmark, Sweden, Norway) lends itself well to a pervasiveness loneliness. Even the intense connection(if not for their difference in age one might suspect them of being twins) of the protagonist & her older brother Jesper can't save them from distance & the finality of separation. Set in the 1930s and 40s, before, during & just after WWII. A restrained & constrained universe of sky, sea, snow, war(both personal & political) & silence. The deepest silence of all--family. ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
A darkness like soot clings to each of the characters in this book. Not one of them is happy for longer than one cold moment. If readers can accept this up front, maybe they'll be more likely to enjoy the book. I've been reading through Per Petterson's catalog for a few years now, and I find that his books all radiate a certain deep sorrow. I read In The Wake first and measure all subsequent books against that one, which remains my favorite. To Siberia is perhaps his bleakest, but it is beautiful, and his now familiar spare, evocative prose seamlessly shepherds the admittedly thin plot from Sweden to Norway and back. Petterson's descriptions of these countries always set me daydreaming about visiting them. Certainly this book is not for everyone (particularly not those looking for a pick-me-up and/or an intricate plot), and while I don't think it Petterson's best work, I still devoured it in less than two days. ( )
  S.D. | Apr 5, 2014 |
Being cold simultaneously conjures images of warmth; a fire to heat a frigid room, a sweater to keep out the chill. Yet it also, in Per Petterson’s novel To Siberia, is just as much of a character as any human is. The cold is persistent and something the narrator always pays attention to. The narrator is an unnamed woman looking back on her childhood in Denmark. Her name is never revealed, and the closest she gets to a name is the affectionate “Sistermine” that her brother Jesper refers to her by.

Their brother/sister bond is a large part of the narrative structure. The first half of the book demonstrates how strong their relationship is (and indeed, there is a cruel suggestion by a Gestapo officer that the two are incestuous).

Siberia seems like a welcome escape from her homeland. She often dreams of going there and in her imagination the country is a far more welcoming place.Here everything is brickwork and cement. The water seeps in through the cracks and spreads in damp flowers through the wallpaper so it peels off and the kitchen floor is icy to the feet even in summer with the sun shining in. There is no glow in bricks. In Siberia the houses are built of timber that gives off the good smell of tar and warmth in summer, and when the long winter sets in the glow stays in the logs and never fades. The wood contracts and waits and stretches out when spring comes and drinks in the wind and the sun. Nature and the natural elements are always of interest to Petterson. In his award-winning novel, Out Stealing Horses the landscape plays an important part in the unfolding of the narrative, and this novel is no different in that regard.

Petterson’s writing is beautiful; he infuses the life of a girl on the brink of womanhood with lovely sentences that capture the awe of youth, as when he describes her in her parents store in the early morning:

I like this early half-light, the mild air from the sea, standing inside looking out without being seen, and there are almost no sounds from the street, and I can think and remember who I am before anything new comes along. Everything happens so fast it’s easy to forget, everything is exploding and burning. But now it is quiet

When Jesper joins the resistance movement against the Nazi’s and has to flee the country. The narrator also leaves home but not until the end of the war. She travels, not to Siberia as she had hoped, but stays with different family members within Scandinavia. The last part of the book focuses on how lost she is without Jesper’s presence and her once fiery, intellectual spirit seems deflated. On the night of Jesper's departure for Sweden (to avoid capture by the Nazis, Sistermine has her first sexual encounter with one of the fishermen helping with the escape plan. There is neither love nor passion in this act

I still don't know the fisherman's name, or if he is still alive, but I slept with him that night in his boat. It gave me no pleasure but he didn't say "No thanks", and then that was done.

This act begins a fairly regular pattern of Sistermine sleeping with random, unnamed men. She becomes pregnant from her last encounter and is aware of the fact immediately after she wakes, the morning after she has had sex. She begins to caress her belly frequently, unaware she is doing so. The book ends on what has been described as an ambiguous note:

I am twenty three years old, there is nothing left in life. Only the rest."

I take this as a hopeful moment and find it to be a powerful sentence. ( )
  DawsonOakes | Apr 6, 2013 |
There is a kind of quietness about his novels which is pretty much his trademark. I cannot give this book less than 5 stars because of this. ( )
  adrianburke | Feb 6, 2013 |
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To Morit and Mona
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When I was a little girl of six or seven I was always scared when we passed the lions on our way out of town.
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In the years before the Nazis arrive, two young people growing up in Danish Jutland have dreams of leaving their frigid coastal town while coping with distant parents, eccentric family members, and the cold winds. In the aftermath of their grandfather's suicide, the arrival of puberty and most tragically, the German invasion, their idyllic childhood changes forever.… (more)

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