The heartwarming debut that brought Per Petterson, the author of the highly acclaimed Out Stealing Horses, to prominence
Young Arvid Jansen lives on the outskirts of Oslo. It's the early sixties; his father works in a shoe factory and his Danish mother works as a cleaner. Arvid has nightmares about crocodiles and still wets his bed at night, but slowly he begins to understand the world around him. Vivid images accompany each new event: A photo of his mother as a young woman makes him cry as he realizes how time passes, and the black car that comes to collect his father on the day Arvid's grandfather dies reminds him of the passing of his bullfinch. And then, one morning, his teacher tells his class to pray because a nuclear war is looming. Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes, Per Petterson's debut, in which he introduces Arvid Jansen to the world, is a delicate portrait of childhood in all its complexity, wonder, and confusion that will delight fans of Out Stealing Horses and new readers alike.
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.