Nor­we­gian By Night

  • Review
By – May 17, 2013
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.

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