cover image Echoland


Per Petterson, trans. from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett. Graywolf, $15 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-64445-076-5

A journey from Norway to Denmark becomes a life-changing rite of passage in Petterson’s beautifully understated story, first published in 1989 and set to publish in the states alongside the author’s Men in My Situation. Both books feature protagonist Arvid Jansen. Here, Arvid is 12, and the death of his infant brother several years earlier has cast a pall over the family. An inveterate reader, Arvid lives vicariously through Huck Finn, Martin Eden, and Pelle the Conqueror, and while visiting his grandparents in Jutland with his parents and older sister, Gry, he imagines having adventures in the region’s rugged terrain. Arvid falls in with a brash older boy, Mogen, who lusts after Gry and says he wishes Arvid were a girl. Arvid also has a strong bond with a widowed aunt, who gives him a book of poetry originally intended for her husband. Later on, Arvid’s mother asks, “What’s wrong with this family?” “Nothing,” his father replies. A budding writer, Arvid keenly observes this exchange but doesn’t yet understand its implications. Petterson’s portrayal of the inner life of a preteen boy is precise and moving, and the remarkable prose captures the landscape as well as the painful deterioration of Arvid’s parents’ marriage. This early work from a master leaves an indelible mark. (Feb.)