This book concerns two fairly unusual subjects: an elderly man and the country of Norway. Sheldon Horowitz, the eighty-two-year-old hero, is skillfully drawn — irascible, nursing old wounds, maybe suffering from dementia, but maybe not. He’s a complex character who has vivid memories of landing on the beach at Inchon in Korea, though his wife is sure he served as a desk clerk in Pusan the whole time. Sheldon feels that if he has dementia, it is only making him more lucid because it’s stripping away life’s trivia and forcing him to remember its essentials. He remembers urging his beloved son, Saul, to fight in Vietnam, and visualizes himself along for the ride on the search-and-rescue mission that resulted in Saul’s death. He finds himself speaking to his long-dead friend, Bill. Most of all, he moralizes out loud to the mute little boy he is trying to save from a Kosovar gang operating in beautiful, innocent Norway. The country itself is almost a character in the book — wealthy, naïve, willing to take in the world’s refugees without really examining where they’ve come from and why. Sigrid, the slightly cynical policewoman investigating a murder involving the gang, is a brilliant mouthpiece for the author’s misgivings about the Norwegian tendency to sometimes stare evil in the face and not see it.
Although Sheldon’s monologues could use some editing, the dialogue is snappy and humorous, especially the conversation where Sigrid tries to explain to her superior that the case has nothing to do with Israel, even though Sheldon is a Jew, and there is humor too in the scenes where Sheldon navigates his way through Norway on the basis of skills he may have learned as a Marine, or maybe not. The clean, warm tidiness of a summer in a lovely, prosperous nation is deftly contrasted with Sheldon’s painful memories and the bloody behavior of the Kosavars. This highly visual storytelling reads like a first draft of the script for an action-packed, emotionally satisfying movie, one that will appeal to both sexes.
Beth Dwoskin is a retired librarian with expertise in Yiddish literature and Jewish folk music.