Thursday 28 February 2013

#CBR 5 Book 20. "Ut å stjæle hester (Out Stealing Horses)" by Per Petterson

Page count: 246 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

I work as a secondary school teacher, teaching Norwegian teenagers English and Norwegian. Because I don't actually have any formal training as a Norwegian teacher, I'm also studying it part-time, which last semester meant studying grammar at a much more advanced level than I'd ever previously done, and this semester involves language history and reading a representative selection of contemporary Norwegian fiction. I'm ashamed to say that fond as I am of reading, the last time I finished a Norwegian novel was in 2010, when I read Victoria by Knut Hamsun with the tenth-graders. I read pretty exclusively in English, and this semester will be my chance to read more in my mother tongue.

Trond is an elderly man, clearly just past his pension age, who's moved out into the middle of the woods in the Norwegian country side. He clearly enjoys solitude, and spends his days walking his dog,  fixing up little things around the rustic cabin where he lives. A chance meeting with his closest neighbor, another solitary elderly man,  sets him reminiscing about his past, mostly returning to the summer of 1948, when he was 15 and his life changed forever.

Having felt the absence of his father keenly during World War II, when said father would disappear for months on end on secret missions for the Resistance, Trond is grateful and pleased that his father wants to spend the summer alone with him in a little croft not far from the Swedish border. An early morning, his friend Jon shows up suggesting that they "steal" horses, and the day that begins with trying to ride the horses of the local landowner, ending in a rather uncomfortable incident where Jon crushes a bird's nest and destroys all the eggs. Trond only finds out the truth behind his friend's strange state of mind that evening, in the first of several losses that summer.

Considering at least a quarter of the book depicts an old man pottering about chopping firewood and doing mundane tasks around the house, it's a surprisingly engaging book that kept me turning the pages. It deals with grief, loss, abandonment and betrayal, but also friendship and strong father and child relationships. First published in 2003, it's won a whole slew of Norwegian and international literary awards, and like a lot of Norwegian novels I just never seem to get round to reading, it's been on my TBR list for years and years. I'm glad I finally had the impetus to actually read it.

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