A teenage girl rescues a downed American pilot in World War II Norway.
In this historical novel, Kjeldsen (Tomorrow City, 2013) follows 15-year-old Kari Dahlstrøm as she sets out to help an American pilot who lands near her family’s farm in rural Norway, despite her misanthropic widowed father Erling’s protest that the incident is not their concern. Kari sneaks out on foot and locates the pilot, Maj. Lance Mahurin, tangled up in his parachute in a tree. After freeing him, she offers to take him to safety in Sweden. They eventually head off in a rickety cart pulled by Torden, the Dahlstrøm family’s horse. When Erling realizes Kari is gone, he sets out on her trail, as does Nazi officer Lt. Conrad Moltke, guided by informants willing to trade collaboration for personal benefit. The two men chase their targets across the treacherous Norwegian mountains. Kari and Lance contend with the dangers of ice and snow, as well as the ever-present threat of German soldiers, as they make their way to the Swedish border. Erling’s journey in their tracks is solitary, while Moltke’s pursuit is hampered by conflicts with his superiors and the men he commands. The narrative switches frequently among characters, providing readers with an understanding of the motivations of all involved. Despite the high drama and action-driven hunt, the story remains at its core a quiet one, focused on the well-developed, internal struggles of the characters and with the careful, evocative use of language (“The first faint smudges of dawn began to emerge on the horizon. At the onset, they were barely perceptible, little more than smears on a lampblack canvas”). Although the prose is strong, the grammar is less so, and repeated errors in proper noun possessive formation detract from the narrative. Kjeldsen’s writing benefits from a deep underlying knowledge, not only of World War II ranks and weaponry—though history buffs should appreciate the details—but also of farming techniques, the hazards of a winter trek through Scandinavian woods, and animal behavior (“After Torden slipped again, he pulled up and whinnied, refusing to proceed further until Kari dug her heels into his sides”). The book is less adept at bringing readers into its female protagonist’s mind; despite the challenges she faces on her odyssey, Kari’s thoughts consist disproportionately of her infatuation with Lance.
A quiet and introspective novel of wartime adventure.