Danish resistance fighters are often as brutal as the occupying Nazis in Larsen’s (Mania, 2009) luridly dark exploration into the ways that “war can make criminals of heroes…and heroes of criminals.”
In 1939, half-Jewish teen Polina ends up in the clutches of German soldiers who brutally use her for sex. Two years later she has become a prostitute in Copenhagen, where she catches the eye of Lt. Hermann Schmidt, a photographer for Germany’s Ministry of Propaganda who dabbles on the black market. He has a wife and daughter (whose memory of her long-dead father frames the novel), but he obsessively tracks down Polina, buys her from her pimp, and sets her up in the relative luxury of his apartment. Meanwhile, Fredrik Gregersen, the black sheep of “a venerable Danish family," scrapes by as a farmhand in rural Jutland. An amphetamine user and brutal father to his teenage children, Oskar and Amalia, Fredrik occasionally helps a neighbor smuggle escaping Jews to the coast for extra cash. When a transport goes wrong, Fredrik ends up with a Jewish family’s money and jewels. Then a few people close to Fredrik turn up dead and the police begin nosing around, so he sends Oskar to Copenhagen to sell the jewels. Unaware he is being tracked by a Resistance assassin out to retrieve the jewels, Oskar encounters Hermann and Polina and strikes a business deal; the irony is that Hermann buys most of the jewels with money he made selling paintings he had purchased from the strapped Gregersens. A smitten Oskar returns later to slip Polina away from Hermann's apartment, leaving behind an emerald necklace "to buy her freedom." Back in Jutland, Polina becomes a point of contention between Fredrik and Oskar. Her feelings toward Oskar, who loves her, are ambiguous; Fredrik, who sees in her his own animal instincts, both repulses and attracts her. It is not a situation likely to end well despite occasional slivers of tenderness.
Larsen creates a darkly sensual world in which evil impulses often triumph, but not always.