Boström Knausgård’s careful exploration of mental illness is restrained and entirely unsentimental. She passes no judgment on her characters, whose pain she reveals through Ellen’s musings. Her prose is unobtrusive in its simplicity and minimalism. The result is both powerful and lyrical, qualities beautifully rendered by translator Martin Aitken’s concise, pared-down English text.
Sparse, sleek and exacting, Boström Knausgård's prose mimics the childlike view at the center of the novel, just as it allows Ellen a mature voice. There is an uncanniness to this perspective. It is both young and old, all-knowing and continuously limited, yearning and terrified ... Ellen provides a haunting and evocative portrait of the process of trauma and the awareness of personal isolationism, even within the structures of faith and family.
I liked living in the tomb of Ellen’s interiority, where ordinary household movements echo, questions linger and alter, and observations and hallucinations mingle ... Ellen, in Welcome to America, faces, curiously, no threat from the world: no moment that we know to wait for when the safe-yet-dangerous space of her mind will, due to some force from outside of herself, become too difficult to keep inside ... There is a power to this structure—a visceral sense of being submerged, with Ellen, at the bottom of a sea. But at the same time, I think that we readers lose out, by not being able to measure the depth of the sea, or the distance from shore, or to know what the culture is like back on land. It makes it hard to know how to take anything ... [events]...fail to pack the punch that they could. They repeat and crowd one another rather than echo or accumulate ... the reader does not feel the impact of the breakdown they are meant to represent. When novels don’t define the terms on which they want readers to take events, then we apply our own ideas about what any given turn in the story—a breakup, say, or a parent’s distraction—means, as well as how much it matters in our own 'real' world ... I wish that, rather than letting Ellen’s autonomy weaken the novel’s tension, making it so that no reality interrupts her inner work, Boström Knausgård had instead treated her protagonist’s autonomy as a source of tension and as a particular crucible forming her, as she comes of age.
...a modern-day Bildungsroman, at once an 11-year-old girl’s revolt against adolescence and a study in depression, written in prose so taut that the emotional and intellectual impact of the story lingers on long after the final page is turned ... The novel resonates with an ominous undercurrent of violence and the desperate assertion of will ... There are striking parallels with Strindberg’s one-act play, Den starkare (The Stronger), 1888/1889, in which one actress remains mute in an emotional power struggle with another. This contemporary rendering of those concepts skilfully shines a light on the fragmentation of today’s society, the lack of sense of community even within a single, small family, and their inability to connect deeply with others. All this is masterfully condensed into fewer than 100 pages in the voice of a confused yet eloquent girl, in what proves to be an intense reading experience.
This interior monologue is beautifully written, short sentences and wending trains of thought that convincingly echo a young girl's thoughts. Boström Knausgård does get carried away with her own artistry and cleverness at times—there's a maturity to some of this that belies an eleven-year-old's mind—but beyond that, it is almost pitch perfect in translator Martin Aitken's exceptional rendering ... This is [a] beautifully, disturbingly evocative work of fiction, a journey through a child's mind and eyes of trying to handle and make some order of complex emotional states and varieties of experience, the lens not so much foggy as cautious, a juggling of memories and thoughts and experiences, and an attempt to find and maintain at least a semblance of control over the world around this child verging on but oh so wary of adulthood. If perhaps overly and too readily reliant on mental instability—as cause, explanation, and fear—Welcome to America is nevertheless an exceptionally accomplished work.
...Knausgård’s second novel...gives voice to the uncontrollable, horrifying aspects of growing up. Ellen doesn’t quite understand why her life force might be so compromised, but she does find power, pride, and a kind of freedom in her silence. Readers familiar with Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autobiographical My Struggle series will recognize Linda Boström as its author’s ex-wife, adding further intrigue to this quietly bold tale of familial terror and love.
Boström Knausgård’s writing (via Aitken’s translation) is crystalline and careful; like her ex-husband, Karl Ove Knausgård, she has an eye for quotidian but revealing details, though she eschews his expansiveness. Here, restraint and ambiguity prevail, whether it’s about the intensity of the abuse Ellen sustained or the veracity of her assertions. Regardless, it’s a taut portrait of how difficult it can be to reconcile ideals about faith and family with their messier realities. An intense, recursive book that evokes the chill despair of a Bergman film.
This lean, moving novel... is borderline stream-of-consciousness, with hallucinations mingling with reality, forcing readers to constantly question what they are told. Knausgärd is an impressive writer, and she has created a unique, powerful lead in a world all her own.