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The Half Brother

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  2,789 ratings  ·  158 reviews
This Nordic Prize-winning novel, a truly gripping epic, relates the lives of four generations of a unique and strange family with touching intimacy and surreal comedy.

Traces four generations of a family marked by the untimely birth of Fred, a misfit and boxer conceived during a devastating rape who forges an unusual friendship with his younger half-brother, Barnum.
Paperback, 696 pages
Published June 2nd 2005 by Arcade Publishing (first published 2001)
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4.09  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,789 ratings  ·  158 reviews

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Terrific novel about failure. Some of the scenes will stay with you for ever... I promise you will not be able to look at a discus again in the same way. I don't really know Norwegian, but I persevered and got through it in the original. He has a wonderful style.
Paul Fulcher
Jul 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2004
Upping this to 5 stars as still lives in my memory 15 years later
Nov 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Just about the time when Scandinavian mystery novels were starting to set the world on fire, a regular old non-mystery and therefore under the radar Norwegian novel, The Half Brother was published here in the U.S. This wonderfully chubby (really it's uber chubby at almost 800 pages) novel, winner of the 2001 Nordic Prize, is the story of 4 generations of an extended Norwegian family. The Oslo's are a family of drunks, con-artists, mutes and charmers all able to stumble through life seemingly onl ...more
I really enjoyed this one. To me it was an intelligent The World According to Garp.
A book of mysteries, men missing, strong women, brutal men, boxing, alcoholism, coincidences, bullying, black humour, film, books and people who have physical challenges (fat, short, disfigurement). It's a long book, with long paragraphs and with immense imagery. I'll miss the world that the author produced.
Barnum the narrator, his con man father, his brooding brother, his loving mother, grandmother and the Old On
Aug 10, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Considered by some a masterpiece, this book is tough-sledding to read. Huge in pages, it chronicles the disjointed activities of one very eccentric Norwegian family over several decades, beginning with a rape in 1945. The epicenter of the Nilsen family hurricane is the passive, yet taut relationship between the two half-brothers, Fred and Barnum (who is also the narrator). The book is often chronologically incoherent, and frequently borders on the surreal. However, there is a tension that compel ...more
Mar 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, 1990-2010
I have a distinct penchant for long novels (in the last six months, I have read The Luminaries and The Goldfinch and reread Middlemarch), but I’m not sure I ever remember reading a novel that felt quite as long as The Half-Brother. By the end I felt as if I had lived through the childhood and adolescence of the protagonist, Barnum Nilsen, in real time.

That’s not at all to suggest that I didn’t enjoy this novel. It’s an easy and pleasant read for the most part, and often very striking, though it
Lorenzo Berardi
Jul 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
This is an astonishing and generally underrated novel set up in post World War II Oslo.
Before the discovering of oil in the North Sea. Before Statoil came. Before Norway became a rich and wealthy country.

The Half Brother may be considered the Norwegian answer to "The Tin Drum".
Lars Saabye Christensen is masterful in narrating the growth of the two brothers Barnum and Fred (the last one meaning "peace" in Norwegian). The dislessical, pugnacious Fred is a marvellous negative character who takes h
Corneliu Dascalu
Nov 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Corneliu by: Shasta (Lavinia Dascălu)
Shelves: general-fiction
I was most impressed with the writer's ability to conjure the characters' thoughts and feelings by putting together disparate images. The English translation is really good, but I wonder how much better the original is.
I liked this book at the very beginning, with the minute telling of the women's story, then on to Arnold's story, but then it went on to Barnum's story, and on and on and on and on. Barnum had the longest childhood of any character I can remember, and, as his story progressed, I liked him less and was interested in him less. I was disappointed in the ending because it left so many things hanging. (view spoiler) ...more
Michael Potter
Aug 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
[This review originally appeared in Issue #12 of "The Cambridge Book Review."]

Winner of the 2002 Nordic Prize for Literature, Lars Saabye Christensen's epic about a Norwegian family living in Oslo in the wake of Nazi occupation, has achieved major critical acclaim and commercial success wherever it has been published. Having conquered more than twenty countries to date, Christensen's The Half Brother (translated from the Norwegian by Kenneth Steven) is now poised to take North America in true Vi
Monica Co
Dec 18, 2010 rated it it was ok
Major themes here are fraternal love and friendship; the story takes place in Oslo (Norway) between 1945 and late 70s, within a family which goes through a series of dramas that statistically are not likely to happen in a single household.

Overall, I liked the characters, but I found the story too unrealistic. But the thing that annoyed me was the writing style, that I found too wordy and prolix. Even minor details are depicted with a depth that I found sometime irritating.

If the author had kept
Aug 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
On every page this writer creates hope and believe in my heart. And because of this I could never be sure, even though I knew from the first page. I loved it!
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I began this book on May 10, 2018, and finished it May 31, 2018.

It was a long novel, but well worth every page.
Karoline Roald
Dec 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books of all time!!
This is one of those novels that you read and while you are reading you think "Why am I doing this to myself?"

You struggle through the majority of the novel, some parts moving faster than others, and you keep thinking "I like this, but I don't at the same time"

And you start to realize that you really hate the main character and would rather read a book from another character's point of view.

"The Half Brother" is a family saga. It follows the lives of The Old One, her daughter Bogata, her daughte
Dec 01, 2018 rated it liked it
WOW. This was quite an epic. Recommended by my Norwegian friend Stig, this book possessed me for months. It was about three generations of a family living in Oslo during and after WWII. Translated from the original Norwegian, it was written very subtly, with moments sometimes not hitting me until I was a few pages past the scene. The character development was really good, and the narrative as a whole was ... epic. Perhaps my only hesitation in a stronger recommendation was the length - I definit ...more
Rob Anderson
Nov 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Long book covering a lot of ground. Four generations of a Norwegian family of practical women and less than practical men. Several references to silent film and I imagined the story in that context. An interesting rumination on the things we're born to and our inability to escape them. Can you change who you are? For the most part it reads well. Alternately funny and dour, with some great set pieces, but also some passages that bogged down and didn't take me anywhere.
Silvi Mema
Aug 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I give it a 4 and 1/2 stars. I would like to give it 5 cause I really liked and enjoyed it but the last 3 or 4 chapters were not as good as I was expecting them. I was waiting to get some answers and I got nothing in the end. Kind of like Murakami, leaving you to wonder why or how things happened but I'm the type of person to like things answered. Also the translation in my language wasn't that good but that's another thing. Except for these, I fell hard for this book since the first chapter.
Lynette Fullerton
Nov 11, 2017 rated it liked it
I had a little trouble following the timeline and for some reason the book didn't hold on to me like some do. So whenever I'd put it down and then go back to it I'd have to stop and think where I was in the story. And all the flash forwards and flashbacks were jarring. I think I finished it because I hate not finishing, not because I was pulled through the story.
Johen Lvinson
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: o-k
A book is full of sensitivity describing. The story of a boy and his family. The events that occur sometimes sound exaggerated.
The book is well written and full of emotion.
I would shorten it a little because sometimes there is a feeling that the book has made too far with its descriptions, but I sank into it and read it within a few days, so I suppose its o.k.
Lauren Morgan
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved it! Lars has a wonderful writing style and the development of the characters and their relationships is beautiful. The only negative I have is the length of the book, but then again this is key to the development of the characters.
Hege Steindal
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An epic tale. A really great story that swallows you untill you have finished reading.
Nov 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
But wasn’t ‘War and Peace’ shorter?
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
I love this book, but I hate the ending.
Oct 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How did I delete my review of this brilliant book?
Eirik Gjerløw
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is one of the best books I've ever read.
May 25, 2019 rated it did not like it
unreadable. paragraphs stretched over pages.
The Half Brother was… an interesting experience. It’s not something I would have picked out on my own - it was a gift, from a Norwegian exchange student my family hosted when I was a senior in high school. As such, I felt obligated to give it a try, and to push past the points where I struggled, and I suppose I’m glad I did? At the very least, it broke me out of my often-narrow reading comfort zone for a while.

It is worth noting here that part of why I struggled with this book, and thus took so
Apr 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Yes it’s lengthy, but this just might be one of the most ambitiously conceived and richly imagined novels you’ll ever read. Christensen’s inventiveness is marvelous and refreshing and I quite enjoyed taking the time with characters to delve deep. Getting in their minds, like we have the opportunity to do with Barnum.

I won’t recount the storyline because there are plenty of other sources for that, but rather talk about some of the things that make the book strong, interesting. Each brother has q
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Lars Saabye Christensen is a gifted storyteller, a narrator who is imaginative, but equally down to earth. His realism alternates between poetic image and ingenious incident, conveyed in supple metropolitan language and slang that never smacks of the artificial or forced. His heroes possess a good deal of self-irony. Indeed, critics have drawn parallels with the black humour of Woody Allen. But be ...more
“We do not disappear without a trace. We leave a wake that never quite disappears, a gash in time that we so laboriously leave behind us.” 12 likes
“Do you want me to kill your father, Barnum?” 4 likes
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