Hold your Breath for as Long as You Can
“You don’t understand anything,” you shout and lock yourself in the bathroom. And I stand outside feeling like I want to tear the door down, tear it off its hinges, I will tear the whole house down if you don’t open up and tell me what I have to do differently. What you need. I rattle the door handle. I can’t wait. I can’t breathe if I have to wait for you, for you to tell me what happened. What is going on inside your head right now, under your skin. How much it hurts. If you see what I see, or if it’s all just a lie.”
Runa is Alva’s daughter, an intense eight-year-old with white hair and a hand-knitted strawberry hat. 24 years earlier, it is Alva who is eight and has white hair and a strawberry hat and the need for something to be different, but nobody tries to find out what. Except for Kjersti, her best friend, who nonetheless turns her back on her when Alva needs her the most. And suddenly Kjersti disappears. Alva goes into her teens with a dark sorrow behind her.
Later Alva grows up and becomes an aimless young woman. On the ferry to and from work she meets Martin, who wears wool sweaters and overalls and has large, comforting hands. Alva wonders if she can finally draw her breath. For there must be a place to rest somewhere?
Hold your Breath for as Long as You Can is a rich and riveting novel about growing up with irremediable betrayal and dark shame. But the painful story is softened by a mitigating sheen; in this densely written, energetic text judgment must give way in the face of a discerning and high-handed view of human beings.