To Siberia, by Per Petterson is an excellent novel depicting a family within the Danish landscape.
The narrator is a sixty-year old woman who is reflecting on her past, from her childhood in Jutland through her early twenties. Her parents are seemingly uncaring, and often neglectful. Her one area of comfort is her brother Jesper. They both have each other to rely on. They often (due to Jesper) find themselves in trouble with their parents, such as when they followed their grandfather to a local pub, where he ends up in a fight inside the pub. The two are extremely close, and wander the landscape together, sharing quality moments and sharing their dreams for the future.
The narrator is enthralled with Siberia, and wants to move there when she grows up. She loves photographs she has seen of wooden houses, and for her they represent warmth, both emotional and physical. Jesper wants to move to Morocco, it is his ideal situation. The novel is set in the dark shadows of World War II. He eventually does leave Denmark, and becomes involved in the resistance, and lands in Sweden via boat. Jews are on the boat, and it is implied that he has helped them flee. This is how Jews often fled Denmark, with help from the resistance, by sailing to Sweden.
Meanwhile the narrator moves through life, relocating to Stockholm and Oslo, etc. She has a few sexual encounters. She attends the movie theaters in order to escape life’s reality. Her daily routine is humdrum and uneventful. She ends up returning to her childhood home. And, that is the theme or overtone of the book, in my opinion.
Petterson’s metaphor is strong, and demonstrates how people can go through their lives with high hopes and dreams, but in the end, their visions and goals aren’t necessarily fulfilled. His writing is strong, and poetic, bordering on a prose poem. His descriptions and images are quite vivid and we find ourselves wrapped within the pages, reading straight through until we finish the book.
Petterson’s To Siberia is a brilliantly written novel, and a masterpiece in defining family relationships and dynamics. He evokes how unfilled parental goals are often forced upon the children. I believe his message is that
there is not necessarily one specific solution for everything.