Peter Geye

Book - 2020

"From the acclaimed author of Wintering: a thrilling ode to the spirit of adventure and the vagaries of loss and love. In 1897 Norway, Odd Einar Eide returns home from a harrowing disaster in the northernmost Arctic only to witness his own funeral in full swing. His wife Inger, stunned to see him alive, is slow to return his devoted affection: she'd spent countless sleepless nights convinced she had now lost both her husband and their daughter, Thea, who'd emigrated to America two years before and has yet to answer their many anxious letters. Further complicating their reconciliation, a newspaperman gets wind of Eide's miraculous survival and invites them both to the city of Tromsø so he can write what he is sure will b...e a bestselling story. In 2017 Minnesota, Greta Nansen, desperately unhappy, decides to leave her children in her father's care and follow her husband to Oslo, where he's on assignment, in order to end their marriage. But for reasons mystifying even to her, she travels instead to the upper fringe of Norway--to the town where her great-great grandmother Thea was born. A dual narrative told by blood relatives separated by five generations, Northernmost confronts the darkest recesses of the human heart and celebrates our astonishing ability to endure the most excruciating trials--

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New, York : Alfred A. Knopf 2020.
Main Author
Peter Geye (author)
First edition
Item Description
"This is a Borzoi book."
Physical Description
331 pages ; 25 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Geye pairs a nineteenth-century arctic survival story and a modern recovery-from-divorce narrative, fleshing out a family's history and exploring overlapping themes of isolation and resilience. Seal hunter Odd Einar Eide is stranded on the tundra. All that keeps him alive is a knife, a pair of inherited boots, and memories of his wife, Inger, and their daughter, Thea, who hasn't been heard from since she emigrated to America. More than a century later, middle-aged Minnesotan Greta Nansen seeks refuge from a capsized marriage. Odd Einar grapples with solitude and the likelihood of his death, while Greta embraces her Norwegian ancestry, eventually finding her way into the arms of a sturdy pianist. Surrounding each are harsh landscapes of wintry desolation, a dashed ship, a frozen coastline, a rundown fishing shack on Lake Superior. But the falling snow becomes a potent symbol of renewal, even reverence when religion itself has withered away in the cold. Odd Einar's tale is loosely based upon a celebrated true story. Greta's narrative follows from The Lighthouse Road (2012) and Wintering (2016) to conclude the Eide family trilogy.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Geye's finely wrought follow-up to Wintering continues his exploration of the Eide family in parallel narratives. Norwegian fisherman Odd Einar Eide makes a treacherous Arctic expedition in 1897. After he is gone for weeks, his neighbors and wife, Inger, assume he is dead, and he returns to his village of Hammerfest just in time to witness his own funeral. A journalist from Tromsø gets wind of Odd's adventures and convinces him and Inger to travel to Tromsø to record his remarkable story of survival. Greta Nansen, Odd's modern-day descendent in Minnesota, navigates the difficult terrain of a loveless marriage and pieces together her family history, living in the Minnesota fish house she refurbished that's been part of the Eide family for generations, where she feels a visceral connection to the harsh winters. She ends up visiting Hammerfest, finding more than just answers about her family's complex past. Geye captures Odd's harrowing confrontation with an ice bear and his subsequent soul-searching as he faces the desolation of the Arctic, which is mirrored brilliantly in descriptions of the isolating emotional and psychological turmoil faced by Greta. While Geye stumbles through some chronological inconsistencies, the robust depiction of the bleak and beautiful northern Norway landscape and insightful descriptions of Odd's and Greta's inner lives are consistently impressive. This is a memorable, powerful tale of endurance and ancestral connection. Agent: Jesseca Salky, Salky Literary Management. (Apr.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A writer explores her family's humble Norwegian roots.In 1897, Norwegian fisherman Odd Einar Eide sets sail hundreds of miles above the Arctic Circle on a seal hunt. When his companion is slaughtered by a polar bear, Odd Einar must survive alone in the "fine desolation" of ice and snow for two weeks, until he's rescued by a passing ship. Given up for dead by his wife, Inger, Odd Einar returns home in the midst of his own funeral, forcing the impoverished couple to face the challenge of restoring their already fragile relationship. That task is complicated by the lingering ache from the absence of their daughter, Thea, departed two years earlier for America and silent since that time. Odd Einar's tale is framed by the story of his descendant Greta Nansen, a freelance journalist living in present-day Minneapolis, who embarks on the project of reclaiming her family's history as her own marriage of 20 years implodes. Alternating between the "rocky shore of hardened, desperate people living in poverty and gloom" in 19th-century rural Norway and Greta's life, where, despite her material comfort, loneliness is "the only feeling she had anymore," Geye (Wintering, 2016, etc.) artfully spans 120 years of the Eide family's story. With equal skill, he portrays Odd Einar's dramatic confrontation with implacable nature while exploring the tension between terror and resignation that haunts the involuntary adventurer's every step in that crisis. The choice to pair this pulsating adventure story with the subdued domestic drama of Greta's failed marriage and her discovery of the possibility of new love with musician Stig Hjalmarson when she impulsively travels to her ancestral home in the remote village of Hammerfest is not without risk. But Geye maintains an elegant counterpoint between the two narratives so that the novel is equally satisfying whether it's situated in the past or present.One man's terrifying story of survival in an Arctic wasteland reverberates profoundly in the life of his distant descendant. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

[1897]   I am not the first man who ever buttoned his coat and boarded a ship and followed his silence north. Nor am I the first made mouthy by what discovered him there. Indeed, how many stories have men like me lived to tell? If life is what I found on my return, among the wooden crosses and gravestones below the Hammerfest hillside.   I remember that wan early morning, the sun too low and faint to hold the fog at sea. The tender's oarlocks squawked in awful har­mony with the gulls tilting above. The hills were scabrous gray, the scree poised as ever to bury the village. I remember all this. And old Magnus Moen on the oars, a man my age and one I'd known all my life, speaking no word to me. He only beat his oars against the harbor water while muttering into his coat.   I remember Bengt Bjornsen's horse and carriage, too, rolling along Grønnevoldsgaden. I could see his charge. A woman dressed in black seated beside him and the pastor in his frock standing on the back rail. I mouthed a prayer, that this meager procession was not for my daughter, gone two years. The thought of her turned my eyes to the mailbags sitting above the bilge on the deck of the ten­der. We'd not heard from Thea since we sent her off. Not one word, kind or otherwise. For all we knew she was drowned or buried.   By the time Magnus tied off on the wharf, the horse and car­riage had disappeared. It wasn't yet eleven o'clock as I stepped ashore and turned to look from where I'd come. As though I could see those hundreds of miles behind me. But all was gone. Lost in the fog if not in my memory. The mailboat Thor out at anchor? The mountains of Sørø and the sea beyond? Even the birds and the sound of the birds? All was gone. Only North remained. I could point North and remember the snow and still believe in it. I did believe in it--and not much else.   Magnus tossed the mailbags at my feet, then climbed from the tender and stood beside me on the wharf. I felt in my pockets as though I had a krone to offer him. But all I found was my pipe and pouch, so I packed the bowl and Magnus offered me a light and we stood together and smoked.   "There's a bit of the Draugen about ja, Odd Einar." Magnus thumbed his hat and looked out from beneath his bushy eyebrows. He puffed on his pipe and shook his head. "It's a hell of a thing. Coming back here on a day such as this. Take a slow walk home, ja?" He pushed his hat back off his head and ran a knobby hand over his balding crown. "Give them a chance to see you." He snuffed out his pipe and tied a second line to a cleat on the wharf. "And God bless you, friend. God bless you and Inger."   I watched Magnus set his hat right. He put his reindeer hide gloves on and shouldered the mail sacks. He turned to leave but then set his load down once more, slipped a glove off, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a few coins. He picked from them two øre and offered them to me. I felt my face flush and tucked my cheeks into my coat's collar. "I'm all set, friend," I said.   "Odd Einar, stop at Bengt's bakery before you head home. Buy a loaf and some butter. I've known you since we were runts. I don't like the look of you now. A hungry man is a sad thing."   He pushed the money into my hand and put his glove on again, slung the mail sacks over his shoulder, and this time walked off. He didn't whistle, Old Magnus.     The Grønnevoldsgaden was swallowed by fog as I walked up it. The whole village was, as though it burned for the second time. On the corner of the Strandgaden, the electric streetlights flickered on and Inger's auntie was standing there on the cobbles with her cane and palsied foot. She looked up and saw me, turned and limped away. I tried to call out, but there was no voice in me.   As if mocking my dumbness, a pair of shrieking gulls banked low. I watched them wing back toward the harbor and then crossed the street and walked to the bakery. Its dark windows were filled with loaves covered by flour sacks. Baskets of Bengt's pepparkaka and kanelbolle were sitting on the far end of the counter. On the other, jars of butter and jams were stacked in small pyramids. I felt the coins in my pocket, and stepped to the door. It was locked, so I stepped back into the street and closed my eyes and felt the gnawing in my bowels.   I stood there long enough for what remained of me to notice its reflection in the bakery window: ugly and gaunt and tired as the pilings on the wharf. It would take a month of Inger's black pot to bring me back to life. With just that thought I went to the entry next to the bakery and opened it and climbed the narrow stair­case and stood atop the landing and knocked on my door. How much time had I spent imagining this homecoming? Always it had been Inger answering the door, her hair down, the warmth of the stove and the brightness of the lamp glass falling from our room. If I'm being honest, I allowed myself Thea, too, sitting at the small table with a cup of tea and her knitting, humming some hymn or laughing. And in the darkest and coldest junctures of my northern straits, I saw her eyes turning up to meet mine and her smiling lips saying Papa! The thought of her saved me more than once.   I knocked again and stood leaning against my exhaustion, which was the only thing in this world as fierce as my hunger. How many moments such as this had passed since that boat came to rescue me from the fog? Moments when my weakness settled on me and my memories went back to the wastes of Spitzbergen, with nothing but blankness and distance before me. I was no more sated as I stood on the landing outside our door than I'd been on the Kross­ fjorden. My guts were tight as fiddle strings.   I put my rawboned and filthy hand on the doorknob, drew a breath, and heard the hinges screech as the door swung open. Dark­dark­dark. As dark as the Lofoten 's coal bunker, but smelling faintly of potatoes. My stomach loosened and then turned and I poked my nose down into my collar, for I did not trust that sweet scent. If I had learned anything it was that a hungry man will smell his supper a hundred times before he gets a spoonful.   I stepped in and tried to blink the darkness into light. But it would not go and so I pulled the door shut behind me and crossed the room blindly and pulled back the curtain. I unlatched and opened the window, and the room was charged with the briny smell off the harbor. When I turned around to see my home again, my breath would not come. Not for a full half minute.   The pallet in the corner had been folded in half and tied with twine. Inger's rosmåling, which before had sat proudly on a shelf above the hearth, was gone. So, too, were the chairs around the table. In a tin bowl on the shelf I found a single potato, sprout­ing and black, then carried it over to the window to inspect it in the light. Against my better judgment I took a bite. It made me retch and I spit it out and threw the rest toward the stove, where it landed in Inger's cook pot and jiggled the handle of her wooden spoon. The promise of a meal set my teeth on edge, and I crossed the room in two long strides to look in the pot. A dead mouse lay on the bottom beside the potato. A fine soup for a starving man.   Across the room, in the chest of drawers beside the bed, I found a ball of yarn and her old needles and a half­finished mitten. The lamp atop the chest was empty of oil, though the matches still sat in the wooden box. I lit one and played it around the empty room. That place had never been a home, but to discover such emptiness and what came with it? Well, there were no words to describe it. I let the match burn out and closed the window and walked back down to the street.   A fresh wind came over the hills as I stood outside the bakery again. All this distance I had come. All this distance and with all my sorry hope. And for what? Damn it all, I thought. Put me back on the wastes. Leave me for the ice bears.   "Herr Eide?" Someone stood ten paces down the road with a bas­ket hung over her arm. One of Thea's friends. Her father was a rope maker named Skjeggestad. I once bought my line from him.   "It's me?" I said. My voice came out hoarse, and I coughed and bent at the waist and swallowed as I righted myself. I turned away, my shame sharp. She didn't leave, though. When I looked at her face again, I could see she was amazed. "And you're Skjeggestad's daughter?"   "Hilde--"   "Of course. Hildegard Skjeggestad. Thea's friend. My daughter's friend."   Her eyes were wide and disbelieving.   "The bakery is closed," I said, as if to excuse my being there on the street.   Her mouth was open to speak, but no words came. Had she not heard me?   "Our room," I began, but then looked down at my garb, such as it was. My pants were threadbare and tattered at the cuff. My coat, a castoff from a stevedore in Vardø, was stained at the breast and missing every other button. My shirt had been on my back for weeks and smelled foul enough to prove it. And my socks, stiff with blood and worn through at the heels, would be the first things I'd burn. Only the boots on my feet, fine komager boots made from Spitzbergen reindeer hide, offered any proof that I wasn't a Drau­gen after all. "You've not seen Thea, then? Or heard news?"   "But Fru Eide and the pastor . . ." she finally said, turning to look up the Grønnevoldsgaden, even pointing there.   "Thea?" I asked, nudging my chin in the same direction.   Now she looked afraid. She might have even been crying. "Herr Bjornsen, he's also gone to the cemetery." She took a step back, making a wide berth for me.   I saw my reflection again. "I beg your pardon," I said. "I'm just home." Now I pointed at myself in the window as though it were explanation enough for my condition. "It was a long trip. I was in Vardø only two days ago. Five full days at sea before that. I was made to work for my passage, you see? Loading coal--"   "Excuse me, Herr Eide." She had in her basket a bunch of carrots and radishes. She took a carrot and handed it to me and said, "Fru Eide has gone to the cemetery."   And then, as if I were finally joining the conversation, I said, "But who has died?"   She stepped past me and said, "I must go, Herr Eide. My mother is waiting."   "Of course," I said. "Thank you. Give your mother and father my greetings."   I stood outside the bakery gnawing on the carrot, stem and all, as Hildegard hurried away.     Excerpted from Northernmost: A Novel by Peter Geye All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.