Pers Petterson
Anne Born, Translator
(Graywolf Press)
Trond Sander lives in the woods in the east of Norway, just above the border with Sweden. There are few neighbors. His wife died three years ago, his daughters don't know where he is.

He has rebuilt an old cabin up from the icy river, putting on a new roof, clearing the brush from around it. He has no telephone, reads Dickens, is especially fond of the beginning of David Copperfield,

    Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.

There don't seem to be too many heroes around here ... mostly just normal not-too-demonstrative, honest, hard-working Norwegians --- unless one thinks that perhaps the hero of Out Stealing Horses is time. Time: it's all over the place.

Even though Trond might be called a man "without time," his horror is that he might become "the man with the frayed jacket and unfastened flies standing at the Co-op counter with egg on his shirt and more too because the mirror in the hall has given up the ghost."

    A shipwrecked man without an anchor in the world except his own liquid thoughts where time has lost its sequence.

§     §     §

Time does lose its sequence in Horses, but it does so with art, as we move through the Nazi occupation of Norway into Trond's growing up, living in 1948 with his father in the woods there above the Klara River.

When, finally, in old age, he returns there to live alone, he sees in the mirror his face "no different from the one I had expected to see at the age of sixty-seven. In that way I am in time with myself."

Age and years are meticulously bound and burnished ... recounted, as meticulous as the points of light caught there by the best of writers ... in this case, in an almost romantic image, Trond's father sniffing the trees they have just cut down. Or, the milkmaid, whose voice had "the sound of a silver flute when she walked up the path to sing the cows home." Or, the woods at night, "the scent of resin and timber, and the scent of earth, and a bird whose name I did not know hopping around in a thicket rustling and crackling and sending out a steady stream of thin piping sounds from the dense foliage a few paces from my foot."

And there is too what must be the purest poetical impression of the simple act of blowing out a lamp: "'Shall I put the light out?' he said, and I said yes please, and he bent down and put his hand behind the top of the lamp and blew into the glass pipe so the flame went out and turned into a small red strip along the wick, and then that too was gone and it was dark, but not completely dark."

    I could see the grey edge of the forest outside the window and the grey sky above, and my father said "Good night, Trond, see you tomorrow," and I too said "Good night and see you tomorrow."
Time may be the hero here, but there is also a boy growing to be a man, inarticulate at that age of change, watching, as he does, from the edge of the woods, watching his father kissing a woman who is not his mother. "There was something in my throat that itched and hurt in a weird way, wanting to come up, but if I swallowed hard I could keep it down."

Time, and growing up, and chance, the odd odds that play such a role in our lives: Trond, hidden, watching his father disappear up the hill, hand-in-hand with a woman who is not his mother; disappearing, as fathers must disappear, into or out of space, or time, or disillusionment ... his father vanished with another mother, a mother of three, one with the odd name of Odd, who, at age ten, is accidentally shot to death by his twin brother, Lars ...

... the same Lars from 1947, who lives down the hill from Trond in 1999, there in east Norway, just above the river and the Swedish border, there just before the millennium.

Out Stealing Horses is timeless, good, filled with wonder; too good, by far, to be put down easily --- or easily forgotten.

--- C. A. Amantea
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