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Out Stealing Horses (Petterson)

Out Stealing Horses 
Per Petterson, 2003; English trans., 2005
Macmillan-Picador
250 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780312427085


Summary
Winner, IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

Out Stealing Horses has been embraced across the world as a classic, a novel of universal relevance and power. Panoramic and gripping, it tells the story of Trond Sander, a sixty-seven-year-old man who has moved from the city to a remote, riverside cabin, only to have all the turbulence, grief, and overwhelming beauty of his youth come back to him one night while he's out on a walk.

From the moment Trond sees a strange figure coming out of the dark behind his home, the reader is immersed in a decades-deep story of searching and loss, and in the precise, irresistible prose of a newly crowned master of fiction. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio 
Birth—July18, 1952
Where—Oslo, Norway
Education—?
Awards—Norwegian Critics prize for Literature; Booksellers
   Best Book of the Year Award; Independent Foreign Fiction
   Prize; International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Currently—lives in Oslo, Norwary


Per Petterson is a prize-winning Norwegian novelist. His debut was Aske i munnen, sand i skoa (1987), a collection of short stories.

He has since published five novels to good reviews. Til Sibir (To Siberia, 1996; nominated for The Nordic Council's Literature Prize), a novel set in the Second World War, was published in English in 1998. His novel I kjølvannet, (In the Wake, 2002), is a young man's story of losing his family in the Scandinavian Star ferry disaster in 1990.

Petterson's breakthrough, however, was Ut og stjæle hester (Out Stealing Horses, 2003). The novel received two top literary prizes in Norway—the The Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature and the Booksellers’ Best Book of the Year Award. The 2005 English language translation was awarded the 2006 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the 2007 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (the world's largest monetary literary prize for a single work of fiction published in English (€100,000). In the December 9. 2007 issue of the New York Times Book Review Out Stealing Horses was named one of the 10 best books of the year.

Out Stealing Horses has double meanings and two sets of twins. When asked “How did the Nazi Occupation of Norway translate into the plot of your novel?” Mr. Petterson responded

Well, like I said, I do not plan, so that double meaning came up when I needed it. That is disappointing to some readers, I know. But for me it shows the strength of art. It is like carving out a sculpture from some material. You have to go with the quality of the material and not force upon it a form that it will not yield to anyway. That will only look awkward. Early in the book, in the 1948 part, I let the two fathers (of my main characters, Jon and Trond) have a problem with looking at each other. And I wondered, why is that? So I thought, well, it’s 1948, only three years after the Germans left Norway. It has to be something with the war. And then I thought, shit, I have to write about the war. You see, I hate research.

Petterson is a trained librarian. He has worked as a bookstore clerk, translator and literary critic before becoming a full-time writer. He cites Knut Hamsun and Raymond Carver among his influences. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews 
This short yet spacious and powerful book—in such contrast to the well-larded garrulity of the bulbous American novel of today—reminds us of the careful and apropos writing of J. M. Coetzee, W. G. Sebald and Uwe Timm. Petterson’s kinship with Knut Hamsun, which he has himself acknowledged, is palpable in Hamsun’s “Pan,” “Victoria” and even the lighthearted “Dreamers.” But nothing should suggest that his superb novel is so embedded in its sources as to be less than a gripping account of such originality as to expand the reader’s own experience of life.
Thomas McGuane - New York Times


Read Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. From the first terse sentences of this mesmerizing Norwegian novel about youth, memory, and, yes, horse stealing; you know you're in the hands of a master storyteller.
Newsweek


Petterson's spare and deliberate prose has astonishing force.... Loss is conveyed with all the intensity of a boy's perception but acquires new resonance in the brooding consciousness of the older man.
The New Yorker


Award-winning Norwegian novelist Petterson renders the meditations of Trond Sander, a man nearing 70, dwelling in self-imposed exile at the eastern edge of Norway in a primitive cabin. Trond's peaceful existence is interrupted by a meeting with his only neighbor, who seems familiar. The meeting pries loose a memory from a summer day in 1948 when Trond's friend Jon suggests they go out and steal horses. That distant summer is transformative for Trond as he reflects on the fragility of life while discovering secrets about his father's wartime activities. The past also looms in the present: Trond realizes that his neighbor, Lars, is Jon's younger brother, who "pulls aside the fifty years with a lightness that seems almost indecent." Trond becomes immersed in his memory, recalling that summer that shaped the course of his life while, in the present, Trond and Lars prepare for the winter, allowing Petterson to dabble in parallels both bold and subtle. Petterson coaxes out of Trond's reticent, deliberate narration a story as vast as the Norwegian tundra.
Publishers Weekly


An aging loner remembers a childhood summer that marked a lifetime of loss. Fifteen-year-old Trond, spending the summer of 1948 with his father, away from their Oslo home in a cabin in the easternmost region of Norway, wakes to an invitation from his friend, Jon, to "steal" their neighbor's horses for an early-morning joy ride. But what Trond doesn't yet know is that the ride is Jon's farewell to him. The day before, when Jon was supposed to be minding his young twin brothers, Lars and Odd, Lars found Jon's prized gun and, imitating his older brother, accidentally killed his twin. Nearly 60 years later, Trond has returned to the rustic region after a devastating car accident that killed his wife and left him gravely injured, hoping to live out the rest of his days quietly, with his dog as his only companion. But late one night, he has a chance encounter with his only neighbor, an aging man named Lars. Trond realizes that this neighbor is his childhood friend's younger brother, and their meeting causes him to remember not only the morning of the horse theft, but the rest of the summer as well. After Jon's disappearance, Trond spends the summer working with his father to send lumber down the river to the Swedish border, ostensibly the reason for their retreat. He is stunned to learn that his father is having an affair with Jon's grieving mother, also the object of Trond's own first intimate moment. As Trond begins to talk to the other workers, he also realizes that his father has had complicated reasons for spending much of the war years in the eastern region of the country, close to Sweden's neutral borders. He even learns that the phrase "out stealing horses," which he had tossed around casually with his friend, has a meaning that reaches beyond their childhood pranks. Haunting, minimalist prose and expert pacing give this quiet story from Norway native Petterson an undeniably authoritative presence.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions 
1. “I needed to concentrate,” Trond says at the start of the book (pg. 7), explaining his decision to move to the country. Do you think he is happy in his isolation? Is he making a brave choice by withdrawing to the country, as he has always dreamt of doing; or do you think he’s fleeing the responsibilities of his life?

2. Soon after Odd is killed, Trond says "I felt it somewhere inside me; a small remnant, a bright yellow speck that perhaps would never leave me." What is it he feels? How does that day stealing horses with Jon, and learning what has happened to Odd, change Trond? Do you see the effects of that loss in him as an older man?

3. Petterson has been widely praised for his descriptions of nature, and of small quiet moments in everyday life. How does his writing make these ordinary moments compelling? Which images of landscapes or domestic scenes remained most vivid in your memory after finishing the book?

4. After his dream at the start of Chapter 5, which leaves him weeping, Trond says, "But then it is not death I fear." Do you believe him? If so, what is he afraid of?

5. How do you think Trond’s life would have changed if he had hit the man in Karlstad (pp. 231- 233)? Why does he attach so much significance to that decision?

6. Look at the scene in which Trond’s car goes off the road and he sees the lynx in the woods (pg. 65). At the end of the scene, Trond says “I can’t recall when I last felt so alive as when I got the car onto the road again and drove on.” Why does a near accident, and the sight of the lynx, thrill him?

7. Were you surprised by Ellen’s reaction to her father when she finds him at the end of the book? Would you be angrier in her position, or more forgiving? Has Trond been unfair to her?

8. How has Trond become like his father, and how has he managed to take a different path? What parallels do you see between the lives they lead in the book? How is Trond’s behavior as an adult influenced by the short time he spent with his father as a young man?

9. Look at the book’s final section, after Trond has discovered that his father isn’t coming back. How does his behavior change? Were you surprised by his reaction to the news?

10. How do you think Trond’s life will change after the end of the novel? Will he see more of his daughter? Will he and Lars become friends, or will he return to the isolation he had sought out when he moved to the country?

11. Look at Ellen’s monologue about the opening lines of David Copperfield (pg. 197). How do you understand the phenomenon she’s describing, of not being “the leading characters of our own lives”? Has this happened to anyone you know? Do you think it has happened to Trond? Is it a good or a bad thing?

12. Why do you think Trond’s father doesn’t tell him the story of the Resistance? Why does he leave it to Franz? How do you think Trond’s perception of his father would have changed if his father had told the story himself?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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