“How impossible it was to grasp that in the end something as fine as this could be ground into dust” (p. 213).
I Curse the River of Time, the new novel from the winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for Out Stealing Horses, is a mesmerizingly beautiful book about love, regret, family secrets and failed revolution.
The novel takes us through thirty-seven-year-old Arvid’s life and its descent towards a moment of terrible crisis. It traces his parents’ hesitant support when he gives up his place at college to work in a paper mill, like his father; his experiences as a fervent young Maoist in Norway in the 1960s; the death of his younger brother; the passionate, enveloping romance that led to marriage and children and, for a time, happiness; the failure of that relationship, and its transformation into a source of harrowing pain.
By 1989, everything that gave Arvid’s life meaning has melted into air. The collapse of the Berlin Wall mirrors the collapse of his marriage and his self-punishing alcoholism. When his mother is diagnosed with stomach cancer, Arvid sets off to their summer house in Denmark to be with her, meeting men and women from their past along the way. His despairing journey is also a quest for some kind of order in his life, perhaps even a new foundation. When Arvid finds his mother, and accompanies her in her illness, the novel turns to exploring the secrets that explain the distance between them – a distance that perhaps can never be crossed.
I Curse the River of Time describes the ways that the present and the past are always intertwined, and shows how the personal and political are one and the same. Written in a subdued and elegiac style, with flashes of devastating poetic beauty, it is an utterly absorbing experience, a book that displays wisdom of the kind that only profound loss can bring. Above all, it is a reminder of the power of great art to console us for life’s burdens, an example of the way our dreams may brighten our bleakest moments.