Out Stealing Horses

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Per Petterson's OUT STEALING HORSES (Picador ppbk in a translation from the Norwegian by Anne Born) is so typically Scandinavian as to almost be a cliche. Set on a remote, wintry farm near the Swedish border, the story unfolds in silence and bleakness, yet manages to find beauty and harmony as well, especially between the handful of people living subsistence lives here. The hero is Trond Sander, a 67-year-old who grew up in the woods and then went off to middleclass life in Oslo, only to give everything up when his marriage failed. Trond returns to his roots, living alone (with a dog named Lyra) in the cabin his father built, working with his hands, listening to BBC radio, occasionally connecting with a few old friends. Petterson shuttles his story back and forth between the 40s (when the Nazis occupied Norway) and the present, dealing skilfully with youth, memory and age--and the mistakes people make, mistakes that ultimately destroy the worthy things they have achieved in life.
OUT STEALING HORSES tells a tragic tale, but in a cool, quiet, lowkey way which, again, is uniquely Scandinavian.