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The Sorrows of an American

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  3,847 ratings  ·  368 reviews
After their father's funeral, Erik and Inga Davidsen find a cryptic letter from a woman among his papers, dating from his adolescence in rural Minnesota during the Depression. Returning to his psychiatric practice in New York City, Erik sets about reading his father's memoir, hoping to discover the man he never fully knew.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published April 2nd 2009 by Sceptre (first published January 2008)
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Average rating 3.52  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,847 ratings  ·  368 reviews

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Oct 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I did enjoy this book and all the myriad stories and mysteries within but as the end neared, I found myself liking it less and less. That was mainly due to the many narrative anticlimaxes. I wonder if they were meant to effect the reader that way... but it would have been lovely if at least a few of them had shaken the earth, caused a flutter of the heart, or at least aroused some interest or delight. Alas, they did not. I actually wish that one of the two great mysteries -- what was in Max's le ...more
I really enjoyed reading this book, this is literature at its finest. It contains no spectacular story and although it is a bit less captivating than the novel that I previously read from Hustvedt "What I love", this book is much more balanced. The focus lies almost completely on the inside of men and women, our psychological relation with the world and other people (the main character is a male psychiatrist). Hustvedt outlines very fragile people struggling with all kinds of issues, trauma and ...more
Oct 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2016
This book has further cemented Siri Hustvedt's place as one of my favourite writers, and this book is one of her best.

Part of the story is based on, and quotes, her father's memoirs of life among Norwegian immigrants in rural Minnesota and his experiences in the war - this is interwoven with a complex modern story centred on the narrator, a psychotherapist in New York. Hustvedt's characters are fully realised, flawed and human. The book is largely concerned with loss, memory and how perceptions
Oct 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Although it is very obviously a very different book, I often found myself thinking of Richard Powers' The Echo Maker as I read this. Both deal with the way the mind works, the tricks it plays on us. Both make mention of Capgras' syndrome (it's the key plot element in Powers but is mentioned in Hustvedt). Both are post-9/11 books. Both make at least veiled references to The Wizard of Oz. It is also true that Hustvedt writes intelligently and beautifully, as does Powers.

There are a lot of c
Tony Johnston
Dec 14, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
In a word, awful.

In a few more words...

Secrets, bloody secrets. I should have given up when the first few lines warned me that the book was based on lots of secrets. Oh yes, we have secrets. Lots of silly secrets. Mysteries too. Hidden things. Dark stuff that will keep you reading.

Well not me. The style, setting and turgid plot meant that I couldn't even be bothered to turn to the last pages to find out what the "truth" was before casting the book aside at p65. And I hate giving up
I. Merey
Dec 07, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
This is a tall, white, intelligent, pleasant, and faintly dull novel.

Erik D. is a tall, white, intelligent, pleasant and faintly dull therapist. He's middle-aged, divorced, and wondering if he'll always stay lonely when life starts taking some bizarre turns.
He's getting lightly stalked by a photographer once involved with a lady who now lives in his building. His sister Inga is embroiled with her deceased novelist husband's ex-lover/muse who is threatening to sell their old lov
Dec 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is more a 3.5 for me, but this is my fourth Hustvedt in a row and two of them were particularly brilliant.

There are so many reviews on here, and I agree with the criticisms regarding the multiple plots and the male character having a female voice. I was mostly bored by Erik's fathers memoirs, but when I got to the end I saw that they were Hustvedt's fathers memoirs, and she asked him whilst he was dying if she could reproduce them. In turn, the character of the uncle was taken f
Ron Charles
Dec 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Siri Hustvedt's new novel is difficult to summarize and hard to recommend. Its intricate plot -- in two different time frames -- splinters in complicated, creepy, even absurd ways. Its narrator is stuck in a state of "anhedonia" -- an inability to experience joy or pleasure. Its themes bombard us with psychoanalytic theory, avant-garde films and Kierkegaard.

But I think I'm in love.

Despite everything about The Sorrows of an American that makes it sound repellent, this is o
Joan Winnek
Dec 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book complex and engrossing, with a number of richly developed characters: the narrator, Erik, his sister Inga, her daughter Sonia, Erik's tenant Miranda and her daughter Eggy. I appreciate the psychological insights, which include an appreciation of the effects of traumatic experience on the teenaged Sophie, the 5 year old Eggy, and the long-ago 2 year old Lisa who is now an old and peculiar woman. It is a book I know I will want to read again.
Apr 22, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Readers of Hustvedt's novels will recognize the themes in this novel: the nature of art (including photography and the issue of privacy, which reminded me of The Blindfold and a diorama with dolls reminding me of Bill Weschler's box art creations in What I Loved); small-town life (the same cafe as in The Enchantment of Lily Dahl appears, as well as a couple of eccentrics, which The Enchantment of Lily Dahl is full of) versus New York City (Readers of Hustvedt's novels will recognize the themes in this novel: the nature of art (including photography and the issue of privacy, which reminded me of The Blindfold and a diorama with dolls reminding me of Bill Weschler's box art creations in What I Loved); small-town life (the same cafe as in The Enchantment of Lily Dahl appears, as well as a couple of eccentrics, which The Enchantment of Lily Dahl is full of) versus New York City (What I Loved); the nature of "I" (with this, and maybe even in part of a subplot, I also thought of her husband's novels, specifically, Leviathan); and gender roles are also touched on briefly, though not nearly to the extent as they are in The Blindfold.

Even the narrator of What I Loved makes a cameo appearance in this novel.

These repetitive themes and issues are what she does. (Her husband Paul Auster does similar.) I don't have a problem with that. But I didn't like this book nearly as much as her other novels. I wasn't drawn in or engaged in it as I was with the others. I think the narrative voice may have had a lot to do with that, especially in the beginning. I don't think this one will stay with me.

The narrator's father was only interesting to me, because (except for the sorrow and moodiness) he was a lot like my own father. Her description of him as someone the hospital staff loved because of his being a humorist and a stoic fit my own father perfectly. Even their deaths were somewhat similar. But without that connection, I wonder if I would've found him interesting at all, as I thought much of his story was rather dull or, at least, rendered dully.
Mar 29, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
In all honesty, I don't really know what to think about the book. I didn't just feel connected with it at all and that is why the whole reading experience was a struggle. Siri Hustvedt is skilled creating psychological atmosphere that makes you feel unsettled and thrilled but all in all, I disliked the language, the pacing of the book and didn't really feel anything towards any of the characters. I am a bit disappointed and underwhelmed because I wanted to like Hustvedt's writing style so much. ...more
Jul 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

“Dream economies are frugal. The smoking sky on September eleventh, the television images from Iraq, the bombs that burst on the beach where my father had dug himself a trench in February 1945 burned in unison on the familiar ground of rural Minnesota. Three detonations. Three men of three generations together in a house that was going to pieces, a house I had inherited, a house that shuddered and shook like my sobbing niece and my own besieged body, inner cataclysms I associated with two
May 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
After reading the wonderful What I Loved, I was keen for another fix of Siri Hustvedt's beautiful writing and characterisation. The Sorrows of an American revolves around psychiatrist Erik, who narrates the story, and his sister Inga (who was briefly mentioned in What I Loved - the latter's narrator, Leo, also makes a cameo appearance here). It opens with Erik and Inga finding a mysterious letter amongst their father's papers after his death, and initially seems to be about their search to discover what this lette ...more
Carl R.
May 16, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
At one point in Siki Hustveldt’s The Sorrows Of American, the narrator dives into his father’s grave. The family has gathered to inter his father’s ashes and not prepared any device to lower the urn, so he grasps the container holding the ashes and inserts himself head first, others holding his heels for safety, into the earth, past the roots until he is able to at last drop the box the last inch or so to its final resting place. It’s a moving and sensuous scene, a moment lived in the moment wi ...more
May 17, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“My sister called it “the year of secrets”, but when I look back on it now, I’ve come to understand that it was a time not of what was there, but of what wasn’t”. The lyrical first sentence perfectly sets the tone of Siri Hustvedt’s book. The death of a father and an unexplained letter found in his papers provide the background for a sustained exploration of identity and the search for an answer to that perennial question, how much do we ever really know someone. To what extent does information ...more
Sep 06, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gave-up
How do these books get such laudatory reviews? This one had at least 4 story lines going at the same time...psychiatrist's divorce, "hot" divorcee downstairs in his house, her stalker, his Dad's WWII experiences, the mysterious letter of his Father's youth, the widowed sister and the struggling teenaged niece...throw in a few deranged psychiatric patients for good measure! AND none of them were going anywhere by 100 pages. Don't bother is my advice. Like it? Not so much!
May 26, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Loved the first 150 pages of this, maybe because it's half in Minnesota (during our grandparent's/great-grandparent's time). The Brooklyn half gets too bogged down with names, obsessions, plot lines that aren't interesting. Then, at the very end she goes for a Virginia Woolf meshed (literal string-like-web) thing that frankly, has been done better many, many times and I don't buy.
Apr 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Literature lovers
Shelves: recent-faves
Great book! I won't write any spoilers, but I will say that Hustvedts characters live on after I read her books, in my head. What a writer!
Apr 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: usa
Now the ravens nest in the rotted roof of Chenoweth's old place
And no one's asking Cal about that scar upon his face
'Cause there's nothin' strange about an axe with bloodstains in the barn,
There's always some killin' you got to do around the farm
Murder in the red barn
Murder in the red barn
- Tom Waits

That song keeps playing in my head throughout The Sorrows Of An American - even though it's long unclear whether there's a murder in it at all. Apart from that
Jun 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My granny lent me this book, because I was raiding her shelves and was intrigued about the title. So, before reading it I did a little search on Google and found out that Siri Hustvedt is married to Paul Auster. I guess that some people say that she’s published only because she is Paul Auster’s wife, as it has happened with other writers before.

This is not the case for Hustvedt. I believe she got published on her own merits.
I enjoyed Sorrows of an American a lot! It’s the kind of book
Lars Guthrie
Sep 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'I think we all have ghosts inside us, and it’s better when they speak than when they don’t.' The words of Hustvedt's analyst narrator keep echoing in my brain after reading this powerful and unusual novel.

Perhaps novels are ghosts of a kind: words unattached to flesh that speak to us as vividly as life. Today, reading about the upcoming publication of Carl Jung's 'Red Book,' I thought of another observation made by Erik Davidsen: '…[T:]he distance needed for humor is always missing from dreams
Vivek Tejuja
Dec 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is a lot of chat in Hustvedt’s new novel. Erik is a psychotherapist with some difficult clients, he’s just divorced, and is falling for the young single mum, Miranda, in the flat below.

His sister, Inga, was married to a famous writer, Max, who has recently died, and they chat about what it’s like to be in love with a writer and how you kind of fall in love with them through their writing.

And then there is Miranda’s ex, who is stalking her but using the surreptitious
Apr 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: here, y2014

As Inga once pointed out to me, since Plato, Western philosophy and culture have had an ocular bias: vision is our dominant sense. We read each other through our eyes, and anatomically they are an extension of our brains. When we catch someone's eye, we look into a mind. A person without eyes is disturbing for the simple reason that eyes are the door to the self.

This is a book about seeing and being seen, in all the possible ways, and a lot of it is rather abstract; the kind of bo/>As
Mar 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found out Siri Hustvedt is married to Paul Auster when I was already about halfway into the book, and was excited, but also a little surprised, because her writing is different from his. Auster's books are more abstract, and I always feel like I am floating when I read his books.

The Sorrows of an American was more solidly grounded, had a less intricate plot, and had more understandable characters. The book follows the psychiatrist Erik Davidsen in the year after his father dies. Seeking to solve a my
Aug 05, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009-read
This book gives a wonderful peek into the mind of a psychoanalyst working with his patients. These descriptions were by far the best part of the book - I'm tempted to give four stars just for that. The primary storyline, however, concerned the psychoanalyst's family and a tracing of a story from his recently deceased father. While the use of the author's father's journals was a lovely way for the author to collaborate with her father, and while the journals themselves were interesting, no truly ...more
Apr 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Erik Davidsen returns to his Minnesota hometown to sort through his recently deceased father Lars's papers. Erik's writer sister, Inga, soon discovers a letter from someone named Lisa that hints at a death that their father was involved in. Over the course of the book, the siblings track down people who might be able to provide information on the letter writer's identity. The two also contend with other looming ghosts. Erik immerses himself in the text of his father's diary as he develops an inf ...more
B the BookAddict
I'm not sure if this book is the best introduction to the author for me. I found it slow going, maybe too much psychiatric jargon and as another reviewer noted "anti-climatic narrative". It is a novel of many stories and apart from the aforementioned jargon, well written. However, it was a slow read and I did find myself wanting more from the ending. I rate this only a 3★ novel, but I will pursue the author's best selling What I Loved; hopefully I will find in that, the excellence that readers attribu ...more
Nov 20, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I don't usually dislike books as much as I dislike this one.

Profoundly boring. Full of false profundity. Premise of the story is so weak I want to put the word in quotes to highlight just how weak the premise is. Characters not very interesting (given to caricature or melodrama) and given to delivering long speeches. Narrator is nominally male but the voice is manifestly female. I'd love to read a story about Norwegian immigrants in this country, but this is not that book. These NYC types are c
Wow, what a pretentious doucheface of a narrator. I just got more and more angry as I read on, because he's sort of a dick throughout the whole book. Ugh. NOPE. The only thing giving this book more than one star, is Miranda and the prose. Miranda is a wonderful character, the prose was beautiful.

Also, dear Erik, a woman's worth is not measured in how she choses to dress herself. Assface.

Also, as an afterthought:
- The plot with Linda was completely ridiculous. Who on eart
Jun 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was impressed by Hustvedt's ability to narrate as a man. The overlapping between the novel's fictional content and non-fictional content (which was not entirely revealed until the postscript) greatly held my interest as I am deeply fascinated by how "writ[ing] what you know" takes shape for each author.

I had been bothered that the short bio of Hustvedt mentions that her husband in Paul Auster but in reading the novel I see how that is both necessary and painful- inextricable for her if we are
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Hustvedt was born in Northfield, Minnesota. Her father Lloyd Hustvedt was a professor of Scandinavian literature, and her mother Ester Vegan emigrated from Norway at the age of thirty. She holds a B.A. in history from St. Olaf College and a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University; her thesis on Charles Dickens was entitled Figures of Dust: A Reading of Our Mutual Friend.

Hustvedt has
“I've always thought of wholeness and integration as necessary myths. We're fragmented beings who cement ourselves together, but there are always cracks. Living with the cracks is part of being, well, reasonably healthy” 20 likes
“That is the strangeness of language: it crosses the boundaries of the body, is at once inside and outside, and it sometimes happens that we don't notice the threshold has been crossed.” 18 likes
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