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 Readers may be reminded of the highly praised film Pelle the Conqueror (based on Martin Andersen Nexî's novel) by this evocative and brilliantly detailed picture of childhood, the work of the eminent Norwegian novelist (18901960) whose The Troll Circle previously (1992, not reviewed) appeared here in translation. The story's set in a farming community in rural Norway during the early years of the 20th century and focuses on young Anders, the fourth child and only surviving son of a prosperous landowner/banker and a charmingly doting mother. We observe Anders between the ages of four and ten, as he gradually intuits the existence of ``the world's end''--that is, all that lies beyond his own family's sheltered and limited environs. The novel is almost plotless and primarily episodic--and all the stronger for it. A snake is killed; a bull gets loose (and everyone hides from it inside the house); Anders breaks his ankle and enjoys the favored status of the invalid; he thinks he'll die of his unrequited infatuation with a handsome older boy; and, at last aware of the tremors of sex, he begins tormenting girls. Tales of trolls lurking in the nearby forest are juxtaposed with Anders's irreverent and deliciously comic notions about God. Hoel candidly portrays the thoughtless cruelty that's natural to children--most vividly in a harrowing sequence in which a group of mischievous boys ``accidentally'' drown a baby goat. And his prose--effortlessly translated into limpid, child's-eye-view English--unforgettably conveys the quality of life in a rigorously structured yet sustaining culture where parents and children, masters and servants, coexist on peaceful if unequal terms: a culture edging toward modernity though still defined in rural phrase and fable. This first English translation of Hoel's novel ends with Anders prepared to take to the road as he leaves home for school far away--and with the reader hopeful that this volume may prove to be the first of a sequence. An enchanting book.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1995
ISBN: 1-55713-210-0
Page count: 352pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1995