This sixth most challenging and ambitious volume of My Struggle, begins with the fallout following publication of Book One. We are then plunged headlong into the nature of self, with juxtapositions between Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the writings of Jack London, Paul Celan, Karl Marx and others – as well as dense commentary on the Old Testament. The third, harrowing and deeply moving part of this book deals with his wife’s nervous breakdown. But “Sacrifice is never merely a loss. For something is always gained by sacrifice,” Knausgaard writes about Abraham and Isaac. He might be writing about himself. “What he gained,” Knausgaard observes, “was the innermost meaning of life.”
When Lutheran minister Robert Winter proposes to Emily Dickinson she replies that she fears her muse would balk. Then the two begin a long correspondence, as he pursues his career as army chaplain, traveling the continent from the Mexican War, to the Mormon Rebellion and the Raid on Harper’s Ferry. Winter loses his faith, but he encounters various historical figures of the day: Abe Lincoln, a young Sam Clemens, John Wilkes Booth and others. This beautifully written novel provides a new perspective on the 19th century and it's charming to imagine the character of Emily Dickinson as Norman Lock has written her.
In 1947 Japan, Aldred Leith is writing about the atrocities. The fire in the title might refer to Hiroshima, or to the love story between Leith and Helen Driscoll, a “changeling" who seems out of reach because of her age and circumstances. In the rooms where Helen reads to her dying brother Benedict a friendship blossoms, full of books and deep conversation. But the aftermath of war and Benedict's illness remind us that things must go on, even after death. The mundane survives even (and particularly) after the momentous has passed. The writing in this exquisite novel is spare and poetic, still and distilled, with incidental sentences that stop you in your tracks.