Having been bowled over by Petterson's "Out Stealing Horses" (OSH) and impressed by his "In the Wake" (ITW) I was eager to read TO SIBERIA, the third of his novels to be released in translation in the United States (although it predates both OSH and ITW). It too is powerful, and beautifully written. It may not be great literature, as I believe OSH to be, but it probably is slightly finer than ITW (although it may be unfair to compare that novel to any other, given the acute cathartic nature it must represent for Petterson).
The narrator of TO SIBERIA is a sixty-year-old Danish Woman. TO SIBERIA is her account of the major events in her life -- and the lives of her grandfather, her father, and especially her brother -- from the time she was six or seven (about 1932) until she was an unwed mother in her early twenties (about 1948). Her life in a coastal village in Jutland, northern Denmark, was harsh and lacking in excitement, and as a girl she vowed one day to go to Siberia (for reasons that really don't make sense). She never makes it, physically at least. (It might be said that existentially she spends her entire life in Siberia.) Her brother Jesper, her one true friend and soulmate in life, wanted to go to Morocco. He ended up achieving that goal, but in the end that hardly represented a "dream come true" story. Looking back, the narrator sums up the years covered by her account thus: "I was so young then, and I remember thinking: I'm twenty-three years old, there is nothing left in life. Only the rest."
Thus, the novel is one of ruefulness, melancholy, and even quiet desperation, set in an appropriately grim, bleak, and cold Scandinavia, the harshness of which is intensified over the four years of the Nazi occupation. I see that several reviewers, both here on the Amazon site and elsewhere, refer to the book as a "coming-of-age" novel, but I don't find that characterization to be apt. To me "coming-of-age" novels are success stories, but there is no success in TO SIBERIA other than survival. It brings to mind the language of Thomas Hobbes that the life of man is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Of course, Hobbes was referring to life in "the state of nature," before and without government. For our anonymous narrator (and Petterson as well?) Hobbes's phrase would appear to apply also to civilized modern life.