I think its safe to say that Siri Hustvedt’s new book Sorrows of an American is one of the most anticipated books of the year. After all, fans and critics are still raving over her earlier novel What I loved. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of reading Siri, Sorrows of an American is a good introduction to beautiful writer who manages to write with great intelligence and delicacy.
Her new novel opens when siblings Eric and Inga discover a mysterious letter among their recently deceased father’s papers. Mystified they set out to investigate this part of their father’s life. Along the course of their investigation both siblings are forced to deal with their own growing personal issues. Erik is a psychiatrist whose loneliness threatens to overwhelm him and who grows increasingly fascinated by his new tenants. Inga, on the other hand is a grieving widow who discovers that her husband may or may not have had a double life.
This book explores the complicated and often interconnected themes of memory, identity, loss and secrets. These are all weighty themes and Hustvedt manages to tackle them thoughtfully and reflectively. This is a book where the external action take second place to the internal action that governs each character’s life. Even the structure in which it is written is a reflective kind of narration, with each character’s remembrances of the others gives way to the other’s memories of earlier life. In this way does Hustvedt build layer upon layer, an intricate study of the life or should I say lives of her characters. If one is looking for a story with the traditional story arc and the predictable denouement, it is best to look for another book. The strength of this book is despite the lack of action, much takes place within the characters internal lives which rewards the patient and discerning reader.
Hustvedt’s prose is beautifully written. There are passages of delicacy that resonate with truth and more often than not, you find yourself nodding in agreement at a phrase or two. It would be unjust to miss this book.