Executive Times






2007 Book Reviews


Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson








Click on title or picture to buy from amazon.com






In Per Petterson’s latest novel, Out Stealing Horses, 70-year-old protagonist Trond Sander has retired to a small cabin in Eastern Norway and is reflecting on his life and his memories in what he expected to be peaceful solitude. His closest neighbor turns out to be someone he knew more than fifty years earlier, and Trond becomes immersed in the memories of his father’s wartime actions, and the impact of that time on the adolescent Trond. Here’s an excerpt, set in those earlier times, from the beginning of Chapter 2, pp. 17-21:


We were going out stealing horses. That was what he said, standing at the door to the cabin where I was spending the summer with my father. I was fifteen. It was 1948 and one of the first days of July. Three years earlier the Germans had left, but I can’t remember that we talked about them any longer. At least my father did not. He never said anything about the war.

Jon came often to our door, at all hours, want­ing me to go out with him: shooting hares, walking through the forest in the pale moonlight right up to the top of the ridge when it was perfectly quiet, fish­ing for trout in the river, balancing on the shining yellow logs that still sailed the current close to our cabin long after the clearing of the river was done. It was risky, but I never said no and never said any­thing to my father about what we were up to. We could see a stretch of the river from the kitchen win­dow, but it was not there that we did our balancing acts. We always started further down, nearly a kilo­metre, and sometimes we went so far and so fast on the logs that it took us an hour to walk back through the forest when at last we had scrambled onto the bank, soaking wet and shivering.

Jon wanted no company but mine. He had two younger brothers, the twins Lars and Odd, but he and I were the same age. I do not know who he was with for the rest of the year, when I was in Oslo. He never talked about that, and I never told him what I did in the city.

He never knocked, just came quietly up the path from the river where his little boat was tied up, and waited at the door until I became aware that he was there. It never took long. Even in the morning early when I was still asleep, I might feel a restlessness far into my dream, as if I needed to pee and struggled to wake up before it was too late, and then when I opened my eyes and knew it wasn’t that, I went directly to the door and opened it, and there he was. He smiled his little smile and squinted as he always did.

‘Are you coming?’ he said. ‘We’re going out steal­ing horses.’

It turned out that we meant only him and me as usual, and if I had not gone with him he would have gone alone, and that would have been no fun. Besides, it was hard to steal horses alone. Impossible, in fact.

‘Have you been waiting long?’ I said.

‘I just got here.’

That’s what he always said, and I never knew if it was true. I stood on the doorstep in only my un­derpants and looked over his shoulder. It was al­ready light. There were wisps of mist on the river, and it was a little cold. It would soon warm up, but now I felt goose pimples spread over my thighs and stomach. Yet I stood there looking down to the river, watching it coming from round the bend a little fur­ther up, shining and soft from under the mist, and flow past. I knew it by heart. I had dreamt about it all winter.

‘Which horses?’ I said.

Barkald’s horses. He keeps them in the paddock in the forest, behind the farm.’

‘I know. Come inside while I get dressed.’

‘I’ll wait here,’ he said.

He never would come inside, maybe because of my father. He never spoke to my father. Never said hello to him. Just looked down when they passed each other on the way to the shop. Then my father would stop and turn round to look at him and say:

‘Wasn’t that Jon?’

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘What’s wrong with him?’ said my father every time, as if embarrassed, and each time I said:

‘I don’t know.’

And in fact I did not, and I never thought to ask. Now Jon stood on the doorstep that was only a flag­stone, gazing down at the river while I fetched my clothes from the back of one of the tree-trunk chairs, and pulled them on as quickly as I could. I did not like him having to stand there waiting, even though the door was open so he could see me the whole time.


Clearly I ought to have understood there was some­thing special about that July morning, something to do with the fog on the river and the mist over the ridge perhaps, something about the white light in the sky, something in the way Jon said what he had to say or the way he moved or stood there stock still at the door. But I was only fifteen, and the only thing I noticed was that he did not carry the gun he always had with him in case a hare should cross our path, and that was not so strange, it would only have been in the way rustling horses. We weren’t going to shoot the horses, after all. As far as I could see, he was the same as he always was: calm and intense at one and the same time with his eyes squinting, concentrating on what we were going to do, with no sign of impa­tience. That suited me well, for it was no secret that compared with him I was a slowcoach in most of our exploits. He had years of training behind him. The only thing I was good at was riding logs down the river, I had a built-in balance, a natural talent, Jon thought, though that was not how he would have put it.

What he had taught me was to be reckless, taught me that if I let myself go, did not slow myself down by thinking so much beforehand I could achieve many things I would never have dreamt possible.

‘OK. Ready, steady, go,’ I said.

We set off together down the path to the river. It was very early. The sun came gliding over the ridge with its fan of light and gave to everything a brand-new colour, and what was left of the fog above the water melted and disappeared. I felt the instant warmth through my sweater and closed my eyes and walked on without once missing my footing until I knew we had got to the bank. Then I opened my eyes and clambered down the stream-washed boul­ders and into the stern of the little boat. Jon pushed off and jumped in, picked up the oars and rowed with short, hard strokes straight into the stream, let the boat drift a stretch and rowed again until we reached the opposite shore about fifty metres further down. Far enough for the boat not to be seen from the cottage.

Then we climbed up the slope, Jon first with me at his heels, and walked along the barbed wire fence by the meadow where the grass stood tall under a light veil of mist, and would soon be mowed and hung on racks to dry in the sun. It was like walk­ing up to your hips in water, with no resistance, as in a dream. I often dreamt about water then, I was friends with water.

It was Barkald’s field, and we had come this way many times, up between the fields to the road that led to the shop, to buy magazines or sweets or other things we had the money for; one ore, two ore and sometimes five ore coins jingling in our pockets every step we took, or we went to Jon’s house in the other direction where his mother greeted us so en­thusiastically when we walked in you would have thought I was the Crown Prince or something, and his father dived into the local paper or vanished out to the barn on some errand that just could not wait. There was something there I did not understand. But it did not worry me. He could stay in the barn as far as I was concerned. I didn’t give a damn. Whatever happened, I was going home at summer’s end.


I wondered as I read this English translation about how powerful the language must be in Norwegian. Even as translated, the images are powerful, and the strong and skilled writing are evident. Out Stealing Horses is a finely written novel that most readers will enjoy.


Steve Hopkins, July 25, 2007



Buy Out Stealing Horses

@ amazon.com

Go To Hopkins & Company Homepage



Go to 2007 Book Shelf

Go to Executive Times Archives


Go to The Big Book Shelf: All Reviews





*    2007 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the August 2007 issue of Executive Times


URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/Out Stealing Horses.htm


For Reprint Permission, Contact:

Hopkins & Company, LLC • 723 North Kenilworth AvenueOak Park, IL 60302
Phone: 708-466-4650 • Fax: 708-386-8687

E-mail: books@hopkinsandcompany.com