By Per Petterson
Completed June 24, 2011
I fell in love with Per Petterson’s writing when I read Out Stealing Horses last year. I forgot that I had acquired one of his earlier books, To Siberia, until I was organizing a shelf, and found it tucked away in the back. I launched into this book, hoping to recapture what I loved so much in Out Stealing Horses.
It’s probably unfair to compare the two, but I was a bit disappointed in To Siberia. It was an average book – a story of a young Danish girl and her wild brother who grow up in a home without any nurturing or love. They had each other and a shared restless spirit. The girl – known only as “Sistermine” – wants to travel to Siberia – and her brother, Jesper, wants to escape to Morocco. After spending their impoverished youth in a small Danish village, the Nazis arrive, and Jesper takes up with the Resistance. The siblings are separated, and the girl (now a young woman) waits years to hear from her beloved brother again.
To Siberia meandered and circled, and Petterson touches on certain aspects of the story – but only so lightly, like a painter dabbing with his brush. You get just enough before the story moves again. Sometimes this works, but for me, I wanted a fuller picture.
What I did enjoy about To Siberia was what I learned about Denmark. Petterson offers so much – traditional food and drink, industry, villages, religion and education. I also was intrigued with Denmark’s response to Germany’s invastion during World War II – their sense of passivity and then impatience with the situation.
If you haven’t read Per Petterson, To Siberia is not the place to start. But if you have read his work, then give this slim book a chance and see what you get out of it. With any book that is translated, I always wonder if something got lost in the translation. Perhaps that’s the case with To Siberia. ( )