Intervju s Perom Pettersonom

Intervju z avtorjem maturitetnega romana Konje krast, Perom Pettersonom.

Zgodba o intervjuju

Some of the questions obviously flow into each other, as they must, and so do the answers, I guess. I hope they will be of some use.

I am really sorry for this late answer, but the times are difficult, and they have knocked me out.

– per


Where did you receive inspiration for this novel? Why is it largely based on male characters?

The spark that started my thinking about this as a possible novel in this particular landscape, was something my father-in-law told me one evening when I was at his house back in 2000. There was no story, really, he just told me about the summers he spent with his father in a cabin close the Swedish border, like the one in the book.  That it was not a story was good in a way. I didn’t want to tell his story. But it seemed so important to him. It was the light in his eyes that inspired me. The book I was finishing at the time, In the Wake, was about a troubled relationship between a son and a father. Leaving my father-in-law´s house that night I felt happy. I knew where to place my next book, geographically, and I wanted it to be summer, and inside that summer, there should be a father and a son who clearly loved each other on the first page and hopefully also on the last page. It didn’t quite turn out that way, but you do not and you cannot control everything when writing a novel.

2. When it comes to feminine figures, they are, with the exception of Jon’s mother, described by their less flattering characteristics. On the other hand, the image of manhood and physical durability is revered. Was this purposeful? What message does that send to the reader?

You must understand that I don’t choose male/female characters in the way that you suggest. I cannot introduce, say, a female logger when there were no female loggers working in the woods back then. There are some important female characters in the book. Jon’s mother of course. Trond’s mother, not that much, but clearly central in the final chapter. And it’s Trond’s daughter. I can’t say that I find any of them ‘less flattering’? Trond’s mother has a heaviness about her, which is not so strange, considering the fact that her husband has left her. I don’t find that unattractive. It just is. And Trond’s daughter, her I really love.

What is called physical durability in this question, is something essential in the book, because without it, you cannot do the work that is required. Just about everything that needs to be done in this landscape, at this point in time, you have to do with your hands, your body. To be proud of your strength, might just be that you’re proud of your ability to do that work. So in this sense, it’s revered. When you go to a gym today, to work out and build muscles, that can be nice, but it’s not necessarily important in your daily life. When you look back through the glasses of 2021, it’s not always easy to understand how totally dependent a society like this was on physical durability. Perhaps so called manhood is a part of it, but manhood is so much more. I don’t consider any of this to be negative. I could have introduced more female characters, but it would be beside the point. The book is more like a ‘chamber drama’ than an epic story.

3. Did Trond’s father’s smuggling activities have any connection to real-life events?

Yes. It was something a friend, a very old lady, told me about. Her husband had been part of the resistance. The thing about putting your white underwear on top of your darker clothes, was also something her husband had done, to make it easer to escape through the snow.

4. Trond’s father is idealised as the perfect parent, even able to take motherly care of his son. Why did he then not keep in contact with him after he left and doesn’t even leave him with kind words upon farewell? This was quite abrupt, why did you decide to shift his character so? What was your inspiration behind it?

The perfect parent? I don’t quite know what that means? That he loves his son, and that the son looks up to his father, even idolising him? It’s a very usual thing if the father is not a complete bastard or a coward. Maybe it’s correct that a father and a mother differ in the way they take care of their children. And maybe Trond’s father is ‘motherly’ towards his son? That could be. But I didn’t really think about it that way. To me, it is just love. So why then, does it all turn out the way it does? Well that’s the big thing, isn’t it. Although it wasn’t a big thing to me when I started the book. I didn’t know and I didn’t plan for it to happen. I didn’t realise until way out into the book.  I didn’t even plan for it to be about the war. I had no idea. I don’t write books that way, I don’t plan them. I don’t plot them. But! The crucial things that you have to bear in mind when you read the book is to believe in it what you read: 1 The father truly loves his son. 2 I did not change, or shift, his character. Why would I?  Then you have to make an effort and try to see this summer from the father’s point of view, what’s at stake? Isn’t it painful for him? I think there is a lot of pain. What he has to do, as I see it, is to make a big choice, an almost impossible choice, to choose between two different, but equally hurt inflicting paths to follow in the near future: the love for his son, or the love for the woman. You may disagree with him, but you have to be empathetic. What does he mean when he tells his son: you decide for yourself when it will hurt? It’s not just about the nettles.

5. Why is Trond’s image of his father still idealised after everything he did?

I don’t think he still idolises him, but he doesn’t condemn him either. If he did, that would make him a victim. This is the axis of the book, the axis of his life. The realization that you have to choose. Like his father before him.  The summer by the river will always cast a shadow over his life, no doubt, but there are several ways to live with it. To regard yourself as a victim can be tempting, because what happened to you was not your fault. It may be the easiest way out. On the other hand, to choose that, would mean a life in the shadow of bitterness. It could destroy you. This is why the scene with the man in Karlstad is so stressing. He is still bewildered and feels abandoned and suddenly furious, and this man makes it all come out, it’s unfair to the man of course, but things like this happen. What Trond suddenly understands in that moment is, that if he hits the man, his life will change and make him a slave to his own fury. He decides for himself not to. For me, that’s where he saves his life. It will not be an unmarked life, he will feel hurt, maybe always, but it doesn’t define him. He will not be the man that this happened to.

6. Trond’s father obviously left a big mark on him, leading me to wonder if that was a result of  his father leaving him and his family. Do you think he would have left a more lasting impression if he had stayed? I was also curious what inspired you to write such a novel and if it is in any way autobiographical.

If Trond’s father had stayed, it would be another and very different novel. Probably not a novel at all.

7. Did you purposefully give Trond to two daughters in the book? Do you think he would have had a more difficult relationship with a son if he had one?

Yes, maybe the relationship between Trond and a son would be more difficult. But the reason why I gave Trond two daughters, was that I have two daughters myself. And I knew that at least one of them would search for him and find him wherever he was hiding. Daughters do that. I wouldn’t risk giving him a son. My daughters who are grown up with their own children, are always trying to save me from something, trying to help me, even when there is nothing to save me from. In my eyes, that is.

8 . The main character often reflects on parts of his youth, which in his opinion shaped him into the person he is today. Has there been such an incident in your own life that shaped you positively/negatively?

I don’t think there is a single  incident or traumatic experience that has shaped me. It’s more like a succession of thing, a process. The fact that feelings were never talked about in my home has certainly shaped me. It destroyed my first marriage. Writing books helped me, as did falling in love again.

9. It is said in the novel that we are the protagonists of our own lives. Could then Trond’s self-isolation be understood as introspective seeking? Was he trying to find himself by means of retrospective and therefore regain control of his life?

Trond retreats. He has been able to balance his life out of pure will. He has made something out of it.  He has loved and lived. Now he finds himself in a situation where he doesn’t have to try so hard anymore. He makes the assumption that isolation is the same as independence. I guess his daughter makes him see it differently and saves him from repeating old patterns. We are not in the world alone, nor should we be. ‘Get yourself a mobile phone!’

10. I found the phrase “You decide for yourself when it will hurt” quite impactful. Has it had a significant impact in your own life? Has this possibly been an advice you have received in the past?

My generation had fathers that could say things like that, the ‘pull yourself together’ kind of remark. We hated that. But the ‘you decide for yourself …’, goes deeper. It was something the father of a friend said, and, as in the book, it was about the stinging nettles. I used it like that, but very quickly it turned into a sort of ‘base line’ in the book. The point being that, if you yourself do not decide, someone else will. Which could be bad for you. And that is the thing …

11. You frequently mention Charles Dickens and how his works impacted Trond. Was there a reason you chose this author specifically?

… with Dickens and his David Copperfield. At first I just thought Dickens would be a writer he was fond of. But the first sentence of David Copperfield came straight of the blue and summed it all up, because Trond’s daughter remembered the line. I smiled then.

12. It is obvious that Trond is an educated man which is evident from his vocabulary to the books he mentions. But upon arriving in the city with his mother, he showed signs of foul temper towards the person who wouldn’t respond to him asking for directions to the bank. Was this momentary action based on a stressful situation or was he hiding a darker side to his personality?

I think I have already answered that.

13. The narrator does not disclose his opinion about the war, instead, the narrator describes the adversary German soldiers in a humane way, as victims in a sense, mere figures in a circumstantial unfolding of events. What inspired you to approach such a delicate topic in this way? Is there a reason the narrator remains more neutral, and tries to shed a more humane light on the topic.

I don’t think he is neutral at all. Through Franz’ story, he is observing his father’s humanity, his compassion for the boys who have not wished to be in this country doing the dirty work of an occupying force. At the same time he knows his father will be killed by those boys, if they knew he was part of the resistance.

14. Why does the novel take place in these specific places? Is there a hidden message behind them?

There is no hidden message.  It’s just a place and a landscape I was told about and loved writing about. I live in the forest myself and would not willingly move away.

15. There are multiple colors used to describe elements in the novel; colors that are typically associated with specific meanings including yellow as a representation of happiness and beauty, and grey as a representation of something morbid or frightening. There are noticeably a few blue elements including, the blue skies upon Trond’s farewell from his father, the blue gloves Jon’s mother wore when crossing illegally before the man she was with was killed, Franz’s kitchen where Trond learns the truth about his father’s past. Was this purposeful and does the color blue represent radical changes in the narrative with mostly negative repercussions?

I do love the colour blue. The kitchen I am sitting in now is blue, I love the wide sky of blue, the colours in the book are all meaningful to me, but can’t say they have any specific meaning. It would be using colours as symbols, and I am very careful not to do that, because symbols can be very slippery and you might get lost in them and not find your way out. If the colour blue doesn’t have to mean anything, apart from being blue, it would make us able to love it for its own beauty.

Čar branja je, da vsak roman lahko doživlja malo drugače, kar je odvisno od posameznikovih izkušenj, mišljenja, celo trenutnih čustev. Oba intervjuja z avtorjema sta lahko kot super smernica za razmišljanje, vseeno pa je na eseju pomembno vaše razumevanje romana. Če torej kakšen del romana razumete drugače, kot ga razloži sam avtor, ni z vami čisto nič narobe. Narobe je le, če svojega mnenja ne utemeljite.
 – Anika