I Curse the River of Time

Petterson, Per: Jeg forbanner tidens elv

Winner of the 2008 Critics' Prize
Winner of the 2008 Brage Prize
Winner of the 2009 Nordic Council's Literary Prize
Shortlisted for the 2011 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize
Longlisted for the 2011 IMPAC Prize
Nominated for the P2-listeners Prize for Best Novel

It is 1989 , and all over Europe Communism is crumbling. Arvid Jansen, 37, is in the throes of a divorce. At the same time, his mother is diagnosed with cancer. Over the course of a few intense autumn days, we follow Arvid as he struggles to find a new footing in his life, while all the established patterns around him are changing at a staggering speed. As he attempts to negotiate the present, he casts his mind back to holidays on the beach with his brothers, to courtship, and to his early working life, when, as a young Communist, he abandoned his studies to work on a production line.

I Curse the River of Time is an honest, heartbreaking yet humorous portrayal of a complicated mother-son relationship told in Petterson’s precise and beautiful prose.

Arvid Jansen first appeared in Per Petterson’s short story collection Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes (1987), and is a central character in several of Petterson’s later books. Out Stealing Horses (2003), which won Petterson the Dublin IMPAC Prize and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, is so far sold to 41 foreign publishers, and is a major bestseller in several countries. I Curse the River of Time is the author’s 6th novel.

Click here for sample translation.

Click here for a presentation of Petterson's work including sample translations.


"Candour, sensitivity, humour: the result is singular magic [...] All the inevitability of life, its fragile glue and the doubts that stalk the survivors are summoned and considered in Petterson’s candid, allusive fiction. There is no easy sentiment, only genuine emotional power. His tender new novel is as masterfully evocative as In the Wake and Out Stealing Horses, as gentle as To Siberia , and as exceptional as all three."
(The Irish Times, Ireland)

"Per Petterson's novels are novels you wait for. Once again he has written a novel where the dark secrets of life are magically illuminated."
(Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Germany)

"His best book so far. (...) I Curse the River of Time is the powerful story of a great sin of omission, so well made that it is even more captivating than other books by Petterson in German. (...) A wonderful, melancholic book"
(Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany)

"this author's gift is his ability to convey so much emotion in such a sparse prose style.... essential for all literary collections"
(Library Journal, USA)

”[Petterson's] way of writing undoubtedly reminds me of Hemingway and Raymond Carver (...). While Carver's condensed style is often used as a stylistic improvement of something insolvable, Petterson truly has a story to tell: about ordinary people in unusual situations, and about how these people lose their language precisely in unusual situations."
(Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany)

"Of course, Petterson is a great stylist. These (...) rhythmic sentences are a pleasure to read"
(Der Tagensspiegel, Germany)

"Petterson's mother and son story, written in such a tender and accurate way, (...) is moving and agonizingly beautiful. It often seems like Petterson's stops the never-resting time and creates a room where the secrets of human life are illuminated, like in a large mirror. These are true magic moments. Per Petterson's melancholic and yet invigorating novel about how things turn and time fleets, gives no comfort. However, like any great piece of art, it shines in the dark like a distant and mysterious light. "
(Die Welt, Germany)

”Petterson's prose is quiet and poetical (...) In a superior, associative and detailed way, he tells about life's true magic moments, the short but lucid moments of happiness, the heavy times, and the secrets of human life. Even after the first pages, it is impossible to tear onself away from this book; you immediately knows that this is an author that has something important to say, someone who fathoms the depths of life. (...) A picture of human life is outlined, because time is a painter, and even the pictures of life fade in the river of time"
(Stadtbücherei Würzburg, Germany)

"Petterson's quiet and poetical novel conjures up strong images and profound moments without being sentimental"
(NDR1, Germany)

" I Curse the River of Time is a wonderful novel - melancholic, wise, full of grief at lost opportunities, but also full of love and tenderness. One only feels like cursing because it ends after a little more than 200 pages"
(NDR Kultur, Germany)

”Per Petterson at his very best”.
(De Standaard, Holland)

“An excellent novel … Petterson has created a rich history with many layers.”

“Simple, beautiful and poignant images … a sensitive and wise portrait of a mother and a son lacking in words and ability to express themselves.”

”After several years in the shadow of authors more typical of their times, Per Petterson is about to become the one writer everyone else will remember ... Per Petterson’s outstanding novel about Arvid is a great elegy over a mother-son relationship … What is Per Petterson’s secret? He is always compared to Hemingway and Raymond Carver … But Petterson has more warmth. What he really knows how to do is to make the moment stand out with a complete, obvious clarity.”
(Politiken, Denmark)

”In his own quiet and measured way, Petterson has developed into of the most remarkable voices of Scandinavia, stylistically reminiscent of names like Hemingway and Raymond Chandler, but still with his very own tone ... great novelistic art based on the most discreet technical devices.”
(Ekstrabladet, Denmark)

”A powerful reading experience ... a gripping double portrait of mother and son ... Few (if any) can write about existential, universally human questions in a way that feels so captivating and relevant."
(Helsingør Dagblad, Denmark)

”masterful ... a deeply fascinating novel”
(Berlingske Tidende, Denmark)

”In his own bent way, Petterson has developed into one of the Nordic countries’ great writers ... Another splendid, magnificent novel from [Petterson]. And little by little we have grown addicted.”
(Weekendavisen, Denmark)

”Petterson is a virtuoso ... an incredibly beautiful, thoughtful novel ... the prose is fabulously clear and ripe with meaning.”
(Jyllands-Posten, Denmark)

"A sublime feel for language and an utterly unique rhythm ... Petterson deserves to win [...] the next Nordic Council’s Literary Prize."
(Euroman, Denmark)

”[Every book about Arvid] is an artistic achievement. Every book contains a personal search for understanding of life, death and everything in between.”
(Kristeligt Dagblad, Denmark)

"… the magic resides in the prose itself. It is simple and sophisticated. Not of the twisting and twirling kind and never boringly descriptive, the language depicts the main character’s inner life with great care for the details and occasionally brutal honesty. The strength, as in all great literature, lies just as much in what the narrator suppresses and leaves out, as in what tells. A seemingly banal and mundane series of events acquires resonance and depth with Petterson’s pen. […] Petterson is a great depictor of the sad beauty and curse of human lives."
(Sydsvenskan, Sweden)

“a powerful novel”
(Göteborgs-Posten, Sweden)

“it’s intensely good … Petterson artfully weaves past and present together”
(Arbetarbladet, Sweden)

“a fictional world that never fails to excite or provoke the reader’s emotions”
(Västerbottens Kuriren, Sweden)

“a melancholic and quiet story, but completely without sentimentality, written in a very beautiful and poetic language. The author has a unique ability to depict everyday life with its little details and time markers”
(Helsingborg Dagblad)

“A great work …a book which through simple means succeeds in making an entire era and an entire social class stand out … You rarely find literary works that are more stimulating and rewarding than this.”
(Kristinstadsbladet, Sweden)

“Petterson writes the most exquisite prose imaginable … Those who read and relished OUT STEALING HORSES definitely won't be disappointed this time either."
(Borås Tidning, Sweden)

“Petterson’s long awaited return with I CURSE THE RIVER OF TIME is more painful, but just as captivating [as OUT STEALING HORSES]”
(El Mundo, Spain)

“an honest, dishearted and ironic portrait of the complicated relation between a mother and a son. A story which explores man’s lack of ability to communicate as well as failure to understand his own complexity, shaped in a prose which is both precise and beautiful. A highly entertaining and very intimate novel of the most outstanding quality.”
(Literature Nordica, Spain)

”Quietly the novel I CURSE THE RIVER OF TIME sneaks up on you, until you feel completely naked and look behind you to make sure that noone is watching … Petterson’s great accomplishment is that he tells this story without it ever becoming sentimental or pathetic … above all it’s the sharp observations of the idiosyncracies and motions and the tiny signs between people that cause images to be etched into the reader’s memory.”
(Sosialurin, Faroe Islands)

"A melancholic beautiful autumnal journey, perfect from the first letter to the last full stop … Truly masterful is the depiction of the tiny signals that pass between people who hardly talk with each other."
(Dag og Tid)

"… another strong book … a book swept in the peculiar November light her in the North, where all living things seem to be swallowed by the great black-purple emptiness."

"Prose from a mature master … In an impressive fashion Petterson succeeds in writing a complex family tale, which on the surface might appear to flow very quietly … unforgettable humorous scenes."

"A gripping double portrait of mother and son … Per Petterson is still a blessedly down to earth storyteller with a great sense of style, who succeeds in finding enough small words for great feelings."
(Stavanger Aftenblad)

"No Norwegian author writes about existential questions in a more touching and captivating way than Petterson."

"Per Petterson’s technique is getting more and more clear and distinct. … Petterson unconditionally deserves to be called a great writer."

"The doubtless greatest strength of this novel is its style, which is sympathetic, intimate and free of self-importance. Some writers almost seem to write their words into the blood of the reader, and Petterson is among them."

"A sensitive and strong novel … draws a glowing portrait of a dying, but firm and determined woman who decides to make a farewell journey through the landscapes that were to change her for life when she was only in her twenties."

“[Per Petterson] provides one of literature’s greatest gifts in his novels—an absorbing interiority that creates a welcome refuge from our cacophonous world. His books are suffused with a luxurious, downy silence, a quiet that allows us to slow down and sink into spare language that evokes complex emotions and primal sensations such as cold, wet, darkness and light with surprising force.”
 (National public radio, USA)

“Subtly incisive. . . . Clean sentence after clean sentence, Petterson conveys both the melancholy and the demi-pleasurable sensation of being fundamentally untethered.”
  (The New York Times Book Review, USA)

"Clear, colloquial and unadorned, the writing doubtless owes something to Hamsun and maybe just as much to Hemingway. . . . And at moments when a lot of American prose seems fizzy and over-rich, the sentences in I Curse the River of Time go down like an eye-watering shot of aquavit. They evoke a landscape, mental and otherwise, that while a little wintry and severe, is appealing precisely because it’s so off the beaten track."
( The New York Times, USA)

“An emotional suckerpunch. . . . Petterson blends enough hope with the gorgeously evoked melancholy to come up with a heartbreaking and cautiously optimistic work.”
(Publishers Weekly, USA)
“Petterson tells another poignant, harrowing and sometimes comic story of a man coming to terms with his dying mother, his failures (job, marriage) and his failures in the eyes of his mother: ‘You squirt!’ But mother and son are bound by feelings and memories for which even the word ‘love’ doesn’t do justice.”
(The Wall Street Journal, USA)

“There’s no denying the novel’s Raymond Carver-like power as Arvid and his mother come to terms with how life hands you hope just before it hands you disappointment and tragedy. Petterson doesn’t dole out comforts, simply the quiet advice that since we can't choose how we die, we’d better be careful how we choose to live.”
  (Entertainment Weekly, USA)

“In Petterson’s hands [ I Curse the River of Time] is the ideal vehicle for displaying the author’s considerable talent at perfectly conveying the unsaid. He’s a master of quietude, as he first revealed in his runaway hit Out Stealing Horses. Yet here he abandons the whisper of violence Horses had, and his writing is stronger for it. It’s now unfiltered Petterson, and it’s awesome.”
(Time Out New York, USA)

“Tracing the history of [Arvid] Jansen’s life and exploring politics, philosophy, the nature of love, and the question of how to live a good life, Petterson’s latest is melancholy, beautiful, and at times darkly funny—another extraordinary novel from a master of the form.”
(Powell’s Books, USA)
“This atmospheric, brooding novel weaves its spell with dignity and honesty, revealing how we really live, daring to be unrelentingly realistic about the many regrets and disappointments of life. Bleak, maybe, but Petterson’s unflinching realism in itself is heroic and inspirational. He confronts the non-plots of our lives with uncompromising words and eyes wide open.”
  (Shelf Awareness, USA)

“The novel abounds in Peterson’s delicate dialogue between present and past selves. . . . Add this sense of the deep archaeology of emotion to a tact and nuance in each sculpted paragraph that ought to make clumsier authors weep with envy, and you have another masterclass in the alchemising of time and loss into the gold of art.”
(The Independent, U.K.)

“Fans of Out Stealing Horses will not be disappointed by Petterson’s latest novel, which pulses with lyrical prose. Set against the backdrop of the collapse of Communism in 1989, the story follows Arvid, who, when his mother is diagnosed with cancer, joins her at their summer house. Shifting between the present and Arvid’s memories , I Curse the River of Time explores the strained relationship between mother and son, as well as Arvid’s struggle to make sense of a life that has gotten away from him.”
(Wolfgang Books, USA)

First published: Oktober, 2008
Per Petterson: Biography and bibliography

Rights sold to

Language Foreign publisher
Albanian Shkupi
American English Graywolf
Amharic Hohe/Qirtas
Arabic All Prints
Bosnian Connectum
British English Harvill Secker
Bulgarian Delakort
Catalan Club Editor
Czech Euromedia
Danish Batzer & Co
Dutch De Geus
Estonian Pegasus Publishers
Faeroese Forlaget Nylendí
Finnish Otava
French Gallimard
Georgian Blue Bird
German Carl Hanser Verlag
Hebrew Keter
Hungarian Scolar Kiadó
Italian Guanda
Latvian Zvaigzne
Macedonian ILI-ILI
Polish W.A.B.
Portuguese Casa das Letras
Romanian Univers
Russian Text
Serbian Geopoetika
Spanish Literatura Mondadori
Swedish Bonniers
Turkish Metis

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