The Sorrows of an American: A Novel of Secrets by Siri Hustvedt - review by John De Falbe

John De Falbe

Unknown Keys

The Sorrows of an American: A Novel of Secrets

By

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This complex, clever novel is narrated by Erik Davidsen, a divorced psychoanalyst. He lives in New York, where he has seen many people ‘suffering from the intricacies of a narrative they are unable to recount’. It begins with Erik and his sister Inga, a widowed philosopher, returning to Minnesota to clear out their recently deceased father’s study. His tidy effects include a memoir, a letter referring to a distant, unknown secret, and a set of keys marked ‘unknown keys’. This memoir and the gradually unfolding secrets in the lives of their immigrant Norwegian ancestors form the backdrop to the book, and they are integral to Erik and Inga’s perceptions of themselves and how they live.

Inga has recently written a book in which she tries ‘to talk about the way we organise perceptions into stories with beginnings, middles, and ends, how our memory fragments don’t have any coherence until they’re reimagined in words. Time is a property of language, syntax, and tense.’ Her own story

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