When Arvid Jansen comes-to one morning in the doorway of a bookstore in Oslo, Norway, his grief comes back to him in devastating flashes: His parents and his brothers are dead, he has lost touch with his wife and daughters, abandoned his career as a writer and bookseller. His old life is gone.
In the Wake is the story of Arvid's first steps toward resuming that life, of his gradual confrontation with everything he lost and ultimately with his own role in the disaster that killed his family.
Told with the insight and moral force of his countryman Knut Hamsun, In the Wake is the American debut of a treasured European writer.
"Per Petterson demonstrates, through his own commanding art, the solace of the written word as well as the necessity of human connection. It is understandable why European readers have long admired his work."—The New York Times
"In award-winning Norwegian author Petterson's forceful first American release, Arvid Jansson remembers April 7 the way many Americans remember September 11. It was the day his parents and two younger brothers were all killed in a horrific ferry accident. Even though it is now six years later, Arvid still suffers crippling grief. A divorced father of two girls whom he rarely sees, he is also estranged from his only remaining sibling, an older brother. So great is his enduring anguish that he says, 'I do not know if I want family anymore. It is too risky.' Yet he yearns for human contact and has stilted relationships with two neighbors, a Kurdish man who knows only three words of Norwegian and a woman who lives across the way. Born's skillful translation highlights Petterson's ability to convey the aching bewilderment of overwhelming grief as Arvid rambles through each day without purpose or direction. He is a wholly sympathetic character who misses his family and feels guilt over every argument he had with them. After his brother's unsuccessful suicide attempt, Arvid eventually begins to work his way out of his mournful morass to reunite with what family he has left. This is as fine a portrayal of the course of heartache and renewal as any in recent memory."—Donna Chavez, Booklist (starred review)
"A profound novel informed by Petterson's own experience of losing family in the MS Estonia disaster, this latest from award-winning Norwegian novelist Petterson tells the story of novelist Arvid Jansen. Drowning in grief and self-doubt after the loss of his family in the same accident, he struggles with loneliness and is unable to write. Besides sporadic contact with his older brother, his human relationships are restricted to his Kurdish neighbor, with whom he has only three words of shared vocabulary, and Mrs. Grinde, the elusive woman who stares at him from her window. The few short weeks covered in the novel affect Arvid subtly but profoundly, pushing him to come to terms with his survivor guilt and look outside of himself to recognize the needs of others. Masterfully written—and adeptly rendered by translator Born—this novel is both timely and timeless. After a challenging first chapter, readers will discover a beautifully enlightening treatise on grief and identity disguised as a novel. Highly recommended."—Karen Walton Morse, University at Buffalo Library, Library Journal
"In his impressive American debut, veteran Norwegian novelist Petterson chronicles Arvid Jansen's breakdown in the six years since his parents and brother were killed in a ferry accident (modeled after the 1994 sinking of the MS Estonia). Arvid wanders around Oslo and through the Norwegian countryside, sifting through memories of his stern, ultracompetent father and nursing an infatuation with his attractive neighbor, Mrs. Grinde. After Arvid's architect brother attempts suicide, Arvid tries to reconnect with him and pull them both out of the abyss. Despite the gloomy subject matter, Arvid is a witty, self-deprecating narrator who fought with his family while they were alive and misses them terribly now that they're gone. This novel won several literary prizes in Europe, where the Estonia disaster is well known. The events may not feel as immediate to American readers, but many will find Arvid's path of loss and redemption affecting nonetheless."—Publishers Weekly
Reviews from Goodreads
It was something to do with a face. I had never seen it
before, yet I did recognise it, but as it comes to me now,
the thought of it is unpleasant. Someone gave me a gin.
I had had enough already. I see my hand around the