This is the first in a six book series, totaling some 3,000 pages, about a quiet man from Norway reflecting on parts of his life. It is boring and breathtaking at the same time. The author ruminates on the death of his father and his own mortality as he shuffles through memories of his childhood and then the more recent past. Day-to-day events such as making breakfast, working at a computer, and making phone calls take center stage. We all do things like this every day and then forget about them. Somehow, Karl Ove Knausgaard makes them memorable.
I’ll admit I researched the book and its author before I read it. What we have here is a slightly-fictionalized memoir with characters taken directly from the author’s own life. Almost no names have been changed. Karl Ove alienated much of his own family, many of whom threatened the publication of his book series with lawsuits. His treatment of his father, whose shadow looms over the entire first book, is especially bleak and unforgiving. Even the title has caused a stir. In Norwegian, the book is called Min Kamp, which is a little too close to the title of Adolf Hitler’s memoir, Mein Kampf, for many people’s liking.
Most people become famous and then write a scathing memoir. I admire Karl Ove for doing it the other way around. My Struggle worked so well for me specifically because of Karl Ove’s ordinariness. He has bared his soul with no public persona to hide behind. He is a son, a friend, a brother, a lover, but never a person of consequence. I think if he were, I never would have picked up the book in the first place.