By – July 26, 2021

How To Find Your Way in the Dark is a pre­quel to Nor­we­gian by Night, Derek Miller’s 2013 nov­el, which won awards in Crime and First Nov­el cat­e­gories. In Nor­we­gian by Night, Shel­don Horowitz, the eighty-two-year-old hero, is dying as the book ends. In How To Find Your Way in the Dark, Shel­don Horowitz is twelve years old as the book begins, and he exhibits many of the same traits as his senior self. Like the lit­tle boy that Shel­don res­cues in Nor­we­gian by Night, the book begins with Shel­don mourn­ing his moth­er, who died an unnat­ur­al death. Like his senior self, Shel­don doesn’t allow his strong moral con­science to pre­vent him from tak­ing ille­gal mea­sures to achieve his goals. And, like his senior self, the teenage Shel­don can make split-sec­ond deci­sions in the face of danger.

Derek Miller is a deft plot­ter who jug­gles char­ac­ters and set­tings with the same dar­ing spir­it as his hero, with just a few wild improb­a­bil­i­ties and loose ends here and there. The sto­ry most­ly takes place dur­ing the 1940s. The young, orphaned Shel­don falls under the influ­ence of his cousin Abe, who is obsessed with anti­semitism and the Nazi men­ace that Amer­i­ca is ignor­ing. Spend­ing the sum­mer of 1941 as a bell­hop at Grossinger’s, Shel­don works out a com­pli­cat­ed scheme of revenge on his father’s killer while his best friend, Lenny Bern­stein — not the famous one — deliv­ers crowd-pleas­ing, comedic mono­logues at var­i­ous resorts but gets fired because his rou­tines are too top­i­cal­ly Jew­ish. The threat of impend­ing war looms in the background.

Derek Miller is skilled at draw­ing per­son­al­i­ties and using minor play­ers to enliv­en his craft. He gives his sec­ondary char­ac­ters enough col­or to make the read­er notice them for them­selves, not just as play­ers in Sheldon’s dra­ma. The lead-up to World War II per­me­ates the action almost to the end of the book, when the war ends and Sheldon’s future is set up to play out in Nor­we­gian by Night. Read­ers learn about Canada’s ear­ly efforts to defend Eng­land, includ­ing details about air­craft bombers, as well as tech­ni­cal aspects of sev­er­al types of guns, and the his­to­ry of the Colt fac­to­ry in Hart­ford, Con­necti­cut. This kind of writ­ing defies gen­der norms because the char­ac­ters are men who love their toys but who can also express their emo­tions. It’s a wide-rang­ing sto­ry with some minor plot points left hang­ing, but How To Find Your Way in the Dark reads like a winner.

Beth Dwoskin is a retired librar­i­an with exper­tise in Yid­dish lit­er­a­ture and Jew­ish folk music.

Discussion Questions

From the Fic­tion Judges:

How To Find Your Way In The Dark spans a decade in the life of Shel­don Horowitz in a quirky, engross­ing, fast-paced pre­quel to Derek Miller’s 2013 nov­el Nor­we­gian By Night. Short­ly after Sheldon’s moth­er dies in a trag­ic fire, he is in a truck with his father when they are delib­er­ate­ly run off the road. As a twelve-year-old orphan in 1938, he is uproot­ed from his home and moves to Hart­ford, CT to live with his Uncle Nate and cousins Abe and Mirabelle.

This com­ing-of-age story/​crime thriller, writ­ten in spare prose, is a mus­ing on what it’s like to be a Jew in Amer­i­ca before and after World War II. The well drawn char­ac­ters reflect on patri­o­tism, anti­semitism, iden­ti­ty, fam­i­ly, vengeance, jus­tice, and loss. It is also a very fun­ny nov­el, thanks to Sheldon’s best friend Lenny Bern­stein, who’s try­ing to break in as a come­di­an in the Borscht Belt while work­ing with Shel­don as bell­hops at Grossinger’s Catskill Resort. Derek Miller deserves to be wide­ly read, and there’s no bet­ter place to start than with this out­stand­ing, fun novel.

From the Book Club Judges: 

This gem of a book is a pre­quel to Derek B. Miller’s 2013 debut nov­el, Nor­we­gian By Night. It explores the ear­ly life of Shel­don Horowitz, its main char­ac­ter, from age eleven to twen­ty-one, between 1937 and 1947. One need not have read Nor­we­gian By Night to thor­ough­ly enjoy this humor­ous and inven­tive tale. It is in part a com­ing-of-age sto­ry, part a crime sto­ry, and part a seri­ous look at anti­semitism in pre-war America.

The sto­ry begins with twelve-year-old Shel­don, who has recent­ly lost his moth­er and his aunt in a trag­ic movie the­ater fire and lives with his father in the small town of Whate­ly, Mass­a­chu­setts. He and his father are return­ing from mak­ing a deliv­ery in a bor­rowed truck when they are inten­tion­al­ly run off the road by anoth­er vehi­cle, killing Sheldon’s father.

Now an orphan, Shel­don is sent off to Hart­ford, CT to live with his father’s broth­er Nate (also a wid­ow­er from the same fire that killed Sheldon’s moth­er) and his cousins Abe and Mirabelle, but not before he begins to take revenge on the Krupin­s­ki fam­i­ly, the peo­ple he believes were respon­si­ble for his father’s acci­dent.” He leaves behind his best friend Lenny Bern­stein, who will lat­er reunite with him fol­low­ing his years in Hart­ford. In his uncle’s house in Hart­ford, his cousin Abe is con­sumed by news of the war in Europe and the indif­fer­ence to the news of Jew­ish slaugh­ter, while Shel­don is con­sumed by his own visions of find­ing the man who killed his father and aveng­ing his death.

This roller coast­er of a sto­ry is filled with rich char­ac­ters, hilar­i­ty, intrigue, and sus­pense. It will leave you appre­ci­at­ing the bril­liant sto­ry­telling skills of author Miller and, if you haven’t read his first book, look­ing for Nor­we­gian By Night at the bookstore.