Boyhood: A Haunting Memoir of Childhood

A few days ago I wrote about an unusual six-volume autobiography I am currently reading by Karl Ove Knausgaard entitled My Struggle. Today I am sharing a final paragraph from his third volume, Boyhood, in which he describes in relentless detail his sometimes painful, sometimes ecstatic childhood years from age 8 months to age 12 in a small “development” on the island of Tromoya in Norway.

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It’s not that his experiences are unique…they are actually quite typical with many of the growing pains we have all endured. What is unique is his “tell all” stream-of-consciusness style of writing. He is unabashed in writing about his emotions and thoughts as he experiences them. His honesty is rare and often uncomfortable for the reader.

The final paragraph of Volume Three ties the whole book together. He and his family have just piled into their car to leave his childhood home on Tromoya Island forever. They are moving somewhere else because his father has been offered a better teaching job elsewhere. His closing suggests that none of us realize the imprint are early lives will make on us and therein lies the powerful message of his story.

“After the moving van had left and we got into the car, Mom, Dad, and I, and we drove down the hill and over the bridge, it struck me with a huge sense of relief that I would never be returning, that everything I saw I was seeing for the final time. That the houses and the places that disappeared behind me were also disappearing out of my life, for good. Little did I know then that every detail of this landscape, and every single person living in it, would forever be lodged in my memory with a ring as true as perfect pitch.”

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For me, that image is so powerful…how we live somewhere and soak up all the details without even realizing it. Then we move on and think we’re leaving “forever,” but the memories and experiences stay with us and have a certain “pitch” to them even decades later. At least I have found that to be true in my life.

And that is why I will probably continue to read his 4th, 5th and 6th volumes out of sheer curiosity as to how he will maintain that pitch.

 

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13 thoughts on “Boyhood: A Haunting Memoir of Childhood”

  1. “…None of us realize the imprint are early lives will make on us and therein lies the powerful message of his story.” This is a great thought that personally connects with me.

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  2. I love it when I find an author whose voice speaks to me, when the writing flows and is easy to read continuously without stumbling over passages. Happy reading!

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    1. You’ll know after you read the first volume if you want to continue with all or some of them. I was hooked! I think his first volume is one of those very memorable, genre-breaking first books. I hope you like it.

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  3. As a child, you are not aware of the imprint for your life. You think everything will stay the same as long as you are within your family. It is only later when you realize how your past affects your future. Interesting paragraph!

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    1. It’s especially poignant when you realize you had absolutely no control and no say in what happened to you. It just happened and that was that. It makes me think about kids who have really, really troubled upbringings…how sad that is.

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  4. Wow, this is quite a challenge, Barbara. I don’t know if he thought that early experience was good or not, but it is intriguing that he now realizes he remembers, and really didn’t leave it behind. Thanks for telling about it. I missed your earlier posts sharing.

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    1. Like most childhoods, it was a mixed bag. Not only does he realize he remembers, he remembers in exquisite, excruciating detail. I especially loved his first volume, also about his earlier life but more about family.

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  5. We are aware of how things affect us at the moment. It is years later that we realize how things that happen now shape our thoughts and lives in the future.

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  6. Sounds like this guy has a particularly powerful memory. But I do agree that things pop into our heads years later that we didn’t even realize we remembered. We see or hear something, or smell something, and BAM! we’re taken back in an instant. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. Yes, he does. Probably one of the reasons I like his writing so much is that I have such sporadic memories of my childhood and he helps me to get back to that time in a way.
    I almost thought I wouldn’t hear from you today because it’s so late. You’ve spoiled me!

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