Friday, July 27, 2007

Two old men looking back at life

I have just completed an interesting reading experience. Two books I was reading appeared to complement each other in so many ways that I read a couple of chapters of one and then a couple in the other.

On the surface they appear to be very different.

Out Stealing Horses: A Novel by Norwegian author Per Petterson, takes place mostly near Oslo and other locations on the border to Sweden.

Garlic Is Life: A Memoir With Recipes by a former English professor turned farmer, Chester Aaron, is non-fiction autobiographical account about farming 30 or more different kinds of garlic 100 miles north of Berkely, California.

But there are so many similarities it is uncanny.

Both are written in the first person in beautiful, engaging prose. (Horses is so well translated that you don't notice that it was written in another language, except for the occasional Norwegian place names.)

Both utilize many flashbacks to childhood, Petterson's Trond mostly to 1948 in alternate chapters, Chester to the 30's in Pennsylvania.

Both have moved to the country to start over after losing their wives: Chester after a devastating divorce, Trond after a horrendous car accident.

Both recall strong relations to difficult fathers, who continue to influence the way they try to create new lives as 70-something "old men." (Their mothers are lurking in the background.) Both fathers are still lurking to show how to do practical things on their farms.

For both books the natural settings (fields, woods and ocean for Chester, forest, meadows and river for Trond) and the weather (wind, rain, and yes, also the sun) provide more than just the setting.

Trond's dog Lyra and Chester's cat Sadie are their constant companions, while sheep, horses, gophers and other creatures also play important roles.

Crops play important roles (garlic, of course, and fruit trees for Chester, trees for Trond.)

Neighbors and other humans provide insight and sometimes help, but occasionally are more of an irritant to their daily lives alone on their farms - although Garlic ends with a wedding!

But only Garlic provides you with numerous recipes for strange garlics, including 2 desserts!

I hope you enjoy them, too!

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