THE HALF BROTHER
Epic yet startlingly contemporary, this massive novel charts 50 years in the life of an unconventional Oslo family, lighted by gleams of the frozen north and the glow of movie screens. Narrator Barnum, an award-winning screenwriter, retraces his family's history, which begins with the rape of his mother, Vera, as a young girl at the end of World War II. From this crime, Barnum's half-brother, Fred, is conceived. Fred is angry, prone to mood swings and outbursts of verbal cruelty. But he is also street-smart, self-reliant and fiercely—if erratically—protective of Barnum, a small, sensitive boy who never grows to full height. The boys live with Vera and an extended family of spirited, loving women, including the Old One, Barnum's great grandmother (a former silent movie actress), and his beer-drinking grandmother, Boletta. Barnum's father is Arnold Nilsen, an itinerant con man, who woos and marries Vera. When Barnum is almost grown up, unpredictable Fred goes to sea and disappears, leaving Barnum angry and confused. Barnum finds companionship and love through his relationships with friends Peder and Vivian, eventually marrying Vivian, but their connection unravels, particularly with Vivian's pregnancy—a pregnancy that torments Barnum, who is secretly infertile. Barnum's conflicted, complicated love for his brother anchors the novel, but Christensen tenderly explores all sorts of human connection, examining the emotions aroused by absence and persistence, and the complex nature of family and forgiveness. Like Péter Nádas's Book of Memories and Péter Esterházy's Celestial Harmonies , this is a challenging, marvelously rich novel steeped in European history and charged by present-day anxieties. (May)
Forecast: Already an international bestseller (rights have been sold in 25 countries), The Half Brother is likely to be one of the literary must-reads of the summer.