Across the China Sea

Across the China Sea
A Novel
Gaute Heivoll, translated from the Norwegian by Nadia Christensen

“Heivoll moves seamlessly through scenes and memories, creating a powerful sense of the compassion and routine that made this community feel like family. An elegiac, heartbreaking novel.”BBC Culture

“Superbly translated by Nadia Christensen. . . . Heivoll stands alone with his lush and quirkily beautiful descriptions of his pastoral surrounds. . . . Mesmerizing and affecting.”Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

About the Book

An atmospheric and affecting novel set in rural Norway, by the award-winning author of Before I Burn
In the waning days of the German occupation of Norway, Karin and her husband move from Oslo to a tiny village in the south, with their young son. There, they aim to live out their dream of caring for those who can’t look after themselves. They have spent months building a modest house with rooms for patients, and it’s soon filled, with three adult men who are psychologically unstable—including Karin’s uncle, Josef, who suffered a head injury in a carriage accident—and five siblings whose parents have been declared unfit, and who spur much conversation in the village. This small and idiosyncratic community persists for nearly three decades.
After his parents’ deaths, the son returns to clean out this unusual home. The objects of his childhood retain a talisman-like power over him, and key items—an orange crate where he and his sister Tone slept as infants, Josef’s medal of honor, his mother’s beloved piano, and many others—unlock vivid memories. In recounting the ways that the five siblings both are and are not a part of his family, he reveals his special relationship with Ingrid, who cannot speak, and Tone’s accidental death, which occurred when they were playing together, and its quiet yet tragic effects on the extended family.
With deep compassion and gentle humor, Gaute Heivoll portrays an unconventional family as it navigates an uncertain and often unkind world.

Additional Reviews

“A beautiful rumination on the ties that bind us as family, as well as the delicate line between sanity and madness.”The Gazette (Cedar Rapids)

“Quietly affecting. . . . Too few books address the plight of the mentally disabled, and Heivoll handles his assignment with grace.”Library Journal

“Humane and lovely; reminiscent of Paul Harding’s Tinkers in its sympathetic understanding of mental disability and the power of memory.”Kirkus Reviews

“This is an intensely moving work, the characters drawn with such depth that when overwhelming tragedy strikes or the inexorable cruelty of time makes itself felt, grief is palpable. While bittersweet, this is primarily a story of kindness, of imperfect people who are good at heart making a safe place in an otherwise unsympathetic world for those less fortunate than themselves.”Booklist

“Deeply affecting. . . . A striking and exquisitely detailed novel exploring the depths of compassion, cognizance, and mutual understanding amidst a household of adults and children who cannot always communicate in traditional ways.”Publishers Weekly

Across the China Sea . . . broadens the concept of who makes up a family unit, and the poignant and collective memories that even non-traditional families can leave behind.”Foreword Reviews

“[A] compelling tale. . . . It is the intimate account of a family’s life told with dignity, the chapters often ending on a note that invites the reader to linger for a moment rather than plunge ahead. . . . The skillfully crafted nonlinear narrative never confuses; and the thoughtful delivery of each character’s journey always calls the reader back. Recommended.”Historical Novels Review

“Translated with great lyricism and restraint, Across the China Sea unravels the largeness of history into the tragedies and triumphs of an unconventional family, desperate to hold itself together even as it is tossed about like a bottle at sea.”The Arkansas International

“A gorgeously written (and translated by Nadia Christensen) family drama, rich in detail and masterfully structured. . . . We leave Across the China Sea understanding that while we can’t change the past or how it’s wounded us, we can always choose to be decent and accepting of difference.”The Los Angeles Review

“Heivoll deftly explores the subtle dramatic possibilities of this tangled web of interactions among a family, the people they care for, and the state that was initially responsible for bringing them all together.”Asymptote Journal