Jeff Giles
July 28, 2010 AT 04:00 AM EDT

I Curse the River of Time

Current Status
In Season
Per Petterson
Graywolf Press

We gave it a B

In 2007, Per Petterson came out of nowhere — Norway, if you want to get technical — when his ruminative novel Out Stealing Horses sold 300,000 copies in the U.S. As you’ll notice from the title of his new novel, he still isn’t exactly a happy-go-lucky writer. I Curse the River of Time concerns thirtysomething Arvid Jansen, who’s reeling from a divorce just as his mother is dying of stomach cancer. Needless to say, it’s a sad book, and at times it’ll feel alien to readers who’ve never been young Communists or hung out in, say, Nittedal or Eidsvoll. (The translation can also be quite a rickety bridge.) But there’s no denying the novel’s Raymond Carver-like power as Arvid and his mother come to terms with how life hands you hope just before it hands you disappointment and tragedy. Petterson doesn’t dole out comforts, simply the quiet advice that since we can’t choose how we die, we’d better be careful how we choose to live. B

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