Ashes in my mouth, sand in my shoes

Per Petterson, 1952-

Book - 2015

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Short stories
Minneapolis, Minnesota : Graywolf Press [2015]
Main Author
Per Petterson, 1952- (author)
Other Authors
Don Bartlett (translator)
Physical Description
118 pages ; 17 cm
  • A man without shoes
  • Ashes in his mouth
  • The black car
  • The king is dead
  • Like a tiger in a cage
  • Fatso
  • People are not animals
  • Call me Ali Baba
  • Today you must pray to God
  • Before the war.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Readers of Petterson's award-winning Out Stealing Horses (2007) will find this translation of the Norwegian author's first published book, scheduled to appear in conjunction with his latest novel, I Refuse, takes a gentler approach to childhood. Ten brief stories make up this minimalist coming-of-age tale set in the 1960s. Young Arvid grows up in a working-class family in Veitvet, outside Oslo. The book's opening line"Dad had a face that Arvid loved to watch, and at the same time made him nervous"establishes the primary importance of Arvid's father in his life. When the local shoe industry collapses and Dad loses his position as a factory foreman, Arvid is too young to understand the financial strain and exhibits an innocent's brutal scorn at the toothbrushes Dad brings home from his new factory job. But the 6-year-old intuitively senses tensions in the household. When Arvid's sensitivity to the anxiety causes bad dreams, Dad shows great gentleness. Then Arvid's grandfather dies, and the boy's first reaction is excitement that Dad, now the boss of the family, will allow him to use a previously off-limits canoe. But at the funeral, he becomes upset imagining Dad in the coffin. By the time he turns 8, Arvid is grown up enough to face grudgingly that others, like his fat neighbor Bomann, have complicated feelings. Bullied for refusing to acknowledge that people have sex, Arvid is secretly "sad" to face the truth he's learned from Dad. A slightly older, tougher Arvid plays war games with his friends, taking boyish risks that could end disastrously but don't, any more than the actual Cuban missile crisis that rivets his attention. Maturing from early obliviousness into a conscious sense of ambivalent responsibility, Arvid finds himself offering Dad the tender care he once received as Dad fights his own demons. Arvid's is far from an unhappy childhood, but writing within a child's limited vision, Petterson uses what's unspoken to wrench the reader's heart. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.