I Curse the River of Time

Publisher: Vintage Canada

“How impossible it was to grasp that in the end something as fine as this could be ground into dust” (p. 213).
I Curse the River of Time, the new novel from the winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for Out Stealing Horses, is a mesmerizingly beautiful book about love, regret, family secrets and failed revolution.
The novel takes us through thirty-seven-year-old Arvid’s life and its descent towards a moment of terrible crisis. It traces his parents’ hesitant support when he gives up his place at college to work in a paper mill, like his father; his experiences as a fervent young Maoist in Norway in the 1960s; the death of his younger brother; the passionate, enveloping romance that led to marriage and children and, for a time, happiness; the failure of that relationship, and its transformation into a source of harrowing pain.
By 1989, everything that gave Arvid’s life meaning has melted into air. The collapse of the Berlin Wall mirrors the collapse of his marriage and his self-punishing alcoholism. When his mother is diagnosed with stomach cancer, Arvid sets off to their summer house in Denmark to be with her, meeting men and women from their past along the way. His despairing journey is also a quest for some kind of order in his life, perhaps even a new foundation. When Arvid finds his mother, and accompanies her in her illness, the novel turns to exploring the secrets that explain the distance between them – a distance that perhaps can never be crossed.
I Curse the River of Time describes the ways that the present and the past are always intertwined, and shows how the personal and political are one and the same. Written in a subdued and elegiac style, with flashes of devastating poetic beauty, it is an utterly absorbing experience, a book that displays wisdom of the kind that only profound loss can bring. Above all, it is a reminder of the power of great art to console us for life’s burdens, an example of the way our dreams may brighten our bleakest moments.

From the Hardcover edition.



All this happened quite a few years ago. My mother had been unwell for some time. To put a stop to my brothers’ nagging and my father’s especially, she finally went to see the doctor she always saw, the doctor my family had used since the dawn of time. He must have been ancient at that point...
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How would you describe Arvid’s personality? How would you describe the style in which the novel is written? Do you find the style reflects the character, or not?


What is the source of the title, and why does it matter?


Why does Arvid never feel fully a part of his own family...

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WINNER 2009 – Nordic Council’s Prize for Literature
WINNER 2009 – Norwegian Critics’ Prize
WINNER 2009 – Brage Prize

A Financial Times Best Book
A New York Times Notable Book

“Petterson’s style makes the reader . . . reflect about how parent-child relationships both change and yet can remain static as the years pass and people deal with their inevitable disappointments. . . . This novel will appeal to those who appreciate spare, contemplative writing.”
— Winnipeg Free Press
“The Scandinavian writer masterfully captures a family’s sorrow and disconnect, turning the chasm between a grown son and his mother into a vivid portrait of longing for something just out of reach. . . . Per Petterson is a master at writing the spaces between people.”
— Los Angeles Times
“Petterson’s atmospheric prose melancholy, tempered, and terse is the real force keeping the various plots in orbit.”
The New Yorker
“[Petterson’s] characters open their hearts to the reader, making us witnesses to their most private selves. . . . Petterson has the ability to be simultaneously restrained and terribly tender. . . . There is a quality that I can only call charm, or something like charm, to Petterson’s essentially dark and lonely sensibility.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Per Petterson is a profoundly gifted novelist.”
— Richard Ford
“What is Per Petterson’s secret? He is always compared to Hemingway and Raymond Carver . . . but Petterson has more warmth. What he really knows how to do is to make the moment stand out with a complete, obvious clarity.”
— Politiken (Denmark)
“Masterful. . . . A deeply fascinating novel.”
— Berlingske Tidende (Denmark)
“Gripping. . . . Per Petterson is still a blessedly down-to-earth storyteller with a great sense of style, who succeeds in finding enough small words for great feelings.”
— Stavanger Aftenblad
“Per Petterson’s technique is getting more and more clear and distinct. . . . Petterson unconditionally deserves to be called a great writer.”
— Morgenbladet

From the Hardcover edition.