The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt

This novel is beautifully written in places. Reflective, it glances at lives of suffering and endurance. It is based in part on the teaching work of the author. This had taken place at a psychiatric unit. However, the text is also a homage to the memoir of the writer’s father.

From this somewhat unpromising material, Hustvedt has constructed a story which had slightly too much in it. Nevertheless, the unnecessarily convoluted plot did not prevent the tale from shimmering with carefully chosen words.

Hustvedt has had poetry published and this is reflected in the quality of her prose. And she is able to leave the psychology alone long enough to quote some of the literary advice of Rainer Maria Rilke:

“For if we think of the existence of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it appears that most people learn to know only a corner of their room, a place by the window, a strip of floor on which they walk up and down.”

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