Friday 17 December 2021

Keep Saying Their Names

Finished December 8
Keep Saying Their Names by Simon Stranger, translated by Matt Bagguley

This Norwegian novel was a winner of the Norwegian Booksellers' Prize in 2018 and has a unique structure. It is set in 3 storylines, one modern day, one starting pre-World War II and following a character through his youth into adulthood and his actions during the war, and one starting a few years after the war around a family of Jewish Norwegians. It is structured alphabetically, with each chapter starting with a letter of the alphabet and having statements and discussion around words starting with that letter. I can't imagine how difficult this was to do in translation. This is the first book by this author to be translated into English.
The modern day part of the story features a writer unnamed, who is researching the Jewish family that they married into and what happened to them during the war, occasionally reaching back further, and reaching out to people they were connected with. In particular they are focused on the father of the Komissar family, who was killed in custody during the war. 
The one character, Henry Oliver Rinnan, gets followed from a difficult childhood in poverty, getting bullied and building a desire to be successful and show off that success to those who previously bullied them. This man has that drive to be lauded and to please those in authority, to be a leader, as his driving force. He has no ethics, no sincere feelings for others, even his wife and children, just that need. When the Germans invade in WWII, it is them he tries to please and thus he takes advantage of and betrays so many of his countrymen and women by becoming a double agent for the Nazis.
After the war, when Komissar's son Gerson and his wife move into the house used by Rinnan as a jail and torture chamber for resisters, the history of the house affects their marriage.
This is a story both intimate and national, going deep into people's lives, but also reflecting the history of the country. 

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