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by Derek B. Miller

Pub Date: May 21st, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-547-93487-7
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Miller's affecting debut, about a cantankerous Jewish widower transplanted to Norway who becomes party to a hate crime, is an unusual hybrid: part memory novel, part police procedural, part sociopolitical tract and part existential meditation.

Native New Yorker Sheldon "Donny" Horowitz, 82, is a retired watch repairman living in Oslo with his granddaughter Rhea, an architect, and her new Norwegian husband, Lars. She thinks her grandfather is slipping into dementia. Haunted by his experiences as a Marine sniper in the Korean War and by his son Saul's death in Vietnam, Sheldon sometimes has trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality. He thinks the Koreans are still after him. But he is more strong-willed, decisive and wily than his granddaughter thinks. When a stranger murders the immigrant woman who lives upstairs, Sheldon shelters and then escapes with her young son, fearing the boy is in danger, too. On the run with the boy, who doesn't speak English, the old man deftly talks his way into a pricey Oslo hotel, gives the boy a makeover to disguise him, steals a boat and heads to Rhea's summer home. In close pursuit are the killer, an Albanian war criminal whose rape of the woman led to the birth of her son, and tough-minded Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård, a staunch opponent of her country's open-door policy. The novel's stylistic moving parts don't always mesh: The patter between Sigrid and her wisecracking partner, Petter, would be better suited to another novel. But Sheldon, who has never forgiven himself for encouraging his son to go to war like him, boasts an abrasive wit. And Miller, an American living in Oslo (he directs The Policy Lab, an international research group), makes the setting a powerful character as well. Hovering over the narrative is Norway's roundup of its Jewish population during the Nazi occupation—for which, the author points out, the nation didn't formally apologize until 2012.

This novel, first published in Norway, was worth the wait.