In October 1942, the inhabitants of an Oslo apartment building have secrets. Norwegian teenager Ilse Stern is in love with neighbor Hermann Rød. Her father, Isak, has stashed all his family’s money in a cigar tin hidden in a dresser drawer. Hermann makes Ilse and his parents think he has an apprenticeship with a landscape painter, but he is working for the resistance. Ilse’s sister Sonja has found a new job outside the family’s tailoring shop to make costumes for the national theater. Neighbor Ole Rustad has a secret, too. He and his taxi will be transporting Jews to deportation points, first for the Nazis and then for the resistance.
In this intricately woven novel with alternating point-of-view narrators, Norwegian author Marianne Kaurin plays with the concept of chance. The most important instance of chance here is Ilse’s fight with her mother, her trip outside Oslo with Hermann, and her ultimate absence during the round-up of Jewish women and children in November 1942. While the book’s opening is slow, the pace picks up quickly and is enhanced by multiple story lines and their narrators.
Although there have been a few novels about the Nazi occupation of Norway, Kaurin’s tale shares the little-told narrative of Norwegian Jews during the Holocaust. Her author’s note explains her own family’s roles during World War II and the Holocaust.
Recommended for ages 12 – 15.
Barbara Krasner is an award-winning poet and historian who focuses her writing on the Jewish experience in America and during the Holocaust. She teaches in the history department of The College of New Jersey and serves as Director, Mercer Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Education Center.