This is a great, panoramic saga of a book. Winner of the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2002 and now arriving in the States in a fine translation by Kenneth Steven, The Half Brother is reminiscent of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections—but more engaging and better crafted.
Barnum Nilsen—a pudgy, Tourette Syndrome-afflicted, borderline midget—is the narrator. He's a perpetually inebriated screenwriter who cannot sell his brilliant work. How do we know it's really brilliant—that he isn't merely a self-deluding wannabe? Well, he's asked, at the end of the book, to write a screenplay about his half brother Fred, the one born in a taxi, the boxer, the dyslexic, the sometimes aphasic elder brother conceived during a violent rape on May 8, 1945—when the town was celebrating the end of World War II. And we're convinced that this bruising and sorrowful novel we've just finished reading is the result.
Barnum and his half brother Fred live with their great-grandmother, The Old One, a former silent film star; their grandmother, Boletta, who works at The Telegraph Exchange; their mother, Vera, who is in stubborn denial of all things unpleasant; and Barnum's elusive father, Arnold Nilsen, whose visits are sporadic and unpredictable. In fact, the men in Barnum's life are ephemeral at best—Boletta calls them the Night Men. The Old One's lover disappeared on an Arctic expedition to Greenland; and the only thing that remains of him is a lengthy letter found in his coat pocket, which the family reads so frequently, they have it memorized. Boletta no longer waits for her man; instead she souses her memories at the North Pole, a dive where the beers are colder than ice. Vera meets Arnold Nilsen, a diminutive con man who drives a Buick and wins ...1
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