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Growing up in sixties Oslo, Barnum lives with an extended, eccentric family and his older half-brother, Fred, who was conceived after the rape of their mother in the dying days of World War II. Barnum seems to have stopped growing and Fred, implicated in a tragedy that leaves a family member dead, becomes mute - only roused when he hears 'Living Doll' one time too many. The two half-brothers embark on their seperate courses, Fred becoming a boxer and Barnum a scriptwriter, and it is twenty-seven years before a fax from their dying mother offers Barnum the chance to see his brother again. This literary marvel tells the story of an ordinary Norwegian family, set apart by extraordinary family members, with unsentimental charm, exuberant comedy and devastating tragedy.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099459163
ISBN-10: 0099459167
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 40mm)
Pages: 784
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 5-Feb-2004
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


UK Kirkus Review » This epic novel, winner of the Nordic prize for literature 2002, tells the story of four generations of an extraordinary Norwegian family living in Oslo in the years following the Second World War. The saga begins with the horrifying rape of Vera in her attic as she hangs out the washing. Although her mother and grandmother do not know for sure what has happened to her as she retreats into a world of silence, they care for her tenderly as it becomes apparent that she is pregnant. The result is Fred, born 'raging' in the back of a taxi. He is later to be joined by his half-brother Barnum, the result of Vera's marriage to a mysterious and diminutive stranger, Arnold, who turns up one day in his prized Buick. Together with their friends and associates, they form a motley collection of physically and mentally impaired drunks or fraudsters and yet they all have a charmingly irresistible side to them. This is no ordinary family saga. It hangs on the bones of some unfortunate births and some even more unfortunate deaths, but in more than 750 pages, not a great deal else happens as the characters stumble from one minor disaster or embarrassment to the next. Do not be deceived, though. With a haunting narrative, finely translated, a wonderful mix of tragedy and black comedy and sparkling characterization, this novel is gripping to the end. As is necessary with something of this length, it is beautifully structured, using its central image of a wheel to lead its readers eerily and inexorably full-circle, showing history to repeat itself and leaving in the air as many questions as it answers. (Kirkus UK)

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Author Biography - Lars Saabye Christensen

Lars Saabye Christensen is Norway's leading contemporary writere. He is the author of many novels as well as short stories and poetry. Christensen has won many prizes, including the Nordic Prize 2002, the Tarj Vesaas Prize for First Fiction, the Critics Prize and the Bookseller's Prize. His writing has been published throughout Europe, in the US and in Pakistan.

Books By Author Lars Saabye Christensen

Half Brother by Lars Saabye Christensen

The Half Brother

Paperback / softback, August 2013
Beatles by Lars Saabye Christensen


Paperback, June 2009
Model by Lars Saabye Christensen

The Model

Paperback, February 2007
Herman by Lars Saabye Christensen


Paperback, August 2005