Norwegian By Night


Derek B. Miller


Fiction / Literature


Date Reviewed:

October 15, 2020

orwegian By Night is a hard book to classify. Does it belong in the mystery / thriller category? Perhaps, but ultimately I decide to file this review under the general fiction category. The "tone" of the book lacked the suspense and pacing of a thriller, it is more of a character driven novel. Though there is indeed action at the end.

The protagonist of this book is Sheldon Horowitz, an 82 year old ex-marine (veteran of the Korean War) who has moved to Oslo, Norway to stay with his granddaughter (Rhea) and her husband (Lars), because there is no where else for him to go at this late stage in his life. Sheldon's wife, Mabel, has died, and clearly an 82 year old man shouldn't live alone. Rhea thinks Sheldon has some mental "slippage", because lately Sheldon has been claiming that he was a sniper during the Korean War, when everyone knows that Sheldon just served as a filing clerk during his Korean War enlistment.

Sheldon and Mabel had one son, Saul. Sheldon loves American, because it is the best country on Earth for its treatment of Jews. (Not that Jews are treated wonderfully, but America is much better than any country in Europe during WWII, when Sheldon was growing up.) Sheldon would gladly have volunteered to fight in WWII, but he was too young. When the Korean War came along, Sheldon signed up immediately. So when his son Saul is growing, Sheldon explains to him how important it is to serve one's country. Saul signs up for the Vietnam war, and he gets killed. Sheldon is wracked with grief over this outcome, and blames himself for encouraging Saul to enlist. A lot of the novel is spent in Sheldon's head, and the Saul/Sheldon relationship is covered in depth. Mabel doesn't get too many pages, apparently Sheldon loved his son more than his long time wife.

Living in an Oslo apartment with Lars and Rhea, Sheldon hears noise from an adjoining apartment. There are the sounds of violence between a man and a woman. After a pause, Sheldon hears someone outside the apartment door. It is a woman from upstairs - she is carrying a bright pink box, and has her young son with her. Clearly, this woman was involved in the violent confrontation that Sheldon just overheard. On an impulse, he opens the door. Trouble returns - the angry man returns, and more violence erupts. Fearing for his life, Sheldon grabs the young boy and escapes out of the apartment. He knows that the violent man is one of the refugees that Norway has admitted from the Balkan War. They are Kosovars, and no strangers to violence and retribution. Sheldon doesn't trust the Oslo police - what if he turns the boy in, and the Oslo police turn the lad over to the angry man, who might be the boy's father? Sheldon decides to hide out for awhile, to lie low until things quiet down. Rhea and Lars had a cabin in the woods, maybe Sheldon and the boy can hide there. Of course, getting to the cabin is a problem, Sheldon has no vehicle, and the police or the Kosovar gang might be watching the bus and train stations...

While Sheldon and the boy make their escape - we never learn the boy's name. He never says a word, it is unclear if he even knows English. Sheldon call's him Paul, which is of course the Christian name for Saul. Clearly Sheldon is intent on saving one young boy although he could not save his own son. Sheldon has long one-sided conversations with Paul, explaining his outlook on the world, recalling his son Saul, and various other topics.

Eventually, there is a dramatic ending. Maybe this was a mystery / thriller novel after all?

I did not give Norwegian By Night five stars because the ending seemed awfully abrupt. Couldn't there at least have been an epilogue to explain the fate of all of these characters? What was Lars doing out in the woods with a compound bow? Who lived and who died in the end?