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Book Club Reflection: Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller

26 Apr

After what seems like a long wait, my book club finally met last week to discuss Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller. I absolutely loved this book and had been really anxious about this meeting. I’m thrilled to say a lot of others were as anxious as I was.

We talked first about the author who is not a writer by trade. He works in security affairs, specifically with the UN for disarmament research and to reintegrate former soldiers and noncombatants back into non-military life. We saw this come through in Enver’s character and it helped us understand how he could write that subculture so well. This book won The Crime Writers’ Association New Blood Dagger Award, an award that has been won by some big name authors including Janet Evanovich and Gillian Flynn. Miller’s next book is due out in January 2017 and many in our group are excited to read it.

Most of our conversation was about the amazing Sheldon. His dementia was a key point in the story. We didn’t think he was properly diagnosed with dementia. One of our members works with those in early stages of dementia and she didn’t see similarities with her patients. He was aware that Bill wasn’t really with him when they spoke and he was able to formulate a plan. We think it was more likely PTSD. He had kept his life hidden from those around him but after his wife died, finally felt he could open up to the truth. When he started to talk about things no one had heard of before, they assumed he was demented. We thought it was likely that after his wife’s death, he felt stagnant, like he couldn’t move on in his life and drifted through as best he could. This might have been perceived as dementia. It was obvious to us that the adventure he found himself in kicked his brain into gear and had him thinking like a marine again. The stress and situations brought back all his memories and training and even at 82, he knew what to do.

The only thing that made us doubt he was able minded was when he mentioned that he couldn’t remember filing anything and that was why he thought he was a sniper. If it was a joke, we missed it. Maybe he was losing it, but everything else in the book pointed to him knowing exactly what was going on.

The death of Saul haunted Sheldon for his whole life. We felt the interactions between Sheldon and his son when he returned from his tour of Vietnam was very real. There was an implied understanding between the men but it was a gap between them they were unable to fill. Sheldon felt Saul’s death was his fault and wanted to make amends for it his whole life. Saving Paul at the end of the book was Sheldon’s way of coming to peace with what he had carried around his whole life. Personally, I thought it was a beautiful ending.

Why didn’t Paul talk? No one else agreed with my theory that he was deaf. Oh well. They all thought he was traumatized, which had pushed him into silence. Even a few days out from the event, he was still too stunned to speak. We all hoped that Rhea and Lars would adopt Paul at the end instead of finding some distant relatives to take care of the boy. He would be a good son for them if they could find a common language.

Miller writes about Norway like it’s a character in his book. He’s lived in Norway a long time and his wife is Norwegian. He says he was poking fun at his wife’s family and the culture of Norway. We have two members of our group who had lived in Europe for a while and thought the portrayal of Norwegians was spot on. They are polite to a fault, waiting until the early 2000s to apologize for their actions in World War II.

One of the ways Miller criticized Norway was in their openness to Kosovars and Serbs after the Yugoslavian conflict. Enver was welcomed into the country without question. Whether he was seen as a freedom fighter or a war criminal was no matter. What he’d done to Paul’s mother was no issue. We saw a strong contrast between Sheldon and Enver. When Sheldon came back from war, he was quiet and clammed up. Enver was still angry and lashed out at everyone.

Guilt was a strong theme in this book. Sheldon’s guilt over Mario’s death haunted him especially. It was such a simple thing, to take a step to improve a picture. Why did Mario movie and not Sheldon? This little thing must have haunted him he whole life.

We all liked the book. We loved the layers of the plot and how we got deeper into the characters with every page. The multiple points of view all worked. Many books with multiple POVs slow down, but we liked all of the voices in this novel. It was so well crafted.

Our next book will be The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls which I read a few months ago. I’m looking forward to the discussion!

Until next time, write on.

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