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Roy Jacobsen, trans. from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-55597-755-9
This celebrated Norwegian author’s latest novel is a Second World War reverie fraught with symbols and metaphors. It hovers, dreamlike, over a group of Europeans trying to make sense of what occurred in their ancient patch of the Ardennes along the borders of France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg during the Battle of the Bulge, when Hitler abandoned Stalingrad to the east and concentrated his last war efforts on Western Europe. Robert is a boy conceived in the midst of this. His mother, a Belgian nurse, has always maintained that his father was a man she helped escape from the Nazis, telling Robert that he was the last American standing in the ruins of Clervaux, captured while playing a jazz tune on a piano in the ballroom of a smoldering chateau. After the war, fatherless Robert befriends blinded Marcus, once a radio operator for the Germans, who confides many things to the young man, including the fact that he is not truly blind. Robert falls in love with his mother’s lodger, a vibrant older woman named Leni, whose brother, Leon, had also been conscripted by the Germans, to invade his own lands. None of the men of the Ardennes are left unscathed, and the long, middle section of the novel flashes back to the wartime traumas of Leon and Marcus. But this is not a novel about posttraumatic stress. It is about borders and bridges, and what they represent. The building of a small bridge over the River Our, the only thing separating Luxembourg and Germany, opens the novel; this bridge, big enough for a man but not an army, recurs as a leitmotif throughout the novel. The result is a distinct and layered portrayal of wartime. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/08/2016
Release date: 10/18/2016
Genre: Fiction
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