Per Petterson brings back Arvid Jansen from In the Wake for I Curse the River of Time, his powerful new novel.

How much of Arvid’s Communist past was reflective of Norway during the 1970s?

There are two different communist "pasts" in many countries, and in Norway, too. The first started with the Russian Revolution in 1917 and ended for the most part in the 1950s with the McCarthy era and the Cold War (except in Eastern Europe). There was a new wave in the late 1960s and ’70s in the wake of the Vietnam War and the Cultural Revolution in China, where Mao declared: bombard the headquarters! Considering our population, Norway was its strongest hold. We are 4.5 million people and thousands were in this movement in 1975. So Arvid is not exceptional.

When you wrote In the Wake, did you plan to continue Arvid’s story?

I just start with something coming my way: a sentence, an image, often connected to my own life, this time the mother with cancer. My mother had stomach cancer and the first sentence—"My mother had been ill for some time..."—clearly indicated a novel to be dug out. At first, I thought it was going to be the mother’s story told by her son, but soon realized it was the son’s story, and immediately knew that Arvid Jansen was my man again, that it was his family, a family I know from before, even though it changes a little from book to book. His life covers my life and to some extent his family resembles my own. In that way, I don’t have to cross the creek to get water, as we say here. I chose the year 1989 because it was the year before my mother died, and it’s the year of everything.

What appealed to you about the complex mother-son dynamic?

My relationship with my own mother was very tight, but there was something there we never talked about. I tried to bring this out in the open and follow it to the end. And then it was not my life any longer, nor hers, but a fiction. That’s the great thing.

Nature and the Norwegian landscape played such big roles in Out Stealing Horses. Why set so much of this book in Denmark?

As in the novel, my mother is Danish, from the port of Frederikshavn in northern Jutland. Every year up until I was about 20 I spent my summers there. I know the landscape well and love it, the sight of it, the smell of it. My novel To Siberia is mostly situated in this landscape.

Time in this novel is a fluid, rather than a linear, concept.

It’s just the way I write: sideways and backwards, on association. Not whim, perhaps, but I trust my intuition and don’t for a second think about the reader. I know she will follow me and make the novel wiser than it was when I wrote it.