To Siberia A Novel

Per Petterson; Translated by Anne Born




Trade Paperback

256 Pages


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A brother and sister are forced ever more closely together after the suicide of their grandfather. Their parents' neglect leaves them wandering the streets of their small Danish village. The sister dreams of escaping to Siberia, but it seems increasingly distant as she helplessly watches her brother become involved in resisting the Nazis.  In this novel, readers will find the crystalline prose and depth of feeling they adored in Petterson's Out Stealing Horses.


Praise for To Siberia

"The novels of this Norwegian author spring from harsh landscapes and even harsher circumstances, yet they never wallow in despair. Always there is solace—in simple labor, healing solitude, or the often frozen physical world. Petterson's award-winning Out Stealing Horses brought him American attention in 2007, prompting comparisons to the spare, cinematic realism of Cormac McCarthy. A more natural equivalent is Kent Haruf, who favors the same plainspoken lyricism. To Siberia, Petterson's 1996 novel, again concerns the memories of a narrator who lived through the Nazi occupation of a rural Scandinavian town. This time it is a women recalling her younger self—the tomboy whose reckless independence and abiding love for her older brother helped her survive hardship and a supremely repressed family (Ingmar Bergman times three). The girl's name is spoken once; the focus of her life—and seemingly everyone's—is her charismatic brother Jesper. It doesn't matter. She is indelible."—New York magazine

"Children's voices—haunting, funny, and courageous—guide us through Per Petterson's To Siberia, a flawless novel of Nazi-occupied Denmark."—Anna Mundow, The Boston Globe

"Published in Norway in 1996, To Siberia is Petterson's third novel to arrive on these shores, following the wildly successful Out Stealing Horses, which won the IMPAC prize in 2007, and In the Wake, which appeared in '06. All three books revolve around feelings of regret and longing, continually returning to the narrators' complicated relationships to the past. Like characters in the novels of Knut Hamsun—whom he has acknowledged as a key influence—Petterson's heroes and heroines wander to high ground, where they are alone and unknown. Getting away from it all sharpens memory’s torment; it also forces them to stitch their lives into stories. Although To Siberia has these familiar elements, Petterson gives his heroine a voice of her own. She is proud and knowing, yet determined to transform herself from a village provincial into something more glamorous. 'They have caps made of wolfskin and big jackets and fur-lined boots,' she says of Siberians, slipping into the present tense. She will be a hit on the train. '[People] will tell me what their lives are like and what their thoughts are and ask me why I have come all the long way from Denmark. Then I will answer them: "I have read about you in a book." And then we'll drink hot tea from the samovar and be quiet together just looking.' Petterson deftly calibrates his narrator's Holly Golightly naïveté, using it to bracket the Nazi invasion of April 9, 1940, within the penumbra of a young woman's self-regard . . . As he did in Out Stealing Horses, Petterson writes wonderfully about animals and the place they once had in this world: When the narrator and her brother sneak into the barn at night and she crawls atop a sleeping cow, its body heat lulls her to sleep. After the grandfather's suicide, his horse bolts into the forest, never to be seen again. But it does appear in the narrator's dreams, as if to beckon her away. She tacks a picture of the beast above her bed as if it were a reminder of her own impetuous nature . . . Petterson's heroine does makes her break and begins wandering, and the story drifts with her as she becomes an adult . . . Gloomily, soberly, Petterson paints her life with a dark, cold luster."—John Freeman, Bookforum

"The Danish response to Nazi Germany before and during World War II forms the backdrop for this coming-of-age novel—first published in 1996 in Norway—that covers 13 years in the life of a young girl. The unnamed narrator and her adored older brother Jesper grow up in a rural Danish village with their stern but deeply loving father Magnus, a struggling humpbacked carpenter, and their musical, fanatically religious mother Marie. In 1934 Magnus takes the family on a short beachside vacation that goes awry but that plants the idea of travel in the narrator's head. She begins to dream quixotically of escaping to Siberia, of all places; Jesper, more understandably, fantasizes about Morocco. Then the children's grandfather hangs himself. They are told that Magnus chose to leave their wealthy grandfather's farm for town life. In fact, Magnus was forced off the farm and now the old man has bequeathed him nothing. Magnus's carpentry shop fails, and Marie begins to run a dairy the family must live above, but in a case of poetic justice, hoof and mouth disease eventually makes the farm worthless. While in middle school, the narrator shares her first kiss with Ruben, a Jewish boy. Jesper, now a printer's apprentice with a wicked sense of humor, becomes a socialist. He dreams of fighting in Spain although he's still too young. When the Germans arrive in Denmark, most of the narrator's friends and family join the resistance. Ironically, Jesper fights a German soldier while the narrator saves one from drowning. The Gestapo takes control of the town. Jesper sneaks into Sweden with Ruben's family. By 1947, the narrator is pregnant and living in Norway. She has not seen Jesper, who somehow made it to Morocco, for four years. She returns home expecting a reunion that never happens. A spare, lyrical novel from Norwegian author Petterson that possesses historical breadth and a remarkable sense of immediacy."—Kirkus Reviews

"The realization of life's unfulfilled dreams is the theme of this beautifully written novel, which recounts the unnamed narrator's childhood and adolescence in a small Danish town. She dearly loves her brother, Jesper, the only person in her family she cares about. Her rigid, intolerant parents are unresponsive to her need for affection, scarred by the suicide of her grandfather and her mother's Christianity. Then the Germans bring World War II to their quiet world, and life changes . . . The author of a story collection and an earlier novel, Norwegian writer Petterson is an outstanding talent. Highly recommended."—Alisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial Public Library, Ohio, Library Journal

"This 1996 novel predates Pettersen's acclaimed Out Stealing Horses (first published in 2003), and has all of Pettersen's haunted charms. As an unnamed young girl and her big brother, Jesper (who calls her Sistermine), grow up in rural WWII-era Denmark, the two cope with distant parents, an eccentric extended family and the cold wind. Jesper longs to go south to Morocco; Sistermine yearns for the plains of Siberia, foreshadowing lives that will diverge. Their grandfather's suicide, the arrival of puberty and most tragically, the German invasion change their idyllic childhood relationship; as each sibling fights back against the occupation in his or her own way, their inevitable separation looms . . . The book builds up slowly, casting a spell of beauty and devastation that matches the bleak but dazzling climate that enshrouds Sistermine's young life."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Per Petterson won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his novel Out Stealing Horses, which has been translated into more than thirty languages and was named a Best Book of 2007 by The New York Times.
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  • Per Petterson; Translated by Anne Born

  • Per Petterson won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for his novel Out Stealing Horses, which has been translated into more than thirty languages and was named a Best Book of 2007 by The New York Times, Time, and Entertainment Weekly. Before publishing his first book, Petterson worked as a bookseller in Norway.
  • Per Petterson Torunn Momtazi




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