The Sorrows of an American, Paperback
4.5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


After their father's funeral, Erik and Inga Davidsen find a cryptic letter from an unknown woman among his papers, dating from his adolescence in rural Minnesota during the Depression.

Returning to his psychiatric practice in New York, Erik sets about reading his father's memoir, hoping to discover the man he never fully understood. At the same time, another woman enters Erik's lonely, divorced life - a beautiful Jamaican who moves into his garden flat with her small daughter.

As Erik gets drawn into the cat-and-mouse tactics of someone who appears to be stalking her, he finds out that his sister Inga is also being threatened, by a journalist in possession of a wounding secret from her past. A multi-layered novel that probes the mysteries of the heart and mind, THE SORROWS OF AN AMERICAN is compulsive, thought-provoking and profoundly affecting.




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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by

I believe this is close to a masterpiece and my only real criticism is that it is sometimes too clever for its own good. Hustvedt lets us get under her characters' skin in a way that make them close family while you read. The novel has a slow start, and it continues to thread forward slowly, but after the first third you get used to it and want it no other way. Again she has chosen a male character as her main character, and as a man I am in awe of how well Hustvedt understands us. She seems to say that everything is connected to everything, both in space and in time. At the very end she gives us the clue to the book, what we have known all along, that it is about reincarnation, "not after death, but here when we're alive." Along the way she presents us with a brilliantly researched book about psychoanalysis, Norwegian-Americans, father-son relationships, Jamaica, lovers vs. fuck buddies, rural America vs New York.

Review by

This story works on so many levels that I found myself wondering about it even when I wasn't reading. She touches on so many variants on the theme of loss in this book: the loss of the narrator's father is the backdrop but there is also loss of memory through old age and mental illness, loss of social status, financial loss, even loss of consciousness. With such a focus it could have been a very bleak book indeed, (the delightful Eggy offers much needed light amid the shade) but Hustvedt creates something wonderfully positive here, as her narrator grieves, stumbles and recovers his emotional balance. There is much more here to enjoy, I could go on, but instead I will simply urge you to discover this book for yourself.

Review by

This book has further cemented Siri Hustvedt's place as one of my favourite writers, and this book is one of her best. Part of the story is based on, and quotes, her father's memoirs of life among Norwegian immigrants in rural Minnesota and his experiences in the war - this is interwoven with a complex modern story centred on the narrator, a psychotherapist in New York. Hustvedt's characters are fully realised, flawed and human. The book is largely concerned with loss, memory and how perceptions of even the closest family and friends can be affected by secrets. As in several of her other books (notably What I Loved and The Blazing World), her interest in psychology, philosophy, literature and art shine through, and it is compulsive, readable, moving and thought provoking. To finish with a quote: "There is music in dialogue, mysterious harmonies and dissonances that vibrate in the body like a tuning fork".

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