Out Stealing Horses (Review)

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Out Stealing Horses
Per Petterson, 2003; English trans., 2005
250 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
November 2008

An elegy for a beloved father and youthful innocence, this story uses parallel time-frames, then and now—in which an older man comes face-to-face with events of his childhood.

Nearing his 70's, Trond Sander has retreated to an isolated Norwegian cottage only to find that his neighbor, another solitary soul, belonged to his long-ago childhood—the summer of 1948 which Trond and his father spent in a remote village near the Swedish border. Now haunted by memories both beautiful and painful, Trond comes to see that he is more his father's son than he had realized.

Petterson's writing is laconic yet grainy—he details the day-to-day minutiae of his characters' lives—as they hike, cook, chop wood, fell trees, sharpen tools, hay their fields. Even more, he immerses us in the joyous and near mystical beauty of Norway's night-time skies, it's brittle cold and dense forests.

Most engaging of all is Trond's father, a charismatic and mysterious man, whom we meet right after the war. Eventually, Trond learns of his father's wartime activities and comes to understand his strange—and strained—relations with surrounding neighbors during that eventful summer of 1948.

Don't look for a fast-paced read; it's not high on plot although a lot happens. It just happens slowly as Petterson gradually unfolds his story, moving back and forth between past and present. It's a quiet, powerful, altogether stunning piece of writing. I loved it.

See our Reading Guide for Out Stealing Horses.

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