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The Wolves of Eternity

A Novel

Author Karl Ove Knausgaard On Tour
Translated by Martin Aitken
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On sale Sep 19, 2023 | 27 Hours and 43 Minutes | 9780593788806
An NPR Best Book of 2023

“Knausgaard is back, with a compulsively readable new novel.” —The Washington Post

The Wolves of Eternity, like some 19th-century Russian novel, wrestles with the great contraries: the materialist view and the religious, the world as cosmic accident versus embodiment of some radiant intention. Is this world shot through with meaning or not? Has there ever been a better time to ask?” —Sven Birkerts, The New York Times Book Review

From the internationally bestselling author Karl Ove Knausgaard, a sprawling and deeply human novel that questions the responsibilities we have toward one another and ourselves—and the limits of what we can understand about life itself


In 1986, twenty-year-old Syvert Løyning returns from the military to his mother’s home in southern Norway. One evening, his dead father comes to him in a dream. Realizing that he doesn’t really know who his father was, Syvert begins to investigate his life and finds clues pointing to the Soviet Union. What he learns changes his past and undermines the entire notion of who he is. But when his mother becomes ill, and he must care for his little brother, Joar, on his own, he no longer has time or space for lofty speculations.

In present-day Russia, Alevtina Kotov, a biologist working at Moscow University, is traveling with her young son to the home of her stepfather, to celebrate his eightieth birthday. As a student, Alevtina was bright, curious and ambitious, asking the big questions about life and human consciousness. But as she approaches middle-age, most of that drive has gone, and she finds herself in a place she doesn’t want to be, without really understanding how she got there. Her stepfather, a musician, raised her as his own daughter, and she was never interested in learning about her biological father; when she finally starts looking into him, she learns that he died many years ago and left two sons, Joar and Syvert.

Years later, when Syvert and Alevtina meet in Moscow, two very different approaches to life emerge. And as a bright star appears in the sky, it illuminates the wonder of human existence and the mysteries that exist beyond our own worldview. Set against the political and cultural backdrop of both the 1980s and the present day, The Wolves of Eternity is an expansive and affecting book about relations—to one another, to nature, to the dead.
HELGE

I've just been listening to the Status Quo album Rockin' All Over the World. I'm still shaking. I played it non-stop when it first came out. That was in 1977, and I was eleven years old. I hadn't listened to it since. Not until now, when, sitting bored in the office, I began wandering along some pathways back into the past, a band that reminded me of another band, and then another, on the screen in front of me. The cover alone sent a tingle down my spine. The image of the world, shining in the darkest firmament, the band name in electric lettering and the album title underneath in computer script - wow! But it didn't really knock me out until I pressed play and started listening. I remembered all the songs, it was as if the melodies and riffs hidden in my subconscious came welling up to reconnect with their origins, their parents, those old Status Quo songs to which they belonged. But it wasn't only that. With them came shoals of memories, a teeming swathe of tastes, smells, visions, occurrences, moods, atmospheres, whatever. My emotions couldn't handle so much information all at once, the only thing I could do was sit there trembling for three-quarters of an hour as the album played.

I had it on cassette - no one I knew owned a record player back then, apart from my sister, who only ever listened to classical and jazz anyway - and I played it all the time on the black cassette player I'd got for Christmas the year before. It ran on batteries and I used to take it outside with me nearly everywhere I went. Invariably, I sang along too. How brilliant to hear the album again now!

Status Quo, Slade, Mud, Gary Glitter, they were the bands we listened to. Those a bit older than us added in Rory Gallagher, Thin Lizzy, Queen and Rainbow. Then everything upended, at least it did for me, and all of a sudden it was Sham 69, the Clash, the Police, the Specials, nothing else would do. But they're bands I've kept listening to, on and off. That's never been the case with Status Quo. That's why it hit me the way it did, like an explosion. And it's why suddenly I cried when I heard the chorus of the title song.

It wasn't as if there was much good happening that year, 1977, certainly not in my own life, it was more the feeling that something was happening, and not least that something existed.

That I existed. And that I was there.

In my room, for example.

Yes, the smell of the electric heater.

The music on the cassette player.

Not too loud, because Dad was home, but loud enough for the feelings to pervade me.

The snow outside. The smell of it when it was wet, as much rain as snow.

An ai laik it ai laik it ai laik ai laik it ai la la la la laik it la la la laik it.

Hilde, opening the door.

'There's a girl hanging around outside. Do you know her?'

I stepped over to the living-room window. Sure enough, a girl was traipsing up and down the road out there, on the other side of the fence. She stopped and looked up at the house. She couldn't see me, but still. And then she started again, disappearing from view behind the bushes, reappearing, back and forth, following the line of the fence.

'Do you know her, then, or what?' said Hilde.

'Yes,' I said. 'It's Trude. She's in the same year as me at school.'

'So what's she doing here?'

I shrugged.

'Following me around, maybe.'

'Ha!' said Hilde. 'You're only eleven, you know.'

'I've had loads of girlfriends,' I said.

'Kissed them on the cheek, have you?'

'I've snogged a few.'

'Go out to her, then.'

I shook my head.

'Why not? Are you seeing someone else?'

'She's a bit special.'

'Not right in the head?'

'No, not like that. Just different.'

'Sounds all right to me.'

'That's because you're special yourself,' I said, and looked at her; she lit up when I said it.

'Not right in the head, I mean,' I added.

Then the doorbell rang.

'It's Trude,' Hilde said. 'Aren't you going to go?'

'Can you do me a favour and say I'm not in?'

'What's it worth?'

'Something.'

'Half your sweets on Saturday.'

'OK.'

I stood behind the stairs and heard Hilde say I wasn't in and that she didn't know where I was. I could see Trude trudge off home through the snow.

I don't know if that was exactly how it was. I remember seeing her, and I remember having to give Hilde a load of my sweets for lying for me. But the thing I remember best is the snow, the feeling of snow, the atmosphere of it. It was foggy too. Soft white snow, grey fog. And Rockin' All Over the World.

Is there ever a memory that isn't affirmative?

Of course not, a person consists of memories that can only ever be affirmative, they're what that person is.

But one of my memories stands apart in a way. One that isn't connected with anything else. It was something I saw. And it was that winter, a few weeks before Christmas, 1977. But I can remember it without the help of any music. It's a memory that shimmers, ungraspable inside me.

Across the road from our house, woods sloped away towards a narrow inlet of the sea, on this side was our housing estate. If you followed the road down to the junction and took a right there, you came to a low bridge that spanned the inlet. There were some pontoons below the bridge and a bit further away was the strait.

That night, I went down the road on my own. It was dark and still foggy, the snow had partly melted during the day, the road was covered in slush. I don't know where I was going, or where I'd been, all that's been erased from my mind. Maybe I was going down to the pontoons to see if there was anyone there, it was a place where we often used to hang out. Whatever: dark, foggy, the slushy road. Anorak gleaming in the road lighting. Across the bridge. The water black and cold.

But what was that?

Something shining down there.

Deep down in the black water, something was shining.

A few seconds passed before I realised what it was.

It was a car.

I saw then that a kerbstone was gone, there were wheel marks that went to the edge.

It must have just happened, if the headlights were still working.

I turned round and ran back up the road. I had to get to a phone and call an ambulance. But when I got to the houses I wasn't sure any more. It didn't have to be a car. It could have been something else. I might have been about to set a massive rescue operation in motion for nothing. What was Dad going to say then?

I came to our house and went in, took off my coat and my boots. Dad poked his head out of his office as soon as he heard me.

'Where have you been?'

'Up to the new shop,' I said.

'Tea's on the table,' he said. 'And straight to bed afterwards.'

'OK,' I said.

I did what I was told. Ate the sandwiches he'd made, then went to bed. Lay for a long while in the dark, thinking about the headlights in the water, the car in the water, its headlights shining as I lay there.

The next day there was an ambulance, a police car and a crane truck down there. The day after that it was on the front page of the newspaper. Everyone was talking about it. Except me. Now, thirty-five years on, I still haven't told anyone what I saw that night, or what I did. I know, you see, that I could have saved him if only I'd done the right thing. But I didn't do the right thing, and he died. No one needs to know. It's my memory, and mine alone, and unless something unforeseen happens, I'll take it with me to the grave.
“[Knausgaard] brings to life—even celebrates—the complex and ambivalent give-and-take between men, between women and between men and women. These relationships, full of misunderstandings, concessions and reconciliations, feel real, without agenda . . . The Wolves of Eternity, like some 19th-century Russian novel, wrestles with the great contraries: the materialist view and the religious, the world as cosmic accident versus embodiment of some radiant intention. Is this world shot through with meaning or not? Has there ever been a better time to ask?” —Sven Birkerts, The New York Times Book Review

“Knausgaard is back, with a compulsively readable new novel . . . The good news, at least for hardcore Knausgaard fans, is that the second book in [his] series, The Wolves of Eternity, poses more questions than it answers . . . Knausgaard once again proves a thoughtful and wide reader. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Rilke are referenced alongside Marina Tsvetaeva, the poet who gives the book its title, and Nikolai Fyodorov, a pre-revolutionary Russian futurist who believed that all human effort should be directed toward resurrecting the dead . . . Knausgaard remains one of the great chroniclers of the moment-by-moment experience of life. Alevtina will be thinking deep thoughts about evolution one minute and contemplating meatballs the next. Knausgaard is acutely in tune with the simultaneity of life’s majesty and banality . . . Although the final shape of Knausgaard’s latest enterprise is not yet visible, there’s famously no smoke without wildfires. It’s likely something wicked this way comes.” The Washington Post

“Not a conventional sequel . . . Revives fiction as an inquiry into the cosmos, re-enchanting the latter with those beguiling secrets science had stolen from it.” The Guardian

“The range of subjects The Wolves of Eternity explores is fascinating, but the elements of the novel that gave me the most joy were also the most prosaic . . . Perhaps I’ll be in the minority to say it, but I wanted The Wolves of Eternity to be even longer.” The Sunday Times

“There’s a greater power, I reckon, to be gleaned in the ordinariness of things . . . The less The Wolves of Eternity novel is about, the more it has to say.” The Telegraph

“Knausgaard is a master . . . guiding us inexorably and irresistibly towards the next installment.” Financial Times

“A marvelous and mysterious novel that will stay with readers long after Syvert and Alevtina take their leave of one another.” Shelf Awareness

“A curiously affecting tale about science and spirit . . .” Kirkus Reviews

“Inspired . . . Knausgaard’s book doesn’t shy away from big questions about the substance of his characters’ inner lives . . . [he] captures the spirit of a Russian novel.” Publishers Weekly
© Sølve Sundsbø
Karl Ove Knausgaard’s first novel, Out of the World, was the first ever debut novel to win the Norwegian Critics’ Prize and his second, A Time for Everything, was widely acclaimed. The My Struggle cycle of novels has been heralded as a masterpiece wherever it has appeared. View titles by Karl Ove Knausgaard

About

An NPR Best Book of 2023

“Knausgaard is back, with a compulsively readable new novel.” —The Washington Post

The Wolves of Eternity, like some 19th-century Russian novel, wrestles with the great contraries: the materialist view and the religious, the world as cosmic accident versus embodiment of some radiant intention. Is this world shot through with meaning or not? Has there ever been a better time to ask?” —Sven Birkerts, The New York Times Book Review

From the internationally bestselling author Karl Ove Knausgaard, a sprawling and deeply human novel that questions the responsibilities we have toward one another and ourselves—and the limits of what we can understand about life itself


In 1986, twenty-year-old Syvert Løyning returns from the military to his mother’s home in southern Norway. One evening, his dead father comes to him in a dream. Realizing that he doesn’t really know who his father was, Syvert begins to investigate his life and finds clues pointing to the Soviet Union. What he learns changes his past and undermines the entire notion of who he is. But when his mother becomes ill, and he must care for his little brother, Joar, on his own, he no longer has time or space for lofty speculations.

In present-day Russia, Alevtina Kotov, a biologist working at Moscow University, is traveling with her young son to the home of her stepfather, to celebrate his eightieth birthday. As a student, Alevtina was bright, curious and ambitious, asking the big questions about life and human consciousness. But as she approaches middle-age, most of that drive has gone, and she finds herself in a place she doesn’t want to be, without really understanding how she got there. Her stepfather, a musician, raised her as his own daughter, and she was never interested in learning about her biological father; when she finally starts looking into him, she learns that he died many years ago and left two sons, Joar and Syvert.

Years later, when Syvert and Alevtina meet in Moscow, two very different approaches to life emerge. And as a bright star appears in the sky, it illuminates the wonder of human existence and the mysteries that exist beyond our own worldview. Set against the political and cultural backdrop of both the 1980s and the present day, The Wolves of Eternity is an expansive and affecting book about relations—to one another, to nature, to the dead.

Excerpt

HELGE

I've just been listening to the Status Quo album Rockin' All Over the World. I'm still shaking. I played it non-stop when it first came out. That was in 1977, and I was eleven years old. I hadn't listened to it since. Not until now, when, sitting bored in the office, I began wandering along some pathways back into the past, a band that reminded me of another band, and then another, on the screen in front of me. The cover alone sent a tingle down my spine. The image of the world, shining in the darkest firmament, the band name in electric lettering and the album title underneath in computer script - wow! But it didn't really knock me out until I pressed play and started listening. I remembered all the songs, it was as if the melodies and riffs hidden in my subconscious came welling up to reconnect with their origins, their parents, those old Status Quo songs to which they belonged. But it wasn't only that. With them came shoals of memories, a teeming swathe of tastes, smells, visions, occurrences, moods, atmospheres, whatever. My emotions couldn't handle so much information all at once, the only thing I could do was sit there trembling for three-quarters of an hour as the album played.

I had it on cassette - no one I knew owned a record player back then, apart from my sister, who only ever listened to classical and jazz anyway - and I played it all the time on the black cassette player I'd got for Christmas the year before. It ran on batteries and I used to take it outside with me nearly everywhere I went. Invariably, I sang along too. How brilliant to hear the album again now!

Status Quo, Slade, Mud, Gary Glitter, they were the bands we listened to. Those a bit older than us added in Rory Gallagher, Thin Lizzy, Queen and Rainbow. Then everything upended, at least it did for me, and all of a sudden it was Sham 69, the Clash, the Police, the Specials, nothing else would do. But they're bands I've kept listening to, on and off. That's never been the case with Status Quo. That's why it hit me the way it did, like an explosion. And it's why suddenly I cried when I heard the chorus of the title song.

It wasn't as if there was much good happening that year, 1977, certainly not in my own life, it was more the feeling that something was happening, and not least that something existed.

That I existed. And that I was there.

In my room, for example.

Yes, the smell of the electric heater.

The music on the cassette player.

Not too loud, because Dad was home, but loud enough for the feelings to pervade me.

The snow outside. The smell of it when it was wet, as much rain as snow.

An ai laik it ai laik it ai laik ai laik it ai la la la la laik it la la la laik it.

Hilde, opening the door.

'There's a girl hanging around outside. Do you know her?'

I stepped over to the living-room window. Sure enough, a girl was traipsing up and down the road out there, on the other side of the fence. She stopped and looked up at the house. She couldn't see me, but still. And then she started again, disappearing from view behind the bushes, reappearing, back and forth, following the line of the fence.

'Do you know her, then, or what?' said Hilde.

'Yes,' I said. 'It's Trude. She's in the same year as me at school.'

'So what's she doing here?'

I shrugged.

'Following me around, maybe.'

'Ha!' said Hilde. 'You're only eleven, you know.'

'I've had loads of girlfriends,' I said.

'Kissed them on the cheek, have you?'

'I've snogged a few.'

'Go out to her, then.'

I shook my head.

'Why not? Are you seeing someone else?'

'She's a bit special.'

'Not right in the head?'

'No, not like that. Just different.'

'Sounds all right to me.'

'That's because you're special yourself,' I said, and looked at her; she lit up when I said it.

'Not right in the head, I mean,' I added.

Then the doorbell rang.

'It's Trude,' Hilde said. 'Aren't you going to go?'

'Can you do me a favour and say I'm not in?'

'What's it worth?'

'Something.'

'Half your sweets on Saturday.'

'OK.'

I stood behind the stairs and heard Hilde say I wasn't in and that she didn't know where I was. I could see Trude trudge off home through the snow.

I don't know if that was exactly how it was. I remember seeing her, and I remember having to give Hilde a load of my sweets for lying for me. But the thing I remember best is the snow, the feeling of snow, the atmosphere of it. It was foggy too. Soft white snow, grey fog. And Rockin' All Over the World.

Is there ever a memory that isn't affirmative?

Of course not, a person consists of memories that can only ever be affirmative, they're what that person is.

But one of my memories stands apart in a way. One that isn't connected with anything else. It was something I saw. And it was that winter, a few weeks before Christmas, 1977. But I can remember it without the help of any music. It's a memory that shimmers, ungraspable inside me.

Across the road from our house, woods sloped away towards a narrow inlet of the sea, on this side was our housing estate. If you followed the road down to the junction and took a right there, you came to a low bridge that spanned the inlet. There were some pontoons below the bridge and a bit further away was the strait.

That night, I went down the road on my own. It was dark and still foggy, the snow had partly melted during the day, the road was covered in slush. I don't know where I was going, or where I'd been, all that's been erased from my mind. Maybe I was going down to the pontoons to see if there was anyone there, it was a place where we often used to hang out. Whatever: dark, foggy, the slushy road. Anorak gleaming in the road lighting. Across the bridge. The water black and cold.

But what was that?

Something shining down there.

Deep down in the black water, something was shining.

A few seconds passed before I realised what it was.

It was a car.

I saw then that a kerbstone was gone, there were wheel marks that went to the edge.

It must have just happened, if the headlights were still working.

I turned round and ran back up the road. I had to get to a phone and call an ambulance. But when I got to the houses I wasn't sure any more. It didn't have to be a car. It could have been something else. I might have been about to set a massive rescue operation in motion for nothing. What was Dad going to say then?

I came to our house and went in, took off my coat and my boots. Dad poked his head out of his office as soon as he heard me.

'Where have you been?'

'Up to the new shop,' I said.

'Tea's on the table,' he said. 'And straight to bed afterwards.'

'OK,' I said.

I did what I was told. Ate the sandwiches he'd made, then went to bed. Lay for a long while in the dark, thinking about the headlights in the water, the car in the water, its headlights shining as I lay there.

The next day there was an ambulance, a police car and a crane truck down there. The day after that it was on the front page of the newspaper. Everyone was talking about it. Except me. Now, thirty-five years on, I still haven't told anyone what I saw that night, or what I did. I know, you see, that I could have saved him if only I'd done the right thing. But I didn't do the right thing, and he died. No one needs to know. It's my memory, and mine alone, and unless something unforeseen happens, I'll take it with me to the grave.

Reviews

“[Knausgaard] brings to life—even celebrates—the complex and ambivalent give-and-take between men, between women and between men and women. These relationships, full of misunderstandings, concessions and reconciliations, feel real, without agenda . . . The Wolves of Eternity, like some 19th-century Russian novel, wrestles with the great contraries: the materialist view and the religious, the world as cosmic accident versus embodiment of some radiant intention. Is this world shot through with meaning or not? Has there ever been a better time to ask?” —Sven Birkerts, The New York Times Book Review

“Knausgaard is back, with a compulsively readable new novel . . . The good news, at least for hardcore Knausgaard fans, is that the second book in [his] series, The Wolves of Eternity, poses more questions than it answers . . . Knausgaard once again proves a thoughtful and wide reader. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Rilke are referenced alongside Marina Tsvetaeva, the poet who gives the book its title, and Nikolai Fyodorov, a pre-revolutionary Russian futurist who believed that all human effort should be directed toward resurrecting the dead . . . Knausgaard remains one of the great chroniclers of the moment-by-moment experience of life. Alevtina will be thinking deep thoughts about evolution one minute and contemplating meatballs the next. Knausgaard is acutely in tune with the simultaneity of life’s majesty and banality . . . Although the final shape of Knausgaard’s latest enterprise is not yet visible, there’s famously no smoke without wildfires. It’s likely something wicked this way comes.” The Washington Post

“Not a conventional sequel . . . Revives fiction as an inquiry into the cosmos, re-enchanting the latter with those beguiling secrets science had stolen from it.” The Guardian

“The range of subjects The Wolves of Eternity explores is fascinating, but the elements of the novel that gave me the most joy were also the most prosaic . . . Perhaps I’ll be in the minority to say it, but I wanted The Wolves of Eternity to be even longer.” The Sunday Times

“There’s a greater power, I reckon, to be gleaned in the ordinariness of things . . . The less The Wolves of Eternity novel is about, the more it has to say.” The Telegraph

“Knausgaard is a master . . . guiding us inexorably and irresistibly towards the next installment.” Financial Times

“A marvelous and mysterious novel that will stay with readers long after Syvert and Alevtina take their leave of one another.” Shelf Awareness

“A curiously affecting tale about science and spirit . . .” Kirkus Reviews

“Inspired . . . Knausgaard’s book doesn’t shy away from big questions about the substance of his characters’ inner lives . . . [he] captures the spirit of a Russian novel.” Publishers Weekly

Author

© Sølve Sundsbø
Karl Ove Knausgaard’s first novel, Out of the World, was the first ever debut novel to win the Norwegian Critics’ Prize and his second, A Time for Everything, was widely acclaimed. The My Struggle cycle of novels has been heralded as a masterpiece wherever it has appeared. View titles by Karl Ove Knausgaard