European Book Club: To Siberia

Where: Norwegian Consulate, 825 Third Avenue, 38th Floor (entrance on 50th Street), New York, NY

To Siberia:
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. “Sistermine” dreams of escaping to Siberia, for “skies that were cold and clear, where it was easy to breathe and easy to see for long distances.” But Siberia seems increasingly distant as she helplessly watches her brother become increasingly involved in resisting the Nazis.

The narrator in the novel is a woman of sixty. She recalls her life from the nineteen-thirties, when she was six or seven, until she was an unwed mother in her early twenties.

Life at home is forbidding, and the mood is not lightened by a grandfather who is subject to periodic rages, drinking binges, and, as it turns out, suicidal impulses. Jesper and his sister, not surprisingly, imagine other places, distant ones. For her, it is Siberia, with “open skies that were cold and clear, where it was easy to breathe and easy to see for long distances.” For Jesper, it is Morocco, and “his pictures were mysterious and alluring in black and white with barren mountains in the far distance and sun-scorched faces and sun-scorched towns.”

About the author:
Per Petterson (born 1952) worked for several years as an unskilled labourer, trained as a librarian, and worked as a bookseller, writer, and translator before publishing his first work, Aske i munnen, sand i skoa (Ash In His Mouth, Sand In His Shoe).

He has won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for the 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 and Entertainment Weekly.

For To Siberia Petterson was nominated for the Nordic Council’s Literary Award and nominated for The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

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