Review: My Struggle Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgard

I don’t remember why I bought this book and left it on my kindle for six months. I think it was listed in several different reviews saying it was brilliant and it was an unusually candid memoir, so maybe that’s why I decided to try it. It was too long for book club so I had to read it on my own. I’m travelling more these days so I had some time and I decided why not give it a go?

When I looked for the background of this book, I found that there was some controversy regarding it’s name in Norwegian, which is Min Kamp 1, and the same name as book you may have already heard of written my a Mr. A Hitler. For that reason the series of books has alternate names in countries where a title that translates to Mein Kampf is not allowed.

The subtitle of this book is A Death in the Family, although the part about the death is only the second half. Most of it is stories about the author’s family as he grew up, his teenage years and what happened to his family as he reached adulthood. It is written with a cringing familiarity of how it must feel to be a teenage boy (I wouldn’t know, but I cringed as it was accurate about being a teenager regardless of gender).

Interwoven with his past is his present, he writes about his feelings towards his own children and this is the part I think brought the controversy. He doesn’t tell us that they are wondrous beings of light that can do amazing things right out of the womb, but that they can be annoying kids and he gets tired of having them around.  He describes them as if they are people unto themselves, as if observing them from a distance. I remember reading reviews where people thought wow, a man who owns up to the fact that he doesn’t always like his children. Why is this surprising? Have these reviewers ever met any children? Aren’t parents allowed to say they don’t love it all the time? I wonder if this book would have been as successful if a woman had said that. I seriously doubt it, or at least it wouldn’t have been the first of a series of six (six!) books (all of them 400 printed pages or more).

This is an interesting story, not because of the children thing but because it’s a life that I never lived and will never live, and that in itself was worth reading for me. I don’t remember many memoirs written by Scandinavian authors, and the culture that this author comes from isn’t front and centre but is there nonetheless. It is the backdrop against which his family history plays out, and is new and unknown to someone like me who’s read mostly American or British memoirs.

The story is richly detailed in many parts: his teenage loves, his relationship with his father, his relationship with his brother and his feelings about dying and the end of life. There were huge areas where I wanted more information and I kept reading to see if he would divulge juicy details and he both does and doesn’t. He is an unusual person, this author, as he expresses emotions in an unexpected fashion, or in ways that seem contradictory to the circumstances he finds himself in. He explains why he feels what he feels, but reading his feelings and reactions just reinforces the point that each person’s experiences are different, and none of us should presume we know how anyone else feels about anything.

Will I keep reading more from the series? Maybe, but I would like to find a memoir by a female author that has the same depth. Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking seems like it would be along the same lines but I haven’t read that yet. I might try that first before I get stuck into Min Kamp 2 through 6.

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