cover image Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes

Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes

Per Petterson, trans. from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett. Graywolf, $14 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-55597-700-9

Arvid Jansen has appeared in several of Petterson’s books, including I Curse the River of Time and as the teenage narrator in It’s Fine by Me. This collection of linked stories about Arvid was Petterson’s debut and first published in Norwegian in 1987. Each of the 10 vignettes recounts a momentous event in Arvid’s childhood; the prose is simple and spare, elegiac in tone, yet it packs a powerful punch. Arvid, a frail and sensitive boy who comes across as neurotic in his fears, lives with his mother, father, and older sister in Cold War–era Norway. Arvid’s universe revolves about his family, especially his factory-worker father, a complex figure whose frustrations are expressed in flashes of temper but who is also capable of great tenderness toward his son, as in the moving story “Ashes in His Mouth.” Like Petterson’s longer fiction, the theme of sorrow and of battling the inevitable passage of time permeates these stories, particularly “Like a Tiger in a Cage,” in which Arvid breaks a wall clock in an attempt to stop his mother’s aging, as well as his own. A bittersweet read that can be fully savored in one sitting. (Apr.)