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When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl's Book

Longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award for Translation
Finalist for the 2019 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction

“I raise my glass to my eldest son. His pregnant wife and daughter are sleeping above us. Outside, the March evening is cold and clear. “To life!” I say as the glasses clink with a delicate and pleasing sound. My mother says something to the dog. Then the phone rings. We don’t answer it. Who could be calling so late on a Saturday evening?”

In March 2015 Naja Marie Aidt’s son Carl died at 25 years old in a tragic accident.

When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back: Carl's Book (Har døden taget noget fra dig så giv det tilbage - Carls bog) describes the first year after that devastating phone call, until the shock slowly wears off. It is at once a sober account of life after losing a child—showing how grief transforms your relationship to reality, your loved ones, and time—and a book about the language of poetry, loss and love.

How do you approach the impossible to write about your deceased child? The book’s complex form enacts the rupture and process of assembling the pieces. There are short prose sections addressed to Carl and intense lyric passages. There are fragments from the present that merge with flashbacks and journal entries from the past and present. Quotes appear throughout from an array of literary voices, woven together with Naja Marie Aidt’s own voice. This multifarious book defies genre or any singular description.


"Naja Marie Aidt’s shattering elegy about her grown son’s death is a modern Greek tragedy—and a relentless account of grief’s deepest reality." Weekendavisen

"Naja Marie Aidt’s book on the loss of her son is a genuine and unbearable masterwork.  …[Her writing] about death, grief and the indescribable consequences make up this incredibly good book. I wish Aidt never had to write about this endless nightmare, indeed, one of its most important points is that grief never goes away. And yet, we now have a book without illusions, a merciless and insistent depiction of how deeply death reaches into the body and soul. Aidt has rendered a convincing reconstruction of the depths of grief." Jyllands Posten

"An immense work of art…an extremely beautiful and shockingly sorrowful work and a declaration of love’s communality. One of the most painful and paradoxically one of the most beautiful books I have ever read…"  Kristeligt Dagblad

"Naja Marie Aidt has written incredibly and incredibly well about losing her child." Politiken

"A necessary book, which leaves the reader deeply moved. The first thing one wants to say after reading Naja Marie Aidt’s book is Thank you! Thank you for giving terror a language… You have here a book that was written out of necessity, and you are sucked into that necessity as you read. Deeply moving." Information

"Raw, beautiful reading and enormous literature…a rewarding work on death, language, love and the companionship that makes it possible to survive such deep sorrow." Børsen

"(Painful poetry and important prose, which everyone should read.)… Read Carl’s Book right away. It’s important, unique and completely indispensable." Nordjyske Stiftstidende

This beautiful, exquisitely made memoir is Didion 4.0 . . . a meditation on time and the way our narration of what happens during life sieves through a slippery gear—our selves—how consciousness is the sound of trying to get it turning again.Literary Hub

Extraordinary. It is about death, but I can think of few books which have such life. It shows us what love is.Max Porter

“There is no one quite like Naja Marie Aidt. She’s comparable only to things like sequoias, whale song, desert thunderstorms, or wolves. The depth of her emotional world and the diaphanous, often brutal clarity with which she understands the human soul beckon us to pause, breathe, think. Here, she takes us on a journey into death and loss, and then thrusts us back out—back into life—more awake, more ready to embrace it as it comes.Valeria Luiselli

This book does more than just plumb the depths of our emotions, it also serves as an affirmation: of family, of love, and of life.Nylon


Territories: Finland: Schildts & Söderströms Germany: Luchterhand Literaturverlag Holland: Querido Norway: Gyldendal Sweden: Bonniers Finland: Schildts Forlag French: Editions Do World Spanish: Sexto Piso Arabic: Almutawassit Turkey: Everest Publications Kurdish: Nûsyar US: Coffee House Press UK: Quercus
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