“So is there no fact, no event, in our private history, which shall not, sooner or later, lose its adhesive, inert form, and astonish us by soaring from our body into the empyrean. Cradle and infancy, school and playground, the fear of boys, and dogs, and ferules, the love of little maids and berries, and many another fact that once filled the whole sky, are gone already; friend and relative, profession and party, town and country, nation and world, must also soar and sing”
I recently read this beautiful essay by Emerson for the first time and it reminded me of my book club’s third choice, Out Stealing Horses, which I have been meaning to get to since it was among the Best of the Millennium by The Millions.
The plot involves Trond Sander looking back at a summer when he was 15 through the eyes and wisdom of a 67-year-old man at the turn of the millenium. The past is set during the Second World War when Norway was occupied by the Germans but the most moving portions involve Trond’s heart-breaking relationship with his father. The book is not just about growing up, both as a child and as an adult, but also manages to deliver a meditation on living with nature, the importance of physical work and the joy and pain of love and loss.
I loved the lyrical language for which credit needs to go both to author, Per Petterson, and translator, Anne Born:
“I picked up the jug and poured a little milk into my cup. That made the coffee smoother and more like the light and not so strong, and I shut my eyes into a squint and looked across the water flowing below the window, shining and glittering like a thousand stars, like the Milky Way could sometimes do in the autumn rushing foamingly on and winding through the night in an endless stream, and you could lie there beside the fjord at home in the vast darkness with your back against the hard sloping rock gazing up until your eyes hurt, feeling the weight of the universe in all its immensity press down upon your chest until you could scarcely breathe or on the contrary be lifted up and simply float away like a mere speck of human flesh in a limitless vacuum, never to return.”
The language is also very sensual and captures the sight, sounds and smells of living in the woods:
“The sun was high in the sky now, it was hot under the trees, it smelt hot, and from everywhere in the forest around us there were sounds; of beating wings, of branches bending and twigs breaking, and the scream of a hawk and a hare’s last sigh, and a tiny muffled boom each time a bee hit a flower. I heard the ants crawling in the heather, and the path we followed rose with the hillside; I took deep breaths through my nose and thought no matter how life should turn out and however far I travelled I would always remember this place as it was just now, and miss it.”
I don’t want to give away the ending but the novel manages to finish on a perfect note, and the last sentence in particular bought tears to my eyes as it captures what Trond has to teach us about life.