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

A memoir by Naja Marie Aidt, translated by Denise Newman

September 3, 2019 • 5 x 7.75 • 152 pages • 978-1-56689-560-6

An unflinchingly raw and lyrical exploration of a mother’s grief and how it transforms her relationship to time, reality, and language.

In March 2015, Naja Marie Aidt’s twenty-five-year-old son, Carl, died in a tragic accident. When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back chronicles the few first years after that devastating phone call. It is at once a sober account of life after losing a child and an exploration of the language of poetry, loss, and love.

Intensely moving, When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back explores what is it to be a family, what it is to love and lose, and what it is to treasure life in spite of death’s indomitable resolve.

About the Author

Naja Marie Aidt was born in Greenland and raised in Copenhagen. She is the author of eleven collections of poetry, a novel, and three short story collections, including Baboon, which won the 2008 Nordic Council Literature Prize, Scandinavia’s highest literary honor. Her work has been translated into sixteen languages.

Denise Newman is a translator and poet who has published four collections of poetry. She has translated two books by Denmark’s Inger Christensen. Her translation of Naja Marie Aidt’s short story collection Baboon won the 2015 PEN Translation Prize.


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

“This book is an alchemical feat, giving shape to the most profound sense of absence. A stirring, inventive masterpiece of heartbreak.” —Kirkus

“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

“A stunning evocation of life . . . Aidt’s memoir is like broken glass, the shattered pieces singular in their form but each glistening, ready to cut.” Los Angeles Review of Books

“...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

“An undoubtedly beautiful artistic achievement . . . a triumph of honesty in self-expression, complete and unmitigated.” —Ploughshares 

“A wild, sad howl for an unimaginable loss. A howl that comes from deep inside the heart of grief.” EuropeNow

“One of the best books ever written about sorrow in Danish literary history, if you ask me. It’s heartbreaking in its description of horror, trauma and loss, but it’s also beautiful, courageous, poetic, and unforgettable.” —Five Books

“Devastating, angry, challenging, fragmented and filled with the beautiful hope that the love we have for people continues into the world even after they’re gone.” Culture Fly

When Death Takes Something from You Give it Back is a letter from a journey through a lake of fire. Aidt manages the emotionally impossible, sharing with the reader something of what it is to lose a child. A radiant book.” —Rivka Galchen

“Naja Marie Aidt is, without a doubt, one of the finest living writers in Scandinavia. Always interesting. Always intelligent. Playful, precise, and passionate. A writer’s writer—one of the few I wait for and read the moment she’s got something new. And then there’s Carl’s Book: a heartbreaking masterpiece about unimaginable loss, resilience, and love. I wish with all my heart that Naja Marie Aidt never had to write this book—a memoir from the inside of grief—and at the same time I am deeply grateful that she did. It is devastating, wise, precise, and beautiful. Sometimes a work of art makes you impatient: you want to share it with everyone. You call people (call them, knock on their doors, buy the book and put it in their mailboxes) and tell them to read it immediately. Carl’s Book evokes that kind of urgency.”  —Linn Ullmann, author of Unquiet

Praise for Naja Marie Aidt

“Precise and evocative, often inspiring a strange balance between curiosity and anxiety in the reader. . . . [Aidt] inspires readers to read between the lines.” —Publishers Weekly

“Naja Marie Aidt’s stories ask not only what could be hiding beneath the surface of our otherwise calm lives, but what has been hiding there all along. They are odd and surprising, and refreshing in that they offer no conclusions. She is the writer of dark secrets.” —Sarah Gerard, author of Binary Star

“The strength of Aidt and her admirable translator Denise Newman . . . comes through the book’s steadfast gaze into the shadows of life. . . . Undoubtedly one of the most intelligent writers of the contemporary literary world, Aidt is also clearly one of the most compassionate—and therefore one of the most important—voices in fiction.” —Music & Literature

“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