Review: To Siberia

To Siberia, by Per Petterson

rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Book Source: Advanced Reading Copy from Gray Wolf Press, provided by Book Browse

"...and I was so young then, and I remember thinking: I'm twenty-three years old, there is nothing left in life. Only the rest."
To Siberia

The newly released To Siberia, by award-winning author Per Petterson, is a poignant story of a young girl and her brother growing up in northern Denmark during World War II and the life-altering ramifications following the Nazi invasion of Denmark.

The sparse, almost poetically written story is recounted by a 60 year-old woman looking back on her childhood and her special closeness to her older brother. Growing up in hard economic times in a remote part of Denmark with a family focused on survival left little room for love and nurture. The siblings learn to rely on each other instead and like all children growing up in small towns, they dream of the day they will leave: our narrator dreams of taking the Trans-Siberian railroad, while her brother longs for the day he can leave for Morocco.

"...I do not know if I thought it then or several years later, I definitely can't have been more than twelve and Jesper was fourteen, but the cold down my back was unbearable, and I knew I would not always have to stand outside in the dark looking in at the light."

Family tragedy forces the narrator to rely even more on her brother and later, as he becomes more involved in the Nazi resistance, his actions will lead to events that will change not only the directions their lives take, but also their perceptions of the world and the people in it. This is as much a tale of how events shape the person we become as it is a stark coming-of-age story.

Concentration on the part of the reader is mandatory: time and place will change quickly, often within a single sentence. You will not find a comprehensive history of the Nazi invasion of Denmark here. The novel is more like a series of snapshots which, when pieced together, reveal the personal consequences of an historical event.

If you are looking for a quick, easily digestible read this is not the book you are looking for. But if you are willing to put in the effort, you will be rewarded with beautifully written passages that will stay with you for a lifetime.

Title: To Siberia
Author: Per Petterson
256 pages
ISBN: 978-1555975067
Publisher: Grey Wolf Press (U.S.)
Date: September 30, 2008


  1. I didn't realized the author of *Out Stealing Horses* had a new novel out -- thanks for the "heads up" in your great review!

  2. Michele, this is definitely going on my TBR list. I love novels set against the backdrop of WWII.

    It sounds like this is a challenging but rewarding read.

    Thanks for the review.

  3. It's a relatively short novel, so if you can find some peace and quiet for a day it's a worthwhile read.

    I like WWII fiction, too. My first was War and Rememberance (Herman Wouk) and I was hooked!

  4. Michele - that was a really great review!

  5. So glad you like it! This is a great review. -Erin from Graywolf

  6. I'm always looking for good WWII books. You can bet this one is going on my list. Great review!


  7. I have linked your review here:


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